Friday, October 3, 2014
Is My Life Worth Living?
He called, waking me from a mid-morning nap, and asked to meet me --- just to talk. My gut reaction was to say I was busy, but he persisted. “Maybe in a couple of days,” I said. Becoming more awake, my insides churned, and I remembered how he had lied to me, cheated me, and stole from me, even after I had willingly given him so much. And now a year later, he wanted to meet. Every instinct, every memory, tightened my resolve, kindled my anger.
“I have no one else to talk to,” he said. And in an instant something else came to me: I was his last resort. Knowing what he had done to me, knowing that I knew, and knowing how good I had been to him, he knew all too well how I was feeling about him right now --- and yet, he called me.
I drove to his house in the city, and picked him up. He’d lost his vehicle --- and maybe his home would be next. Taxes were overdue, but “I got the electricity turned back on last week.” He’d been in jail for five months for driving on an expired license, with no insurance. His neighbors had called the city on him, and fines and fees for cutting his grass and trimming his hedge awaited him on his return home.
As we ate lunch in a nearby restaurant, he told me more of his situation. “I got a job when I got out of jail. It pays $14/hour. I walk (about 3 miles) to the bus stop to get to work.” It’s seasonal work, and will end soon. He told me his kids, and the women who were their mothers, won’t talk to him. His uncle still holds some money in trust for him --- from the sale of his mother’s house across the street from me --- but “he’s teaching me a lesson, and won’t give me any money, for now.”
“Is my life worth living,” he asked.
It had taken him a while to get to the point of his call to me. Maybe he was aware I was probably the only one he knew who wouldn’t lecture him about his life --- although I wanted to --- nor tell him to “go ahead, blow your few brains out.”
No, I wouldn’t tell him that.
But what was I to say?
I had prayed to the Holy Spirit on the half hour drive to his house: “I prayed to You the other day (perhaps somewhat insincerely) for the gift of tongues, but I’m asking You now to help me to speak clearly, words You would have me speak, to someone who needs to hear of Your love.”
I might have suggested my former neighbor turn to prayer for help, but in his ramblings he had mentioned how weak his spiritual life was. He heard no answer to his weak, infrequent attempts at prayer, something his mom had long lectured about. He remembered her and the years he cared for her across the street from me; telling him her words again would not be answering his question to me.
It came to my mind to tell him about something I had done which had helped me put my life in proper perspective.
“I think God led me to volunteer at the local soup kitchen when I was at a low point in my life. I did it often. And then I volunteered with other groups who were helping the poor or the elderly. We raked leaves; we fixed houses. Most were very grateful, and it made me feel good.”
“And I saw that most had much bigger problems than mine.”
“Is my life worth living” is a question that cannot be answered in a vacuum; it begs comparison. The asker of that question may think the comparison is: “Would I be better off dead,” but the real comparisons are: “Am I better off than others,” and “Can I do better things with my life.”
I found that volunteering to help others made me see the “Yes” answers to those two questions. They made me see the value of my life. They made me see that others needed me. They made me find an outlet for my love, and let me feel loved.
Every life is worth living. There are many people who need you, who want to love you. I suggested my “friend” call the local churches or United Ways to find volunteer opportunities.
He stopped crying before our lunch was over. I don’t know what he will do. If he calls again, I don’t know what I will do.
Sometimes it is hard to love our neighbor. Sometimes it’s hard to forgive. I wrote last week about my analytical mind; I know what it would tell me to do now.
Life isn’t easy, but it is worth living --- and loving.