Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 28, 2004


Lonely people need friends who can help them smile again


          He was standing just inside the entrance, looking out as though he were expecting someone. He seemed not to notice me as I walked inside.

I started to speak but changed my mind when he did not look at me. I made my way to the room of the man I had come to see.

          Though 93, the man greeted me with a smile. He was not in bed, but sitting up in a recliner. I delivered to him a beautiful prayer shawl; it was royal blue with three white crosses embroidered on it. Some women at our church had made the shawl.

          I explained to the man that the women had prayed over the shawl, anointing it with their love, and asking God to bless the man who would drape it around his shoulders. He seemed deeply touched. I prayed with him and left him holding the shawl.

          On my way to the man’s room, I had noticed a large aquarium in the lobby. Easy chairs surrounded it. I remembered a small aquarium that my wife’s sister Doris had given me when I was recovering from a bleeding ulcer. “Take the time to enjoy watching the fish,” she had said; “God will use the little fish to calm your spirit with His peace.”

          She had been right back then, I thought, so I decided to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the fish in this large aquarium. I counted 12 fish, some colored bright orange, and some silver. I relaxed and took pleasure watching the fish flit here and there trying to find food.

          In another corner of the lobby, a middle-aged man sat in a chair beside an older woman. Neither of them was speaking. I surmised the man had come to see his mother. His face betrayed a desire to leave; for several minutes he did nothing but look at his watch now and then. I thought it sad that he could think of nothing to say to the woman who had given him birth. I concluded that duty had brought him to visit her, and now his own self-interests were urging him to leave.

          My conscience said, “You don’t know why the man is here; you may have misjudged him.” I agreed and was tempted to apologize as I walked by, but did not. At least he had come to see his mother. Many children seldom if ever visit the aged parents they have deposited in a home where all the residents are old.

          Some thirty minutes after I came in, I walk toward the door to leave. The old man was still standing at the entrance, still gazing forlornly outside. This time I stop and say, “Hello.” My greeting startles him. He turns to me and says, “Oh, hi.” Having distracted him, I ask, “How are you today?” He says, “Fine, thank you.” With that, he resumes his posture of looking out the glass panel next to the door.

          I walk on, somehow wishing I could have made his day, or given him some bit of joy. I wondered why he had stood there looking out for so long. Was he looking for a son to stop by? A daughter perhaps? A friend? Or was he just enjoying a beautiful spring day and remembering days past when he could go and come as he chose? I had no way of knowing but I could not help but wonder as I drove away.

          My next stop was at another similar building where dozens of old people were housed. In the lobby, four older women were passing around a large rubber ball. They were giggling, having fun. As I stopped to look to see which one would drop the ball first, one of the women spoke cheerfully to me. “This is all we have to do,” she said. I detected a bit of pathos in her cheery comment. I smiled and walked on.

          Down the hall, old people were everywhere, some in wheelchairs, and others using a walker or a cane. One man, who had no legs, reached out for my hand. When I took his hand and stopped, he said, “Please put me in my bed.” I explained that I could not. He was up for a reason. I knew that.

          Another man looked into my eyes as I passed by, and pleaded, “Get me out of here!” I smiled and walking on, heard a voice in a room on my right saying, “Help me, somebody help me!”

          One man, walking slowly on his own, looked at me as I neared him. He was wearing a plaid hat, like the one Bear Bryant wore. I spoke warmly to him, asking how he was. He smiled graciously, bowing his head, and replied, “I am fine, thank you.”

          Oddly enough, some people did not speak. Several nurses and orderlies were gazing straight ahead, focused on their work. The look on their faces suggested that they did not enjoy what they were doing, but it was a job, and the pay did put groceries on the table. Sadly, I run into such people everywhere.

          In one room, I chat with a woman I had visited before. She has severe pain in one leg because of a stroke. During my first visit, I had asked her to pray for my knees and I would pray for hers. When I walked in, she smiled and asked, “How are your knees?” I was thrilled. She had remembered. She had been thinking of me. I had come to cheer her up, yet it was I who had been blessed.

          Yes, I see many people these days that no longer live in the fast lane. Most of them live alone now, cherishing memories of a beloved companion whose death they still quietly mourn.

          This is my beat as a pastor now. I like it. I am making many new friends. I step into the sadness, push the shadows aside for a few minutes, and do what I can to bring a smile to aging faces. If, once in awhile, I can make one lonely soul feel that Jesus cares, and that I care, then my life will have been worthwhile.

          When I get home at night, I can hear my new Titanium knees saying, “Thanks for the workout, old boy; we’re feeling better every day!” + + + +