Our Friend Is Gone
This I believe – If I “have not charity, I am but a tinkling cymbal.”
I often pondered the meaning of the chapter in the bible that spoke of these things. This is not about preaching. This is about learning and hurting and wishing I could turn back time.
My husband and I moved to Maui in the summer of 2006.
During the next six months, I often saw Rick walking with his dog up and down streets or sitting in front of the Safeway store at an umbrella-shaded table. I introduced myself to him one evening when we were both walking down the hill. I walked another mile with him and he told me his story. He had broken his back four years ago. He couldn’t go to work, so he was soon fired from his job which meant he lost his medical coverage. He lay on his bed for weeks, pulling himself along the floor to the door when he needed to let the dog, Sassy, outside. Rick loved his dog. She had been with him for twelve years. The bank evicted Rick from his condo when he missed three mortgage payments. Both of Rick’s parents are deceased. His father had been a doctor in Los Angeles. I told Rick I was very happy to have met him and I’d bring my husband, Bob, to meet him soon, too. Before I said good-bye, I said, “It looks like rain.” Rick said, “Don’t say that. Sassy and I don’t get any sleep when it rains at night. We get soaked lying down there by the beach.”
Sometimes my husband, Rick and I talked together about the obstacles facing homeless people. Rick had extra stumbling blocks to securing a job: He couldn’t do anything too physical. His back caused pain throughout his body every day. He told us he would trust us to look after his dog all day if he could find a job he was physically capable of doing. We explained that we are not allowed any animals at our rented house, not even visiting animals. We had signed an ironclad lease.
Rick phoned me twice with complaints of a bad toothache and asked that I drive him to the hospital’s emergency room. Twice my daughter and I drove Rick there, walking his dog while he saw a doctor. Each time Rick asked us to take him to fill a prescription afterwards. The third time he phoned me to ask for a ride to the emergency room, I was babysitting our grandchildren. My husband was at work. Our daughter was on another island. I told him I couldn’t help him that day. Secretly I thought he was taking painkillers too often. I chastised him for not getting the hospital doctor to line things up to get his tooth pulled. I remember wistfulness in his voice. “Okay, thanks anyway. Bye, Pamela.”
I wondered briefly how many painkillers I might want to take if I had to sleep on a beach at night where the crabs and foot-long centipedes could crawl over me.
I looked for Rick in his usual places the next week. Another couple of weeks passed and another. One morning I saw a homeless man, an acquaintance of Rick’s. He looked pained when he recognized me, but I approached him anyway.
“I haven’t seen Rick around for weeks. Do you know where he is?”
“Rick’s not with us any more.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Guilt, sadness, love (aloha) – all these powerful emotions swept through me.
“Do you mean he died?”
“Yeah. He died on the beach – his dog beside him. Painkillers.”
Why had we never bothered to tell Rick he was our friend? I never said, “We love you, Rick.” Bob and I each gave Rick a hug after our visits with him under the stars. We knew he would wander down to the beach to sleep with one eye open for his safety. Why didn’t we act upon the love we felt for him? Why didn’t we say, “Hey, we’ll take what comes from the landlady; you and your dog come stay with us.”
Rick was so alone. He felt alone – while we had love to give away.
Tinkling cymbals, both of us.
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