It was early in the evening of Dec 7, 2009 when I made the decision to drive 45 minutes south of the city to sit with a man whose life was quickly ebbing from his body.
He was a client at the homeless shelter where I used to work. He’d been taken to hospice earlier in the day and wasn’t expected to survive the night.
I’d called the hospice when I got home to check on him, to see if any frontline staff were by his side. I was concerned about my going to be with him. I wasn’t a frontline worker. Wasn’t trained to sit at a dying man’s bedside. I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. Didn’t want to put myself in a position where others might think I didn’t belong.
I decided all of that was ego talk.
A man was dying. He had touched my heart in many ways over the 3 years I’d known him. I did not want him to pass over the threshold to the “5th stage” alone.
And so I went.
James A. Bannerman took his last breath at 12:45 am on December 8th, 2009. I sat and held his hand as he took one last breath in and then no more. His body stilled, his heart quietened and in that intake of breath, his life on this earth ended.
I had wondered earlier in the day yesterday why I was feeling ‘different’, at unease, restless.
And then I was reminded of James.
I’d gone to a meeting to clarify a situation in which I’d been involved in a decision to not be part of a secondary piece to the memorial service being planned for December 21, The Longest Night of the Year. It was a good idea but, without more time and resources being available to do the needed planning to ensure the proposed addition to the event went off well, we could not as an organization support the idea at this time.
I’d made the decision on behalf of the organization in a phone call with someone from another agency who wanted to talk through their concerns with me. That conversation impacted someone else in a way I had not intended, did not foresee.
They are passionate about this event. They had contributed greatly to its coming into being last year and wanted to make it bigger, better. Their ideas are good. Their commitment inspiring. They were disappointed and expressed their disappointment the only way they knew how.
It was a good reminder. To be compassionate. To be open to fierce conversation. To be thoughtful in all things. Kind in every way.
And I am grateful.
In their words I was reminded of James. Reminded of that sacred moment of sitting in the quiet of a cold winter’s night, holding the hand of a fellow human being as he took his final breath on his journey home to ‘the beyond’ of this life here on earth.
In that memory lives the essence of my belief in our humanity.
There is no us and them. You versus me. We different than thee.
There is only us.
There is only this human journey we all share.
We may come from different sides of the street. We may have experienced different parts of the experience called homelessness, and a host of other human conditions. But in the end, as we take our final breath, as the life force leaves our body, there is only one thing we leave behind, one thing that carries us over the threshold of whatever lies beyond this life on earth.
And that is Love.
I had a moment yesterday where my desire to defend against overrode my need to breathe into being present, compassionate, thoughtful, kind.
Thank you James for teaching me many years ago to put aside my fears, my ego, my desire to be comfortable so that I would remember always to breathe into Love.