Part two of a four part series of excerpts from Mary Quinalty’s next book, due out this fall.
Autographed copies will be available at D+E+I marketplace.
By Mary Quinalty, Spiritual Author, D+E+I Member
The 86-year-old man gasped for breath in an emergency room. He had a high fever. He was weak and helpless. But, not hopeless.
“Where there is life, there is hope”, a belief I learned in hospice training. This particular case was to teach me a lesson.
Isidro and I met a year earlier when I called at their modest Mexican village adobe home to see his wife. At 83, she was bed bound and frail. Isidro was not frail, and as the eye could see, was getting his share of the scarce food supply. He was energetic and, despite his wrinkled, aging condition, he walked daily to a nearby store.
In itself that was good, but he hung around the “guys” drinking beer, buying cigarettes and chain smoked. (This, while the family was jobless and totally depend on livestock and crops for food.) He had another distinct non-virtue; he would not bathe, not even his hairy beard matted with dried food droppings. He smelled of foul odor! I could not respect him.
As I worked with his wife, Isidro would hang around her room. His wife’s therapeutic exercises began to show some good physical results. He would come into her room each time I arrived.
As time passed, he would tell me of his aches, especially of his head. I was driving his wife to the doctor now, and he became friendlier until one day when no one was present, he rudely grabbed me and tried to kiss me. My stomach wrenched in disgust as his nasty beard touch my face. I wanted to puke!
Oh, the stench from him. I was repulsed. “Don’t you ever do that again,” I yelled as I gave him a strong shove with my arms. It didn’t deter him.
On my following visits to his wife’s bedside, he would stay in close proximity, complaining about his head pain, but his groping hands were all over me. I told him” go take a bath, wash your matted hair and stop smoking if you want me to help you.” He laughed out loud.
I had learned bad things about Isidro. He had alienated himself from his wife and children. One brother who lived nearby hadn’t spoken to him for 12 years. Isidro was abusive to his wife and children and would not stop his excessive drinking.
It was clear Isidro had an addiction. He needed professional help. But he hadn’t met the conditions, the standards, I had lain out as the village health provider for him so I didn’t consider that I should help him. I forgot he had a soul.
As time passed, I noticed Isidro was not at the store very often. His wife had had a setback with a chronic lung problem, the doctor said, brought on by the contaminated air in the village. She was oxygen-dependent. The frequency of my visits to their home was cut and when I was there, I did not see Isidro. Then, one day he was there, sitting in his old worn, wicker chair outdoors in the sun. He had lost weight and looked frail. Apparently, his resistance was down because the family had bathed him and cut his hair. But he feebly puffed on a cigarette. As we exchanged greetings, I could tell his voice was weaker. I asked him if he wanted me to take him to a doctor, “No, not today.”
Soon, the knock came at my door (there were no phones in this isolated village). Isidro was having difficulty breathing and experiencing ‘terrible pain’. The messenger was one of his drinking buddies. We rushed him in my car to the nearest city hospital’s urgent care, twelve miles away.
Now, he was admitted as a patient, oxygen dependent, on those around him.
I held his hand as I sat by his hospital bedside. That’s when the realization hit me. It didn’t matter what kind of life he lived or how he had mistreated others. He was a human being, one of God’s people. Now, he could be touched.
The truth? I was the one who was touched. I never thought the day would come when I would feel empathy and love for this man who had seemed so repulsive.
The doctors told the family Isidro had a brain tumor and there was no hope. Death was near. Went I softly rubbed his forehead, he opened his eyes briefly. We looked into each other’s eyes. With the look, I saw in that moment I knew I had forgiven him for his weaknesses. I saw clearly I had been intolerant of him. Now, I knew the reason for his head pain. And my heart opened up to him. It was I who needed to ask for forgiveness. Now, here on his death bed, I saw his soul.
Death has a leveling factor that puts us all on common ground. Cruel or kind, rich or poor, I was witnessing this reality.
If God gives me a next time, I will look with unconditional love at those I meet. My level of tolerance has risen. It took a seemingly mean, dirty, sick old man to teach me.
Or was it God?
Mary Quinalty is the author of Mountaintop Milagro, available below. Click for more information or to purchase.