A glimpse of holiness

I’m fortunate to have an interesting gaggle of friends.

I reconnected with one of those friends a few weeks ago after several years disengaged. “Greg” is interesting for many reasons. The biggie is that he has spent close to thirty years incarcerated and will be on parole for the rest of his life. Oh, and he also lives with mental illness, which results in him being under the watchful eye of Social Services. He’ll have a social worker for life as well.

He lives in a mental health supported facility and that goes reasonably well unless he has to deal with other tenants. Greg’s social skills are a bit rough. He doesn’t trust easily.

Greg has less than a handful of friends. But as long as he stays on his anti-psychotic medication, he will live well. His medication is another life sentence.

On the other end of the teeter totter, Greg is a fun friend. I’m reminded that as we meet in a mall for a three-hour coffee. My life, my view of the world, is better when Greg is part of it. Greg offers a sense of humour, a keen analytical mind, and a love for stories, both offered and received. His memory of events from our decades old relationship astound me. He can only afford a radio, and his world view is shaped by the CBC. Out of that come profound opinings on events in the world.

I show Greg a letter that I had received in response to my column on medically assisted dying. He is immediately defensive for me. “What, does this person think that the more suffering we can wring out of our dying process, that’s desirable to God?” He goes on. “I wonder how much time this person has spent feeding hungry folks, visiting in prisons, sitting with people who are sick? Do they just sit at home making up theology, deciding what God wants?”

I giggle at his indignation, but am astounded at Greg’s next observation. Greg is not a church goer.

“It seems to me that all the major religions of the world are, at their core, about the Golden Rule. Live toward others as you want them to live toward you. That’s like a big tree. The trunk of that tree is solid, true, straight and perfect. It’s in the branches where sin happens!”

I gape at that. Greg offers wisdom equivalent to that offered by doctored spiritual leaders.

The conversation swings towards politics, as it usually does. “Your man Trudeau is done. There’s really nothing that can change that any more. Get ready for Poilieve to be your next prime minister!” (I don’t argue with Greg, but a few days later, as Greg recounted this story to his other friend, it had been adjusted a little to include that I had wrestled Greg to the ground at that point and that we had to be separated by mall security.)

“And what about that time you rolled your car! All by yourself, not another car around you, driving along the highway, and you just rolled your little car into the ditch! I can’t believe that they give you a class 1 license, can’t believe that they let you drive the biggest heaviest vehicles on the road! What’s that about?”

Despite the acerbic wit, which adds colour to our relationship, Greg also offers compassion beyond the norm. His eidetic memory allows him recall of every story of my family that involves health struggle, from the several decades of our relationship. He asks about each one, offers condolences for deaths.

Part of the reason that our coffee time extends to three hours is that Greg is unable to quickly disengage. When I’m done, I can simply stand and walk away. Greg is not capable of that. I need to plant the seed of ending the conversation about an hour before it needs to happen. Even then, Greg is still recalling more stories that he can tease me about, more political observations that he hopes will cause a reaction, more philosophical opinions that slide into spiritual directions. Greg knows I’m a sucker for those.

I wish that everyone would have a Greg in their life, to glimpse holiness from a direction unexpected.