FIRST MET RON AT A CHURCH YOUTH CAMP. He was a gifted carpenter and handyman, but he spoke loudly and somewhat unintelligibly. I planned to keep my distance.
Sometime later, in our church bulletin there was a request for someone willing to give a deaf man a room in their home. Suddenly I realized he was the one I had encountered at camp. In my heart I wanted to invite him to our home. But we already have a full house, I thought. Someone else can do it. Week after week I read the request and felt the nagging urge to say yes. After all, didn?t Jesus say, ?Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . .? (Matt. 25:40, KJV)?
Providence Steps In
When Ron came to town, he agreed to do cleaning and yard work at the church in exchange for being allowed to live in a small house next door to the church. It seemed a perfect arrangement.
At first, a dozen people or so attended the classes Ron taught to speak and understand sign language. We had fun, and Ron made new friends. People interpreted for him at church, and it was a challenge for all of us to communicate with him.
I had a new baby when Ron came to the area. He?d always wanted children of his own, and he took special joy holding babies. At first, his loud and choppy way of speaking frightened young children. But his smile and tenderness told them they were loved, and they soon warmed to him.
Ron played with children by the hour: hide-and-seek, snow sledding, softball--he was really a kid at heart. He enjoyed spending time with families in their homes. He was never afraid of work; doing dishes, weeding the garden, or shoveling snow.
Sometimes Ron just needed to talk. I tried to communicate with him with mixed results. It was fun to try out my limited knowledge of sign language, but it took so long to have a conversation. Ron taught me that we talk way too much. When your vocabulary is limited, or you have to finger-spell each word, you?re much more economical with your words.
Ron didn?t always take care of himself. Sometimes he?d become depressed or experience seizures. Often I mused over the disparity of our lives. For me, every minute of every day is planned and structured before I get out of bed. There just aren?t enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do.
Then I?d see Ron. He was so careful, so particular about everything he did. He took his time, until those of us watching and waiting got annoyed. ?Hurry? was not in his vocabulary.
He was in very good physical condition. One would never have guessed that he was in his late 50s when he moved to our area. He walked or rode his bike many miles a week.
But after a year or so things began to change. The sign language class dwindled down to nothing; finding someone to interpret at services was more difficult. Ron found himself more and more alone.
Our family invited Ron over as much as anyone, but we were feeling the burden of hospitality in still another sense. I hadn?t been able to ignore that little voice that urged me to invite him to our home for good. After praying about it and talking to our children, my husband and I asked him to move in with us. At first, he was unsure it was the right thing to do. But after a few weeks, rather abruptly, he moved into our living room.
This was not a good arrangement, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. Ron was a big help around the house, but his being there made things uncomfortable as well.
After about three weeks Ron moved back to his house. We continued to invite him over occasionally, and all seemed well. But about six weeks later our area suffered a major ice storm. It happened early one Friday morning. We were without power but better off than most. We heat with wood and cook with gas and had part-time use of a generator. I wondered how Ron was faring, and I asked someone to check on him, but they didn?t. I should?ve gone myself, but I was busy.
For Reflection . . .
2.Are there ways to serve and support those in need without being directly involved? What might they be?
3. Who is ultimately responsible for providing material and moral support to those in need? (It?s a trick question.)
4. What kind of needs do you feel personally equipped to meet? How have you used your talents to serve others?
Late Sabbath morning I drove around tree branches and downed power lines to see how Ron was doing. Surely someone closer has checked on him by now, I thought.
I found a note on the door written by the police officer who lived on the other side of the church. He had taken Ron to a Red Cross emergency shelter. I called him when I returned home. He kindly reprimanded me because we hadn?t checked on Ron sooner. He had been without heat or water for nearly two days when temperatures were in the 20s at night. He was ?rescued? while begging for water with a cup out by the road. I immediately went and picked him up at the shelter. I was angry with myself, and all of us.
Ron spent the next three days with us until the power was restored. We had fun living a little like pioneers.
After that we got together now and then, especially midweek for an impromptu softball game, which included neighborhood youth. Some of these young people had gotten to know Ron quite well and didn?t seem to mind his disability.
Was It Enough?
At the end of May Ron was found dead. One of the boys hadn?t seen him for a few days. When he knocked on the door and stepped inside, he knew something was wrong. The police officer next door confirmed his death. The schoolteacher and I were among the first to come upon the scene, and we were stunned. But more than that, I was in grief. How could this have happened? We should have been closer. Where were we when he needed us? How can we say we have love for one another when one of our own dies alone like that?
I don?t regret doing what we did for Ron. What I regret is that we didn?t do more.
Brenda Caster lives in Fulton, New York, and is a full-time wife, mother, and grandmother.