Loneliness Comes In Many Flavours

Over the past few weeks I have been visiting someone who is incarcerated in one of Her Majesty's Prisons. It reminded me that it has been several months since I last wrote to my friend Larry.

Larry is a murderer. Fifty years ago he and two other boys burned down an american army recruitment centre in protest against the Vietnam War. In the early seventies the american population were enraged over the war and numerous exceptionally emotive events such as: the Kent State massacre of students and the discovery of the My Lai Massacre which included the rape and slaughter of innocent women, children and babies by american army personnel. There were many uprisings across the US by people incensed over these events. At one point the nation was close to anarchy.

During Larry's anarchical act someone died in the fire. Larry didn't start the fire. But because he knew what the others had planned and he readily went with them, he was equally culpable. And in the blink of an eye, an innocent person lay dead. A senseless tragedy all around.
I met Larry when I volunteered to participate in an American university ministry outreach programme one summer. Our goal was to visit prisons and institutions, and to share religious services. Larry admitted that he first came to our service out of boredom. But later he came because he felt the need. When I announced that I was returning home he asked me if I would write him. I promised that I would, not realising that my, at that time probably half-sincere promise, would end up lasting decades.
Today nothing has changed in his physical life. He is just an ageing convict: no longer wild, no longer as convinced as he was when he was young that he doesn't need anyone or anything. The prisons are full of them: old men who did terrible things in their youth but are now just old men, who have problems with their feet like other old men have, whose backs and knees hurt, who tire easily. Couldn't rob a bank or assault someone if they tried, but also couldn't do much else. Frozen in one place by choices they made long ago, frozen in their own lives.
Larry comes to mind often. I'm sure every minister has noticed that visiting someone in a nursing home feels much the same as visiting someone in a prison. It's also not unlike visiting a seafarer on a ship.
This is odd, you think at first, noticing that you're saying the same things to a convicted murderer that you said yesterday to a sweet ancient lady with a broken hip: looking at family photographs, chatting about the food, about how they pass the time, about the past, carefully about the future. But no, it's not odd. Neither of them can leave. Each has lost the life they knew. Each is learning the hard way, what it means to live one day at a time.
And then you remember that there really is no easy way to learn that.
Lord God, under the shadow of Your wings, let us hope. Your love supports us when there is no one – no one to share a word, or an embrace, or a smile. Bless all who suffer from such loneliness. Enrich their lives with a friend or a stranger who will spend a moment caring. In those moments Your love shines through, the world is reborn, and Christ is known. Amen

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home