We all have something to give. To share. To bestow.
And still, we hesitate. We step back from the brink of stepping beyond our comfort zones and say, not my job. Not my responsibility. Not me.
I don’t have time. It’s too scary. I’ll be in the way. Nobody wants what I have to share.
And yet, no matter our excuses, our rationalizations, our inner conflict, we all have something to give.
Three years ago, a client at the shelter where I used to work was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had been a participant in the arts program I started and over the course of three years, had fallen in love with photography. “It’s my retirement plan,” he’d tell me when he excitedly showed me another one of his photos — and they really were spectacular.
James Bannerman had an eye. For composition. For colour. For angles. For light.
What he didn’t have was a lot of human connections. He tended to keep to himself. Seldom causing trouble. Always being on his own. He’d given up drinking years ago. “It caused me too much trouble,” he told me. But he never recovered from the other wounds, the deep soul pain he didn’t have words to express.
But he was happy. He was living a simple life, giving back whenever he could. Volunteering. Giving people his photos. Participating in our art shows. And then, James received the diagnosis he never expected and everything changed. “I never thought it would be stomach cancer that got me,” he told me one day when I went to see him during his many hospitalizations after the diagnosis. An avid smoker, James thought if anything it would be lung cancer. “I can beat this,” he said. “I know I can.”
But he didn’t. Beat it. Less than nine months after the diagnosis James passed away quietly at a hospice.
I was sitting beside him, holding his hand. It was all I could do for this man who had wanted to live his life quietly, picking up bottles, working temp shovelling snow in winter, mowing lawns and tending gardens in summer and, at all times, using his camera to express the beauty he saw everywhere in the world around him.
James didn’t need words to express himself. He had his eyes and his capacity to capture magical moments everywhere.
I hadn’t meant to be there when he passed over. I had spent the final hours with him, waiting for the hospice van to come and get him. When he’d left I’d said my good-byes. It wasn’t until that evening, a cold, cold December night that I wondered, is anyone with him? Usually, in these instances, a frontline staff or member of the medical team from the homeless shelter where I worked would be with a client. I didn’t want to interfere, but, I was worried when I got home from work that possibly no one had been able to drive to the hospice they’d taken James to 45 minutes south of the city. So I called to check on him and when I found out he was alone and, as the nurse said on the phone, “wouldn’t last through the night”, I decided to drive out to the hospice and sit with him through the night. James was afraid of dying and I didn’t want him to go through it alone.
For four hours I sat quietly by his bedside, holding one of his thin, fragile hands. The cancer had taken its toll and this once strong man with weathered hands that worked tirelessly to lift and carry were too heavy for his arms to lift anymore. I chatted with the nurses when they came in to check on us and to ensure James was comfortable. He was mostly unconscious and laid quietly on the bed. I shared stories with them, of James and the shelter and his life as I knew it. And then, shortly after midnight on December 8, 2009, James took in his last rattling gasp of breath, and never let it out.
I sat for a few moments waiting for an exhalation, but it never came.
James was gone.
Sitting with James as he passed over was a profoundly privileged moment. It wasn’t something I expected to do. In my capacity as Director of PR and Volunteer Services at the shelter, it wasn’t something I ‘should’ have been doing.
But I could. And so I did. And in the giving, I was made different.
In the giving, my eyes opened to the sanctity and sacredness of life, every human life and the power we hold as individuals to connect, cherish and celebrate each other.
Give a little bit. Give a lot. Give what you can.
And always give.
In giving we receive.
I thought of this story of James when I saw this video on a friend’s Facebook wall.
Supertramp’s — Give a Little Bit.
One of the pieces in Tangerine Tango Women Writers Share Slices of Life is about working at a hospice. My son is also doing that work now as part of his social work training. It is profound. How wonderful you can be that kind of giver.
I’m so glad you told me that Lisa — I just downloaded your book to my iPad! Thank you. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Thank you for being there with James, Louise. xo
I know you would have been there Diana. I know you have been there for others. Thank you.
Your posts always inspire me to do better – love your attitude!
As do yours for me Julie. You always inspire me to take the compassionate path. thank you.
You always make me want to be a better person.
I know God places people in a position to offer their strength when loved ones need them.There is more precious gift we can give another human being than to place their hand in God’s as they leave this earth for a better place of no more suffering. It changes lives for the better. God bless you for being ther for so many, Louise. Bev