I woke up to the sound of Jim fumbling to get his morning Pall Mall lit. The air in the apartment was thick, and getting thicker as he puffed away, but I no longer noticed the smell that had overtaken me when I first arrived. Jim and I relaxed throughout the morning, him in his bed, and me on the floor, going between conversation and silence as we waited for the 11:30 church service.
Jim had grown up in a small Kentucky town east of Louisville before joining the military and being shipped off to Vietnam. He returned home but stayed in uniform as he was utilized on various bases and eventually in Operation Desert Storm. In all he was in uniform for 17 years, and the experience had undoubtedly taken it’s toll on the man.
As I laid on the floor relaxing, Jim piped up from his bed. “Could you do me –a favor?” His slowwww southernnn drawl raspy from years of smoke. His sentences were often jerky, sometimes interrupted by a fit of coughing, but most times just broken up ever so slightly by the need to take a fresh breath where others would have spoken on. “Could you call, the operator –and ask to be transferred –to the Dallas Cowboys stadium, in Arlington, Texas.” He paused to rest for a second before going on. “I’ve always been –a fan, of the Dallas Cowboys –and I’d like it –if I could get my hands, on one of those catalogs –from the Dallas Cowboys store in Arlington Texas. I’d like to get myself –something to wear –with the Dallas Cowboys logo on it.”
Jim had requested of me some other things already, including “A couple of fish sandwiches –from McDonalds.”, which I had denied him for personal moral reasons, but, I was more than happy to request for him the catalog. How he was going to afford anything in the magazine, I don’t know, but it gave me a good feeling imagining his excitement on the day the catalog arrived. I called the 800 number and submitted the request, much to the delight of Jim.
As the time for church approached, I asked my new friend if he felt like having breakfast. He was excited and eager to eat, though his inability to muster enough energy to feed himself on a regular basis had toughened him, and he would have went along on an empty stomach without complaint if I had not said anything. He turned down nuts and apples because of his teeth (or lack thereof). I searched around and found some soft white hamburger buns in his bathroom cabinet and made him a peanut butter sandwich. We ate, and I helped Jim by putting his socks on. In retrospect, I should have clipped his toenails for him. They had grown into long, sharp points that extended more than a half inch past the tips of his curled toes. I couldn’t muster the heart at the time.
I don’t know how he managed to clothe himself on a normal day. His stiff muscles would barely allow him to bend down to touch his feet. The struggle that Jim had to endure just to provide for himself the most basic essentials of daily life made most of the tasks unworthy of his effort. I believe that he spent most of his time in his bed, watching TV and sleeping.
During Breakfast, I recieved a text message from my snow-biking friend, Leandro. He told me about his church’s services that morning, which I said I could not attend because of my commitment to Jim. I asked about a later time, which Leandro confirmed that they had, and he sent me the church address. Recognizing the street name, I asked Jim the address of his church…and sure enough, they were the same! I told Leandro that we would see him shortly.
We got dressed, and opened the door to a blindingly bright, snowy morning. Without any windows in the apartment, our eyes had adjusted to the relative darkness. I set Jim’s wheelchair down on the snowy walk, and he hobbled over and plopped down in the seat. The fresh air and sunlight was very enjoyable as we plowed through the snow on the sidewalk. We approached the bustling church parking lot after a three block trek, the other members walking about, smiling and greeting one another.
We went up the wheelchair ramp, into the elevator, and got off on the main floor. The building was large and new. I later learned that the congregation had recently built and moved to that location. The population seemed to be a younger crowd overall. The dress was nice, but casual. Many of the young men had beards, and I recieved a smiling complement from a young woman on mine as we walked in. Another guy looked at me smiling and said “Don’t I know you!?” I laughed and replied that no, I was from out of town. “No I saw you on TV yesterday!!” the guy said and we both started cracking up.
Leandro appeared out of the masses of people and greeted both of us. I introduced him to Jim, and he led us to the seats he had been saving in the very front of the church. We made our way past dozens of filled aisles as I began to feel self conscious of our stench. I am sure that Jim and I were some of the only folks who hadn’t showered in 30+, and 3 days respectively, and the fact that we had been marinating in Jim’s apartment probably didn’t help. Regardless, no one looked twice, and everyone was friendly to us both. Leandro gave us coffee, and introduced us to some of his friends.
The service was lively, and included a talented rock band that broke out into guitar solos between lyrics that were filled with love and worship of Jesus. We chatted with one of Jim’s friends, Jason, after the service. He explained that he had showed up at Jim’s apartment that morning to wheel Jim to church. I felt good knowing that someone else was there for him, and as we talked more, I realized that Jason and his friends were on a mission to improve Jim’s life.
He said that himself and a couple other members had become aware of Jim’s situation about three weeks prior. They had since bought Jim the two new space heaters, and a large comforter for his bed. They had been bringing food, bottles of water, and doing his laundry. We left church and Jason drove the both of us to a local shelter where we were both able to rinse off. Jason helped Jim to undress, and sent an encouragement as he left the bathroom.
Stay in there for a good 30-35 minutes Jim!
We left the shelter feeling like new men. Jason put icing on the cake as we drove away: “Jim, you must be gettin’ hungry huh? I’m sorry to say, but the only thing around here is McDonalds.” I was in the backseat, but I could almost feel Jim’s excitement. “I would love –a fish sandwich and a soda” Jim exclaimed. Jason pulled through and ordered the meal for Jim. “We will have a fish sandwich…actually, make that two fish sandwiches, fries, and a large coke.” Jim wolfed his food down in the car as we drove back to the apartment, everyone feeling happy, refreshed, and positive about the direction of Jim’s life.