Lifestyle

FAITHFUL LIVING: Friendship is noble work

If a picture is worth a thousand words I had better start editing myself, for I do not have the space in Faithful Living this week for a thousand words. I do, however, want to tell you about Fred and Boy Scout Troop 98.

Fred is four score and nine and while he is surprisingly spry for his age, his mind is aging more quickly. He lives, therefore, in a facility that cares for people with failing memories. This week, in honor of Fred’s birthday, the Scouts arrived for their weekly visit with a framed photo, wrapped in festive but masculine birthday paper. Anxious to cash in on Fred’s response, the boys pushed forward in anticipation as he carefully opened his gift. When his nose, cheeks and eyes suddenly blushed, I knew the photo had touched something deep inside him, just as the boys had hoped and anticipated that it would.

Pictured in the photograph are the Scouts, surrounding Fred as he sits in a chair. Pictured are boys who spontaneously lean on his shoulders, tousle his hair playfully, who remind their parents they can’t possibly miss their weekly visit with Fred and who offer this octogenarian gentle affection and young manliness. They have learned to shake his hand with decisiveness and listen carefully, even when the stories occasionally twist and turn in unintelligible ways.

They have learned to face the realities of old age with a genuine smile and the absence of fear. But this was not always the case. The first couple of visits were uncomfortable and the attending staff read their awkwardness. In response the boys were briefed on the signs of dementia and Alzheimers disease and instructed how to respond when faced with typical behaviors.

On the day of Fred’s birthday I watched as he carefully raised himself from the table and with the boys in tow, moved into his room, to place the 8 X 10 next to his bed. What I saw was a picture of community. What I felt was the fullness of heart author John Ortberg refers to in his book, “Everybody’s Normal ‘Till You Get to Know Them.”

According to Ortberg, America has experienced over the last 25 years a great decline in “social capitol” or that desire to develop genuine connection with community members. With enormous declines in civic involvement, volunteerism and religious participation, Americans are increasingly standoffish and isolated. Not only that, but they too often confuse friendship with friendliness because they choose to make an appearance from one event to another or simply forego after-work meetings altogether and head home.

So while I submit that the work of building community is the noblest work that can be done, it requires a willingness to give unhurried time to others. It also requires staying power, an understanding that you will be inconvenienced at times, and a lasting commitment to the idea that deep connections can be made when you face your own set of fears and uncertainties.

When I admitted to an amount of private whining last week, I also revealed that involving myself in a community of believers is helping me to understand the many ways God chooses to work in and through groups of people. Without a doubt these methods differ from the ways He may work with me through private prayer or journaling.

This involvement also goes beyond making an appearance at Sunday worship once in awhile. When you regularly meet with people, God uses you and those around you for healing. Harry Stack Sullivan, a pioneer in the field of interpersonal psychology, agrees when he writes, “It takes people to make people sick and it takes people to make people well.” If any one of us wants to stop our private whining we must seek out others. In seeking out others it will become quite apparent that our own idiosyncrasies — and the idiosyncrasies of others! — will be revealed. So will our sins. We will be healthy and empowered at times; at others we will appear to be struggling and questioning, lacking in hope and energy.

The defining factor is this: Experiencing the love of God and sharing that love with others. This sharing of love is done not because God’s love is a community service project or because people of faith are trying to work their way to heaven. They have experienced the great love and forgiveness of God and they are concerned for others’ character, emotional comfort and the condition of their souls.

To watch Fred and his new community of scouting friends has filled me up this week, leaving no room for anything else but praise and pure joy.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is jbklope@hotmail.com.

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