IN THE IMAGE #14 : Reality can be trusted

From the daily devotional that comes to my phone, four words leap off the screen at me. “Reality can be trusted.” That phrase sits in my consciousness as I write.
A recent text message informed me that an old friend, “Ron,” had been taken to hospital with a heart attack. I had to lie a little to get in to see him, I’m not really his “pastor,” our relationship has never been that formal.
The ICU room was crowded and dark. I could barely find Ron amid all the hoses and equipment, amid the flashing and beeping and blinking. The nurse mentioned that Ron was a little groggy as she scuttled away to allow space for this “sacred” conversation.
It had probably been close to a year since I’d seen Ron. He was dozing, and I touched his shoulder. His eyes opened, I pulled my mask down, he studied my face.
“Been a while. How’s the missus?”
In that moment, I knew that Ron was aware who stood before him. But his sedation was such that his speech was garbled, unclear. Drool escaped his mouth. This was a strange version of Ron. Whenever we weren’t actively conversing, his eyes drooped. I asked him, speaking slowly, how he was feeling.
Again with the mumbling, then I heard, “Well, if the nurses weren’t so good lookin’ I’d just go home.”
My giggling lasted most of the drive home. That was Ron, different reality, but that was my friend, Ron. Intermingled with the giggles, in my strange version of a processing center, was another space where the questions started, “If Ron dies, will I be asked to officiate a funeral?”
I’ve been in charge of a number of death related services for released offenders. Ron has lived well in the community for a couple of decades. There was a time when a support community met with Ron and a number of other struggling guys at least once every few weeks. These days, a few friends who enjoy playing crib get together on occasion. I’m not smart enough for crib.
Ron grew up in a bush community. Life was hard and his father’s angry violence made it that much harder. In that hardscrabble existence, not much energy was given to social niceties, or to the deliberate exploration of faith, of wonder, of anything not directly connected to survival.
Ron moved on from that situation driven by a determination to work. Jobs were hard and dirty. A marriage, a family, came and went. He had no tools to maintain that. Addictions got in the way, and his life took darker turns. Eventually, in that darkness, Ron offended in a devastating manner. When our group of volunteers became aware of him, he had served his time and was desperate for healthy community. Ron became a friend. The painful part of his story was so embarrassing that he never spoke of it. He was honest, trustworthy, enough so that my “missus” had no qualms of having Ron in her home, whether I was present or not. He brought us a gift, a stuffed bunny, when our first grandchild arrived. Ron is generous with the little that he has. A frequent quote, brusquely offered, is, “Money never dies. Friends do.”
Ron still has zero language or comfort for the spiritual aspect of existence. Conversation is conducted with words learned in the bush, about topics largely gleaned from the bush. In the past decade, he has reconnected with family, and if you know to listen between words, Ron expresses pride in children, grandchildren. He has always shown concern for “the missus.”
If I’m involved with a death ceremony, will it need to be couched in God language? Will it need prayer, scripture, sermons? Will Ron’s existence, with it’s chapters of darkness, chapters of light, will it need to be shoehorned into such a foreign setting?
“Reality can be trusted.” Ron’s reality, as long as I’ve known him, has been trustworthy. He is good. He carries much of the holy image of God. “The “missus” suggests a wiener roast in the park, if and when we can pry him away from ICU and those nurses.