Friday, February 12, 2016

In the season of Lent, think about prisoners

Marcia jokes about how I make a sandwich.

It's not difficult to make one of my favorite pulled pork barbecue specialties, for example.  I purchase a pre-cooked pork roast already packaged, heat it up, pull the meat apart, soak it in Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce, stack it onto a fresh toasted bakery hamburger bun, top it with a generous helping of deli cole slaw…and then eat the sloppy mess over the kitchen sink.  To this old man, the taste is absolutely sensational!

I tell you this, because 6 years ago I had to stop eating.  A brutal staph infection made a sinister invasion of my body through a little foot wound, and nearly claimed my life.  At the peak of the crisis I lost my ability to swallow, and when I couldn’t ingest food my weight dropped by 65 pounds.  A feeding tube saved my life, and for the next 6 months that’s the only way I received my nourishment.

I longed to taste food.  I longed for something even more simple than that:  I wanted to chug-a-lug a glass of ice water.  I would have the ICU duty nurse bring ice water to me.  I’d swish it around in my mouth, so that I could fantasize about how it might be to swallow again someday.

The reason for this example:  You don’t realize how good things are until you can’t have them!  My thoughts centered on this simple truth after I received two beautiful telephone calls this week.  A 62-year-old black man called to tell me that he was planning to enroll at Wayne State University in Detroit next month, with the goal of receiving a Master’s Degree.  Just a couple months ago I drove to Jackson to hold open the prison door as he walked out.  He had been locked up for just under 40 years.  A 47-year-old African American woman called our office to say that she was doing well, and now had a job.  I had driven to Jackson last year to speak on her behalf at a Public Hearing before the Michigan Parole Board.  Parole was subsequently granted, and she walked free two months ago after serving 28 years.  Joe and Geneva today are enjoying the little things that they had been missing for decades.

My dear friend Gail, a former inmate, explains that, until you cannot do things, you don’t realize just how much you miss them.  “You long to just hold a baby,” she says, “or to just pet a dog.  It seems so wonderful just to be able to pop open a bottle of Pepsi whenever you feel like it!”

In this season of Lent, I suggest that whatever you are fasting from---chocolate, coffee, beer---focus not only on the reason for the season, but think about those behind bars:  people Jesus loved, people to whom he insisted compassion be shown.

The prisoners with whom we work would love nothing more than to quit eating chocolate or drinking beer for 40 days.  And you have no idea what they would be willing to give up for the opportunity to just hold a baby or pet a dog!

My Lenten advice:  Enjoy what you have; take nothing for granted;  pray for those who are denied simple pleasures.

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