“I know you’re busy.”
My 81-year-old friend says this to me as I’m leaving his new apartment. He doesn’t drive anymore, so we moved him into town to be closer to church and the bakery and the bank. Places he can walk. Places where everyone knows his name and he theirs. His second day in his new home, he fell in the bathtub and hit his head and cut open both his arms. It’s a few days later and I’ve just finished changing his bandages. I’ve been here almost every day this week, but he still makes this remark. I know you’re busy. It’s his way of saying, I wish you spent more time with me.
If it were up to him, we’d go out to lunch together everyday. We’d spend the afternoon on his tiny patio, rocking in the rocking chairs and watching the grass grow. We might listen to classical music at a dangerous volume, and eventually, unwillingly, his chin would droop to his chest and he’d fall fast asleep.
In truth we do see each other fairly often, but when you’re 81 and your kidneys are failing, your days consist of eating, sleeping, and attending to healthcare needs. There are many hours spent alone even with the many friends and church members who visit.
“I am busy, but I love spending time with you.” I say this often, and I mean it, although there are times I get impatient with him, and then ashamed of myself for getting frustrated. When I’m with my friend, we walk slowly, eat slowly, talk slowly (and loudly).
Why is it so difficult to slow down?
I give him a hug and he holds me tight for a second or two. I kiss his cheek, his stubbly whiskers poking my lips. People don’t touch enough these days.
“I love you,” I say.
“I love you, too,” he replies, smiling at me.
As I’m leaving, he tries to press a $20 bill into my hand for buying the bandages, which I discreetly leave on the side table. He’s already sent me home with a Swedish-English dictionary for Bryan, a $2 bill each for the kids, and a set of etched wine glasses that belonged to his mother. His generosity can be a challenge as I want to make sure he has enough to live on, but he’s been giving away his possessions.
I don’t know how long we’ll have together, but I’m thankful for the time we do have. He’s teaching me to value things the world doesn’t have time for: slow walks, rocking chairs, hugs, naps, prayer, and knowing people’s names.
He has time to spend on these things, even as his own time winds down. I hope I can be that kind of person, too.
I am busy, but I have time for you.
RACHEL WOMELSDUFF GOUGH and her family ditched the city for a patch of earth in the Snoqualmie Valley. She seeks to foster shalom in her neighborhood by rooting deeply, connecting people, and practicing hospitality. She is a Master of Divinity student at Fuller Theological Seminary, a pastoral intern at a small town church that feels like family, and she can’t live without books, coffee, and mountains.