Last June, Jim was new at Preble Street. He had crushed his foot in an auto accident 25 years ago and had since held a succession of manual, heavy duty jobs. Now I can’t do without this crutch, he said, wincing, and with all my weight on this other leg, my good foot is giving out too. Can you help me, pastor?
I met Jim on Tuesdays or athereafter. We’d talk. I got him cushioned sneakers, which helped. But it didn't address the deterioration of the foot bones. It's been bone on bone for years, he said. Mid-July, Jim’s Case worker and I brought him to Maine Med's orthopedic clinic. There, an empathetic specialist fitted him with a "boot," which surrounded the injured foot and ankle and eased the pain. At the desk, preliminary steps were taken for a surgical appointment. I love you two, Jim said on the way out, hobbled but hopeful.
Ten days passed. I looked forward to seeing Jim again, to hearing how much better his foot was in the boot, how much his pain had eased, how much he looked forward to his surgery date. Instead, outside the soup kitchen, Jim described how nothing of this had happened, how the pain was back in force, how no surgery could be scheduled until a raft of papers were assembled and processed. Jim was back in the hole, flush with pain, in despair.
Nearly every one of our people faces a version of Jim's plight. Nearly every one carries the burden of this or that past injury and is alone with it in one sense or another. We pastors can facilitate connections to health care, to housing, even to employment. We can and do address physical circumstances with boots, sneakers, socks, hoodies, underwear, t-shirts, and the like. But we know we succeed in this giving when somehow we also communicate God’s own mysterious and abiding love. And that’s when it happens: a knowing look, a gesture of gratitude, a prayer or a blessing, or just an “I love you, pastor.”
Then the burdens re-assert, the tide of needs comes back in, and we know, and our people know, that the work is always, always up-hill. Then we all wince, and we go on.