Thursday, May 7, 2009

Asleep beside the stove

I half overheard one side of a phone conversation. I did not need to hear more to understand because I already knew the story. It was sad news from one of our tenants.

His working days are done. I’m sure of it.

His disease had taken a turn for the worse.

. . . he’s changed
Wait until you see him

He wanted to work to pay for the medicine he needed.

. . . What would you have him say?
Surely you wouldn’t begrudge the poor old man
Some way to save his self-respect.

“Of course you can. Call me anytime. It’s no trouble.” More goes into our work of providing homes for people than you might at first think. Giving a home to someone creates an obligation between you and them.

“Home is where when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

I knew once again we had done what we were obliged to do. Later I was asked to approve the decision, but even in hard times a man’s self-respect is worth a hundred dollars. We really had no need to talk about it. We were only following the forms.

Many people I talk to want to hear stories of people restored to vigor, returning to work, cured, strong, changed and leaving us to move up in the world. We have such stories and they are important stories. Those stories provide hope, give us energy and help us get up in the morning.

But the stories of those people we can only bring inside, offer a seat beside the stove, and listen to their plans for the future—however improbable--are just as important. When someone who has been without dies in their own bed, in their own home, that is just as much a success story for us as that of someone who goes on to become successful and wealthy in the things of this world.

[The quotations are from Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man”. You can see the text and hear the poem as read by Robert Frost here:]

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