Thursday, January 13, 2005

A foolhardy life

On Sunday I had lunch with Jim and Donna in their apartment. It took some doing.
Jim and Donna, in their 80's and in poor health, don't get out. Donna has been bed ridden and incommunicado for six years since the double hit of a stroke and Alzhemiers. Jim's knees buckled a few times starting last September and he doesn't get out much.

At Plow Creek we have a tradition of eating sandwiches and fruit together as a community for Sunday lunch after worship and Sunday school.

When Jim could no longer come for Sunday we began taking turns bringing sandwiches and fruit to their apartment and having lunch together.

Sunday was my turn. It had snowed a few days before and I knew I was unlikely to be able to get through the snow to their apartment with my wheelchair. Sarah suggested that I trade with someone else.

At first I thought that was a good idea but then I woke on Sunday morning and said to myself, "I'm gonna have lunch with Jim and Donna even if I have to get a couple of people to help me through the snow."

Jim and Donna are my elders and I love honoring them by being with them. Others in our Plow Creek community care for their medical needs, wash their bedding, shop for them, etc. I can't do those things but I can greet Donna, even if she doesn't respond, and I can spend time listening to Jim's wisdom and supporting him as he valiantly limps this stage of life, a stage where he is piling up loss after loss of health and peers.

I first began thinking about honoring my elders when I was in college 35 years ago. As an underclassman I did the usual underclassman analysis of our culture and found it lacking. Our culture's incredible emphasis individuality and mobility, I concluded fractures our families.
I remember thinking, the nuclear family (a popular term at the time for the family unit of a mother, father, and children) cannot possibly meet all the needs it's expected to meet. Since then the number of single parent families has sky rocketed and they have an even challenging time meeting the needs of its members.

Better were the days, I thought, when extended families, clans, and tribes were the norm.
Living the free, individual, mobile life leads to three things I noticed: an increase in the divorce rate, increased mental health issues due to people feeling isolated and unsupported by a social network, and a culture that isolates its elders in nursing homes.

I began to look for an alternative. As a Christian I thought churches should be the alternative but from what I saw, most churches were into supporting people in being free and individualistic.

Then I became aware of a few communal churches. I and some friends experimented with creating our own communal churches in the '70's. After two failed attempts Sarah and I moved to Plow Creek, a communal church, in 1977.

At the time, Jim and Donna, in their early 50's, were the oldest members. When Sarah and I joined, giving our few thousand dollars in savings and few hundred dollars in school debts, to the common treasury, people said, "What about retirement?"

I gave two versions of an answer: One, I'm going to trust the Lord and two, giving myself to serving him at Plow Creek is my retirement plan.

But none of us knew if this was a good plan or not. Only time would tell.

Jim and Donna were the first people to retire at Plow Creek. By the mid-1990's, as Donna's health began to deteriorate, Plow Creek as a retirement plan didn't look good at all. At the time we were rocked by a sex scandal involving one of our founders and in the fall out this founding couple left along with about half the membership.

During that time another pastoral elder and I met often with Jim, listening to his anguish as it seemed like Plow Creek was going to vanish just when he and Donna needed us the most.
I couldn't promise Jim that Plow Creek would be there when they needed us. I didn't know if we would survive either.

Through God's amazing grace we did survive and new people came to Plow Creek. When Donna had her stroke the doctor assumed that Donna would go to a nursing home. We moved her into an apartment on our farm and Jim and members of the Plow Creek community have provided 24-hour care for her for six years. When Jim could no longer live alone because of his knees buckling, last September he moved into the farm apartment with Donna.

Last Sunday, with the help of Tim Gale and Jim Foxvog, I made it in my wheelchair through the snow.

Donna made a slight motion when I greeted her. Jim and I had a wonderful conversation.

Then I called Sarah on the cell phone to ask her to help me get through the snow back home. She found Jeff Moore and the two of them came to get me.

"When Rich called," Jim said as we were leaving, "and said he was coming, I thought it was foolhardy."

"That's how I've gotten through life," I said with a laugh, "by being foolhardy."

"More power to you," said Jim.