Monday, July 13, 2009

WWKD ("What Would Kathleen Do?")

The initials WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?") has been used on bracelets by many Christian youth as a way to remind them to follow the example of Jesus. This phrase (as I recently learned) was born out of Charles Sheldon's 1896 novel "In His Steps." The lead character suggested that if each person asked "What Would Jesus Do?" with each decision they made, then the world would be a much better place.

I used to joke with Kathleen that I didn't see myself as good enough to do what Jesus did, so I would adopt instead the slogan: WWKD? "What would Kathleen do?" I figured if I followed her example, I couldn't go wrong.

The last time I spoke to Kathleen was in ICU when she returned briefly to consciousness. During this period, she was on a respirator and unable to speak, but she was able to respond to what I told her by squeezing my fingers. Among other things, I told her about Melissa and Shawn, a homeless couple that she had taken under her wing. I told Kathleen how fervently Melissa was praying for her, and how she had called me twenty times to find out how Kathleen was doing. Melissa was very sad because she had not been able to see her daughter on Mother's Day, and so I sent Melissa a Mother's Day card and a hundred dollar bill (which one of our adopted daughters had given us).

"That's what you would have done, isn't it, darling?" I said to Kathleen.

She squeezed my fingers very hard, in a way I will never forget.

I thought of this story this morning as I drove to Skid Row to pick up Clarke, a homeless man whom Kathleen had taken under her wing. Clarke is a 64-year-old man who has never found his niche in life and was living with his ailing mother when Kathleen befriended him. Among other things, Kathleen helped Clarke to get early social security so he would have some income when his mother went into assisted living and he found himself homeless. At Kathleen's memorial at Santa Monica Meeting, Clarke expressed gratitude to Kathleen for "saving his life" by taking him by the hand and leading him to the Social Security office.

Since Kathleen's passing, I have come to realize how much Clarke needs a helping hand. Living on Skid Road in a shelter for mentally ill vets, Clarke tends to become depressed and his judgment becomes impaired. When he got a $180 ticket for jay walking, he didn't show up for his court date and the fine jumped to $800. Since Clarke receives $400 per month from SS, this fine was devastating.

When I contacted him around the time of Kathleen's memorial, Clarke was in such deep depression he felt unable to attend. I knew he'd feel even worse if he didn't attend Kathleen's memorial so I went down to Skid Row, picked him up, got him lunch, a shower, and new clothes, and he was able to attend the memorial in reasonably good spirits.

I've stayed in touch with him ever since. I was pleased to learn that he had appointment to see a psychiatrist to determine whether he is eligible for SSI, which would increase his benefits to $900 per month. But Clarke didn't want to go. He insists he isn't crazy and therefore doesn't merit these benefits, but I told him to keep an open mind, he might be eligible.

The problem with people who are truly mentally ill is that they are often convinced they are quite normal. I didn't tell him this, of course. When he told me that he would try to fake mental illness by pretending to be a dog, I said, "Don't try to fake it. Just be yourself." He got my joke and laughed, which was a good sign that he isn't as ill as I had feared.

This morning I got up before dawn to pick him up and take him to the psychiatrist in Santa Monica. All the way back he told me sad stories about his dysfunctional family and how it had left him feeling that God didn't care about him.

"If God cares about me, why did he give me such trashy people for my family?"

I felt such love for Clarke at this moment that I could barely hold back tears. I wanted to let him how much God loves him, and how God has been sending people like me to show His love. What I told him was that many people with family problems find a supportive church family to help them through difficult times. I know that's been true in my case. I don't know if Clarke heard me. He was so busy rehearsing all the bad experiences of his past it was hard for him to be present to the "now."

We arrived at my place a couple of hours before his appointment, so he had chance to sit outside, relax and enjoy the greenery. He became restless so he went for a brief walk and got lost a block away from my house and I had to guide him back by cell phone.

Fortunately, I was able to get him to his appointment on time. Whether the shrink's assessment will make any difference, I don't know. What I do know is this is what Kathleen would have done, and I felt good doing it.

When I dropped Clarke off at a bus stop on Wilshire, he thanked me and shook my hand, "I would never have come here if it wasn't for you."

He was actually smiling for the first time all morning!

I would probably never have done this if it weren't for Kathleen. And Kathleen would never have done what she did for Clarke if it hadn't been for Jesus. Thanks be to God for such examples to follow!

Please hold Clarke and others like him in your prayers.

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