John Bressler-021111Listen to John Bressler read his column.
About 30 years have passed since I last saw this lady, so I guess I can tell you a bit of her story. The Presbyterians had just built a grand fully-functioning retirement center with all the perks: it was right next to the inter-coastal waterway, had a large swimming pool, a third-floor medical center, a bowling alley, craft rooms, fine private rooms and a couple of penthouses for those who had the cash. Since the facility was right around the corner from my church, I served as the go-to pastor in emergencies.
I was visiting some folks one morning when the local rabbi stopped me, introduced himself and asked me a favor. "One of my former synagogue members is in your medical center. Her husband feels like this would be best for her and his particular situation even though she is a Jew surrounded by Christians. He'll probably speak to you one of these days. Here's the deal. It's a long way from north Sarasota down to Pelican Cove. She hasn't attended synagogue for years and years so she really isn't a part of our community. She's angry at me and just about everybody else, and I'm not helping her at all. I've heard you do well with most folks, so I am asking if you would be kind enough to visit her when you make your rounds."
I said that I would.
It would not be right to tell you her story, as there is too much heartbreak and too much personal grief that just plain words can't explain. Let me say this, I have never met anyone with such anger in my life. Try to imagine being placed in a retirement center, regardless of all the amenities, surrounded by strangers and being visited now and then by a stranger whose faith is foreign and whose presence is less than welcome.
I can't remember how many times I dropped by to see her, and I certainly can't count the times I was told to get out, get lost — and in language that would make a sailor proud. One day, I lost all my training insofar as pastoral care was concerned and said, "Look. If you don't want to see my face or hear my voice, just say the word, but if you'd like me to drop in now and then, just let me know." I was almost out the door when her voice, very quietly for the first time, spoke, "Please don't leave."
There were no illusions about the next few months. She was friendlier and more talkative, but when she died, she died angry. I still remember my anger and my personal pledge, "I will say to everyone I know. 'Never die angry."'
That sounds odd, I'm sure, and a lot easier said than done. My belief is that I need to approach life with all the positive energy I can muster. I need to surround myself with loving and caring people to the best of my ability. I want to see everything, experience the good as well as the bad, never take anything or anyone for granted, always — and I mean always — remember God is with me both now and forever. Hey, it's all right to be angry. Just don't make it a habit.
Before anyone misunderstands me, I do not count on others to make me happy. It is my intention to help others smile, endure, have hope, enjoy life and have a heart filled with wonder. When that happens, and folks can stand tall even when it is a rainy day emotionally, I can smile with them.
Let's make today a good day for those we meet. Store some of that goodness as a fond memory. When it's tough tomorrow or the next day or whenever, pull out that memory and smile even if only for a moment.
Perhaps, just maybe, why not, "Die happy." God will take care of the rest.