I went to see Art today, he was sitting in his new recliner and loving it. We talked about a number things. He is just back from the hospital where he had to have his heart checked out, he has trouble sleeping at night.
He has spent almost all of his money – about $200 – on sweatshirts and T-shirts with quotes from the Bible, some of them controversial, even offensive, to some people. “I’m not ordinary,” he said, “I have to do this. I know you understand.”
I said I did and I didn’t but that wasn’t relevant. He doesn’t need my permission to wear his T-shirts any more than I need his to write my blog. The shirts arrive in two weeks, and he expects some people will not like them.
Art told me that I was his best friend now, everyone else is gone, and this surprised me. He also said he hoped I would be open to the things that God wanted me to know, he wanted me to be saved.
I said I was grateful and humbled, but he needed to understand that I am a volunteer there to help him, not to be saved. I didn’t wish to discuss my faith with him, or my religious beliefs, I didn’t think it would be productive. I said he probably knew that I had very different beliefs than he did, and he probably also knew that I was just as willful as he is, and I would never be open to being saved by someone else.
Being saved in his way would be offensive and hurtful to me, I said. I hoped he understood that, because it wouldn’t change. If I needed to be saved, I would do it myself.
He took this in, and then dropped the subject. He asked when I was going away – he heard I was going on vacation. I said I was going to New Mexico this Sunday for a week, and he asked he if could pray with me for a safe and successful vacation. I said I would be grateful for that.
“Dear Lord,” he said, “please take care of my friend Jon and his wife as they set out across the country for their vacation. Please keep him safe in flight and as they travel and explore. Please watch over him, Lord, he has a big heart and he cares for people. Please grant him the rest and peace he deserves and needs. I love him, Lord. Please bring him back to us soon.”
I want to cry as I write this, as I wanted to cry when I heard it. I wish I had recorded it and captured the feeling and warmth that can come out of Art at times like this.
I did not cry, that would not have been appropriate.
I made a note to recover myself and move along, and we talked about his new glasses which raise hope that he can read once more, for the first time in years. He says he wants Bible stories, and I am already searching for some.
There is a closeness between Art and myself, although we could hardly be more different if we came from different planets. I think at the core, everything he says and does comes from a passionate desire to save the souls, in his own way, it comes from a place of great love, even though my idea of faith is tolerance and acceptance and empathy, not judgment.
I sense he also has a big heart and cares for people. We just have different ideas about what that means.
As I left, he clasped my hand, and I said I wished him peace and safety as well while i was gone. I meant it, too. Art could use some peace and safety, his road was long and hard.
This is a gap we will never bridge, but the closeness is already there, and I feel it also. I will keep my boundaries, Art and I can be fond of one another, but we cannot be close friends.
That would upend the work I do and the way in which I need do to it. That would cross a boundary. To help people, you need to stand apart from them to see things clearly.
But his prayer had power for me, and I felt it.
I can’t judge other people or tell them what to do, I don’t believe people will go to Hell for having lifestyles that are different from mine. To me, that is the Jesus heart.
But there we are, I was overwhelmed by this loving and generous prayer for my safety and for Maria’s.
If you wish to write Art, the address is as follows: The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.