I believe in metamorphosis: enveloping one’s decaying body and soul in a protective covering while awaiting transformation into a new life. I recently witnessed this sacred upheaval at the bedside of a dying man at Joseph’s House; a 58-year old, African-American gentleman with a long body and a deep, tender soul. I discovered in him a kindred spirit. The hours I spent in his presence filled my heart and the pages of my journal as I reflected on each day’s work. What moved me? What inspired me? What surprised me? I wrote his name again and again: Waynman.
Joseph’s House provides a safe, loving community where many terminally ill, homeless men and women escape the harshness and injustice of the street and the system. My colleague, Peter, said it is hard to put into words reasons why we are drawn to volunteer at Joseph’s House; sometimes it is simpler to think of a person, and Waynman, he said, is that person for you.
As cancer and AIDS devoured his flesh, Waynman would vacillate between exposing his gaunt, bare limbs to the chill of the room and withdrawing completely under his covers. I gently dubbed this latter gesture his ‘cocoon mode’ and accompanied him in both postures, drawn to my friend in the hope of offering love, comfort and companionship. Amazingly, these were the gifts Waynman also was offering to me, and as his death drew near, I recognized his cocoon as a living metaphor.
When I began my work at Joseph’s House a part of me was slowly dying; the loss encompassed connection, knowing, and being known. I existed in a frail state of being, the life I once consumed with gusto now consuming me. Though I had withdrawn from nearly everything and everyone around me, I felt wrapped in a cocoon of God’s grace, woven with the prayers and concerns of my family and friends.
Early in the cold darkness of a January morning, I woke suddenly, called to Waynman’s bedside by my own heaving sobs. The vision had felt so vivid: the green lawn and airy sky upon which the beds rested; Waynman’s suit fluid with intense, deep green hues; the way he popped up from his bed, pulled me into his arms and began the dance. We danced and danced and danced. My friend was whole. He tucked himself into a chair with a smoke and a slight French accent while we reminisced about our days together at Joseph’s House. “Something has shifted,” I wrote upon waking. The next day Waynman was dead, no longer bound in his earthly cocoon, but a beautiful green butterfly soaring in God’s love.
The dream was a gift that helped me understand how Waynman’s presence in my life awakened something deep within me; I felt known and loved by my friend.
Is it possible to feel like a part of you has died while another part of you feels like it is coming to life? Yes, it is metamorphosis.
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