A while back, I had learned that an old friend was in a nursing home. She was a friend I’d grown up with and was close to through the usual ups and downs of adolescence and early adulthood, but then, as with many friendships, our lives separated and we grew apart.
The last time I saw her was when her husband died several years ago, and her life just seemed to get worse from then on.
When I learned she was in the nursing home, I decided to go see her, but I always had an excuse not to – and they were legitimate excuses, I told myself. I got home from work at 7:30. I was exhausted on weekends and had a lengthy list of things to do. But my intentions were wholesome. I even bought her a statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and planned to get flowers. Then, I saw her brother at a wedding, and he suggested that I wait because she wasn’t doing well with visitors, so I eagerly latched onto that excuse.
Visiting her was on my “things to do” list for some time, for too long a time, and I guess when you don’t do something soon enough, you never will and you’re fooling yourself. I finally vowed that I was going to go the next weekend, regardless of what happened, but something happened and I didn’t get there. I had to take the car in for servicing or I had to finish writing something or – it was so important I can’t remember what it was. I put my intention to visit her on the “To Do” list again for the following week, but by then it was too late because I learned that she had died.
I was devastated. I had failed to do what I should have done for someone I loved. My guilt was heavy, and I don’t want it to go away or to rationalize what I’d neglected to do.
There are a few occasions in life where God reaches through the haze and shakes us into reality about something that needs to be done. This was one of those occasions. A test? I don’t like that word, but if it was a test, I clearly failed, good intentions notwithstanding.
I still remember another occasion when an annoying fellow kept calling me and leaving messages because he wanted to talk, but I avoided his calls. I had no desire to listen to him prattle on and on about his job, his life, his successes, his new car and everything else.
Besides, I was too busy to talk. There was breaking news, contract negotiations with the union, college loan applications to fill out and a lot of other things. Nevertheless, he called again ... and again. Then, there was a final voice message he left on my answering machine, when he said in a faltering voice, “I just needed to talk to you because I knew you’d understand. My wife left me.” My heart sank. I was humiliated by my behavior.
I know one thing: On my day of judgment, when Jesus reviews my wins and my losses, my good deeds and my bad deeds, and my omissions, that failure to call that fellow back will be right near the top of the list along with neglecting to visit my friend in the nursing home because I’m convinced Jesus wanted me to help these people. God had given me a chance to show compassion and I didn’t even bother to show up because I was too busy. They were corporal and spiritual works of mercy I should have performed. Instead, I had all the usual excuses that you hear in the working world from people who think they’re too important to be doing what God wants them to do, things that are more consequential than all the worldly preoccupations we delude ourselves into believing are necessities.
I only hope that I learn from my mistake. It’s a simple lesson: When the occasion presents itself, when someone reaches out for help, for sympathy, for love, for care, for money, don’t think twice, say yes because it’s God reaching out to you through a person who is hurting or less fortunate.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.