Not Every Door Is An Exit — August 14, 2021
Walk A Mile in Their Shoes
I had been receiving AARP mailings for many years but I did not consider myself old. I had been receiving social security payments for years but I did not feel old. I have turned the calendar over for so many years that I didn’t feel comfortable telling people my age according to the calendar but I certainly didn’t feel old.
Then my body developed cancer.
Suddenly my age of 71 was a disadvantage in my odds of beating the cancer. Suddenly each room I went to in order to receive treatment for my condition was filled with elderly waiting to receive treatment for their conditions. Before the cancer I did not even consider my life expectancy because it’s completion seemed so far off but now I was told that my life expectancy in years was way less than the number of fingers on one hand.
I was not only walking a mile in the shoes of the elderly I was an elderly person.
Being surrounded by them as I received my treatment I was able to hear them laugh despite their pain. I was able to hear their positive conversations with their nurses as their frail bruised arms were poked yet again to draw more blood or their ports were poked again to receive their chemo treatment.
I could see the pain that walking caused their knees and backs as they walked uncomplainingly towards receiving a repetitive dreary treatment yet again. I heard the nurses whispering about the dear patient who neither they nor anyone else would ever see again; the patient who I had seen just a month earlier.
Our society often categorizes the elderly as drains on our social security and medical departments. They are the reason we are told that our medical insurance is so expensive. We are told they are unproductive members of our society whose time had come and passed and now were threats to the futures of the generations behind them. They are uncomfortable to look at because they remind us of our own mortality.
I found out something different about the elderly. I found out about courage and self-discipline about facing death and unrelenting chronic pain with jokes and prayers. I came to admire them as they performed their slow painful walks of determination without complaints.
Who else as Christians are we called to walk among even though our society regards them as unpleasant reminders of things they would rather pretend don’t exist.
Jesus refers to them as ‘the least of these my brothers and sisters’. The world refers to them as the homeless, the addicted, those in institutions and prisons, those without papers, those of different races, the poor, the severely disabled, the angry, the sad, the abandoned.
Dare we walk a mile in their shoes? If we do so what would we see? We would see people avert their eyes from our eyes and crossing the street to avoid us. We would see people afraid to touch us lest they catch some horrible unknown disease. We would see people put their arms around their children and guide them so they wouldn’t have to pass by us too closely. We would see smiles leave passersby as they neared us. We would see people pass us by struggling hard to convince themselves that we don’t exist.
Dare we walk a mile in their shoes? If we do so what would we hear? We would hear ourselves being cursed for ruining the neighborhood. We would hear ourselves being accused of bringing down the entire country. We would hear ourselves being blamed for our condition and we would hear that we were being punished by God for some terrible sins that we committed. We would be accused of being gang members, alcoholics or drug addicts.
It is my prayer that among all of that yelling and accusing we and those we walk among would hear the words of Jesus:
“Come to me you that are blessed by my Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning. I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.
Then the righteous will answer Him. ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you as a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visited you?’
And the King will answer them. ‘Truly I tell you whenever you did it to one of the least of these who are my brothers and sisters you also did it to me.’” (Matthew 35:35–40)