One of the reasons I love prison ministry is that the guys usually keep it real. I have missed several months of chapel and even though I was tired, I dragged myself tonight. One of the guys I had spoken to often leaves the coffee after mass midway through to go to another activity. He likes just to come to the quietness of the chapel and feel relaxed for even just an hour. After mass, I wandered over on my walker to the corner where he sat with his buddy and asked to join them until they left at break. I has seen them looking at me when I had arrived in the chapel and saw their curiosity. They nodded.
For all those people who say I look great (and there is an element of truth in that), he saw more than most others. What is going on? he asked me. He was persistent as I spoke about my ankle and concussion and so I finally looked him in the eyes and told him I was sick. He raised his eyebrows, requiring more information. Cancer. One word. He looked at his buddy and told me that they had thought something was wrong–that I did not look well and had lost weight. I had worn a baggy sweatshirt to avoid looking pregnant but still he saw in my face what others can miss.
His friend mentioned that he had lost his mother to liver cancer a couple of years ago–she was younger than me. At the change over time, they made no move to get up. I heard the chaplain call it for the last time and warned them they had better go. Both said the same thing: they would sit with me. I was surprised but grateful. The younger one got up to grab more coffee and in that time the older one thanked me for coming for all these years and being a blessing to the inmates. He went on for some time until tears welled up in my eyes but he kept going. I finally found words to thank him.
We spoke of suffering, the afterlife, and death. We laughed about some of the concepts. One asked me to come back to the gates once I was in and make a hole for him to shimmy through when his time came. I chuckled and said I would meet him at the gates to vouch for him. The other asked that I would pray for him from the other side. I offered to start now.
Many people I know avoid the topic and honestly we are not supposed to bring our “stuff” into the chapel but I was honoured by how real these two men kept it and how attentive they were. The sharing was deep and I sensed that the Spirit was flowing, opening doors for us to say things to one another that were a gift. They addressed the gaping hole they saw and faced it without hesitation. I will add this conversation to the ponderings of my heart.
How observant are you really?
Can you speak truth even when it adds to your suffering?
Master of Disguises, you meet us in unexpected places, using every opportunity to woo us and draw us closer to you. May I be vigilant in seeing you in all people and accept the gifts that come from each encounter. Amen.