his name is russell, he's like eleventy seven years old. body eaten up by cancer, teeth gone and living in a trailer across from the youth center we were working on. he has three little kittens who hear his voice and they follow him, he is the kitten shepherd.
every month when he receives his social security the area rough necks know that his door is broken and they steal his meager income. he can't read or tell time so he shows up to the little church in town any time there are cars there, woman's bible study or just the deacon cleaning the church. he so doesn't want to miss any thing.
the head of the ministry we were working with told us of his plight, his home and his health. we of course were so moved by his great need. his air conditioner is broken? oh we'll fund a new one. he needs a new door? oh sure, we'll help.
one of the local adults agreed to install the items with the help of our teens. only one volunteered to help. a little red haired girl named emily.
i met russell the last night we were in town. we had to park our van over by the youth center and walk to the church. we walked right by his trailer. my kids drawn to the 3 kittens laying like tigers in his long grass. he of course couldn't miss the chance to show off his shepherding skills and have some small social interaction.
it hit me like a wall. the smell. like death itself. ancient body odor, the pee stain, days old on his pants - cats, many more than 3 i think and the hovering smell of death. bile started to rise in my throat, my gag reflex has a mind of it's own. my children walking straight to him, petting the kitten he is holding out. talking to him like he's their grandfather. i step back and i see myself like an out of body experience.
you are everything you hate. throw money at the problem, don't really invest yourself. the great white hope coming to town. phoney. you don't really want to hear his story, know his pain. and i watch as my children and my husband interact with this kind-hearted old man who wants nothing more than the love of god, and i couldn't step closer. i couldn't make myself shake his hand.
as i shooed my children on 'you know we don't want to be late for the meeting...' (oh god, i really said those words - i am everything i hate deep inside my soul...)
i knew i needed to find emily, you see i realized that little red haired girl who helped russell with his door and his air conditioner is my hero. she showed up. she stood in his home. she was jesus to him, and to me. i needed to tell her.
as i sat next to her on the bench she tried to tell me how it wasn't a big deal, but i knew deep in my heart that i would have never done it. never. god forgive me.
i knew in that moment it was the reason i had come. i needed to see the real nature of the sickness in my soul. talking a big talk was no longer possible. my nose betrayed me, i wasn't really any different than those at my church that i had been judging so severely. my heart is as black and as selfish as i judge their's to be.
god help me, i don't want to be like this. i truly want to be the kind of person who can sit with someone and hear their story, share their table and not judge them because of the smell, or the culture, or the differences between us. because you see i have smelled my soul, and it smells like death.