That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That [humanity] has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called 'visions,' the whole so-called "spirit-world," death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the sense with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke's words ring true to me in my day to day life around here. I've known David for years. Many years. He and I were first neighbors back in 1986. One night a couple of years after we met I found him knocking on my door. When I answered the door he fell into my arms weeping. He had been at a swimming lesson with his son at a public park here in Indianapolis and during the course of the swimming lesson his son drowned (it sounds impossible even as I type it). David was standing by the side of the swimming pool. David was destroyed. There is no other word for it. Over several years his life fell apart. He is a gifted man. But a broken one too.
When I moved back here in 2003 David and I ran into each other again. His life had hit bottom a few years earlier when he was shot nearly in the exact spot that our home now stands on. After that he began, slowly, to put the pieces of his life back together. It's been a new beginning in fits and starts.
At the beginning of the summer he had a new summer job working with young people. But within a week he had been fired. He came to see me. We talked. He was so disappointed in losing the job - in part because he intended to use his earnings to buy a ticket to New York City to see his other son graduate from a special program there. Our church provides neighborhood assistance...but a plane ticket to New York didn't seem like what that was meant for -- but I had some extra money after a little extra work I had done that summer. I told David I would buy him a ticket to New York if he would come up with some contribution he could and would make to the life of his neighborhood.
So we talked together. He had big dreams (like usual). He is a dreamer. But he's not necessarily the best implementer of dreams. So, I asked him to dream smaller. And so he did. We talked together about his gift of encouragement and his joy at being around people. I talked with him about a neighbor who has suffered a couple of strokes and who is lonely. I said, I would like to see David spend some time with this guy. He agreed that he would.
Later that summer I got a call from David. He had enjoyed his time with his son in New York and he told me that he would be visiting the neighbor we talked about.
Over the next few weeks I wondered if David had gotten by to see him. One Saturday evening in September I got a call. It was David. He told me that he and this neighbor had gotten together a few times. The day before he said they had gone out to the golf course. And though his companion was not up to playing he loved being out on the course again. They talked and laughed for hours. Then David began to choke up. I asked him what was wrong. He said that his companion's wife had called him that morning to tell him that her husband had just died. "Oh David," I said to him, "what a gift you gave to him. In the last 24 hours of life he got to spend a beautiful day in a place that he loved. He wasn't lonely. Just think how rich that made those last few hours." David sniffed and I could hear him seeing the gift through his grief. I thought of what courage it has taken David, through death and guilt and addiction and unemployment and disillusionment -- to bear witness to life and love. And I think what a privilege it is to see such courage. It helps me see a whole new world.