Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remembering Pete

Around 4 a.m. on this dark rainy morning of December 30, Peter Sobek died.

Not one of you know Pete. I am sure of this. Not many people did. For about 4 years I lived in his neighborhood, where he lived on a little cot in the living room of a tiny condo he shared his grown daughter. He was lonely, sick, isolated, often worried. As far as I could tell in the last couple of years he had no interactions with anyone in this world but his daughter and health care professionals and my family. And yet, whoever knew him loved him and even more--he loved them. He always spoke words of love, of appreciation--to hear him tell it, his daughter, as well every cleaning lady, every physical therapist, every orderly at every convaslescent home was a saint-- "good people"...

He was an ex-drinker, completely estranged from one son and almost estranged from a second. And yet he called my son "Smilely," and gave him candy and played little games with him and showed care for Luke every time we were together--no matter how sick he was feeling.

He was "not a very good Catholic," who had not been to a church in many, many years. And he told me Jesus was with him, and comforted him and answered his prayers. Once I came over and he was reading the Bible--the book of Mark-- he said, "look here Jenny. I thought this was going to be prayers--but it's all this that Jesus did and said. It's just wonderful."

Often at the end of our visits I would say, "Pete, can I pray for you," and he would agree and then start praying the Lord's Prayer. Yesterday, by God's generous goodness to me, I was able to visit him for the last time. He was too weak to do more than open his eyes for a second, but he held my hand for a little while and before I left I prayed --and I sincerely believe he prayed with me--the prayer Jesus gave us.

Once he said to me, in thanks for some extremely small thing I had done for him,
"you are just like a mother to me." It was the kind of extravagent grace he always showed--but to be compared to the mother of a man in his 80s really struck me. I keep thinking about how my own son will some day have to travel this same route--and I likely won't be there as he travels it. I trust that God will bring him friends then. And I think how unspeakably horrible it is to imagine that my son's gloriously beautiful and perfect body will someday wither and fail him and he will gasp for his last breaths and then die.

But this Christmas God has reminded me that he has sent his own Son to take on flesh as weak as ours. He allowed his own son to walk into death, to gasp for breath and not to find it. That is the gift he has given us. He has met us in our unspeakable weakness and he has redeemed it, transformed it....brought out of it resurrection and life.

I was trying, in some small way, to talk about this with Luke. He summarized it beautifully, better than I could ever have said. He said, today, when we were talking about Pete's passing-- "Jesus died before Pete. He went before him. So he can show him the way."

A few years ago, when Pete had his first heart attack, Luke and I went to visit him in the convaslescent home -- and when we returned I wrote this poem. I'll publish it here again (I know I have before as well) with profound gratitude to God for allowing our family to know his friend Peter Sobek.

Returning From Visiting The Convalescent Home

In the dark wind, husks
of seed pods rustle; grasses
leaning, knocking into one another
a soft and brittle chiming.

Tomorrow in the morning, I’ll walk
among the careless, amber weeds
full of their wet, jeweled light.

See how it was--the keening
then the kneeling--
and how they too have flung
their last bruised kernels away.