I'm 67. I live on Social Security.
I did have about $90K saved in an interest-bearing account for my "old age."
Then, I got a terrible jaw infection.
I spent 7 days in the hospital and was presented with an $83 thousand dollar hospital bill.
I tried my best to work it out, but--they sued me. The hospital and EACH DOCTOR separately!
Suffice it to say, after that I ended up living ONLY on Social Security.
I would advice Seniors to plan in advance on having your retirement plan FAIL for some unforeseen reason.
Other than financial considerations, however . . .
There is an upside to retirement.
Me and a disabled (he says physically challenged) friend volunteered at the Texas Rehabilitation hospital.
As a Jehovah's Witness, I had never volunteered to help others before.
IT WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE.
Here is a chapter I wrote on the experience. I hope it makes anybody looking for a purpose (after leaving the WTS) think
about how rewarding to everybody it really is.
I motored over to Dub's house. It is early Sunday morning and he's ready to go even though I'm early.
We drove to the rehabilitation hospital.
"Who can volunteer to provide some Spiritual encouragement for the patients on the 3rd floor of Texas Rehabilitation Hospital?", Dub’s Bible study group at the Unity Church had been asked by hospital coordinators.
Dub jumped at the chance. “Jumped” is perhaps the wrong word. Dub has a missing leg. At least the original organic part is missing.
A prosthetic device has replaced it. You might call it his "stand in.”
Dub used to be a Baptist preacher. In fact, he studied at 3 seminaries. Now, he is eighty-five. Involuntarily he "retired" from the ministry after a car crash crushed his leg and dislodged his left eye. That was in 2003. It was a life changer for him!
His world and worldview, he had confided, turned upside down over night. He was no longer "viable" as a Pastor. This was his Church’s verdict. Inevitably, he was unplugged from active relevance in not only the church but his family as well. His eyes were opened to unpleasant awareness. Life was going to be very different!
Dub Horn began questioning things. He set aside his rigid mindset. His new self accepted the freedom of new opportunity. A chance to be of some service to others doesn't come often (if at all) for a man in his 80's.
He was eager to take on the special job of visitation and morale booster for the third floor at the rehab ward. If ever a man was well-suited for such a task it was Dub.
That's where I came in.
Although I had never before volunteered for charity work, I thought it was time I left my comfort zone and offered “mankind” some payback. It was time to care about others.
Dub was a regular customer of mine at the bookstore where I worked: Half-Price Books.
For an avid reader such as me it was a dream-come-true.
My job was to sort and shelve books in the Religion and Philosophy sections.
About once or twice a week, Dub would putter up in his motorized wheelchair and meander back to the Religion section searching for a chat.
I could tell right away he was warmly knowledgeable. He also displayed a pleasant "people person" manner. We clicked. ‘Very cheery man’, I thought.
Soon after my retirement, Dub and I met for coffee once a week and we’d catch up. He turned to me one day and said, "I've got a job for you if you're interested. . .”
Something inside me responded positively to the suggestion and I accepted, although I confess, I had never done this sort of thing before. I had no idea what was ahead, but, it isn't too often at my age (mid-sixties) I can indulge a fresh, positive experience.
The third floor of Rehab Hospital is vast. It is dedicated to special cases that aren't nominally a perfect fit. As a matter of fact, the people who reside there have little actual hope of rehabilitation. These particular patients have a terminal prognosis.
Dub and I arrived. I parked in the Handicap zone and Dub hung his special sign on my rearview. I unloaded Dub’s case and we took the long trek upstairs to the 3 rd floor. There I unpacked the speakers for music and organized his clippings and print-outs and connected speaker wires to his iPad.
This particular Sunday morning, after setting up the CD player with soothing Old Time Gospel music (foreign to my virgin ears), I took a seat on the nearby couch. This room for visitors and patients is arranged comfortably with actual home-style furniture.
After a few minutes, one by one, the cavalcade of wheel chairs arrives. Nurses tool them in and position the seating arrangement into a spacious semi-circle.
(Imagine a large den with cushy furniture and nobody seated on anything but their wheelchairs.)
Unexpectedly, I was rather shaken by my first sight of three catatonic patients ferried in and arrayed in the front of the room. Each was elderly, frail and contorted in some physical manner.
I held my breath involuntarily until I finally confronted them as people and realized what their state of being was and how their minds were trapped in unresponsive bodies!
I squirmed inside my own healthy body. (It felt like guilt.) I actually had to remind myself: This isn’t about you, Terry, this isn’t about you.
The first catatonic person, a middle-aged lady, merely slumped with her head drooped down, with doll's eyes partly closed. The second woman’s head permanently tilted as if to examine the ceiling.
One other patient was a stare-straight-ahead lady, inert in a way impossible for me to comprehend.
All the usual possibilities for social interaction did not apply. At least, so it seemed to me. Being cordial or friendly had always seemed to be about manners and conversation, gestures and formality.
None of that meant anything in this situation.
A rude thought intruded: an impression of awkward, discomfiting statues and not people. (This was a living person?)
Immediately, other patients wheeled in by nurses, wedged the interstices in a loose array.
Another white-haired lady who hummed or sang wordlessly without tune caught my attention. She, for an hour and a half, continued the singsong, deeply rooted in her own lodged “memory."
Next to her sat an alert woman actively engaging everybody and nobody in particular. Every sentence commenced with, "I adopted two kids in Nigeria. … In school they call the boy I adopted 'the rich kid' because I sent him clothes and shoes. … I have photographs…."
Over and again this person shared her one essential thought with the group, perhaps like a phonograph needle, her brain is stuck in one groove….always.
On her left was a Church of Christ member (so she told us) who responded to everything Dub would say by repeating it exactly as a human echo.
When either of us would say something aloud one particular lady spoke up to say “You’re a wonderful man” It never failed to sound perfectly sincere.
This woman appeared as though she had just arrived home from church. Her grooming was perfect and her sweet smile glowed with benevolence.
Before our hour and a half had ended, she had repeated that pet phrase exactly fifteen times. (I know, I counted for some obsessive reason of my own!) “You’re a wonderful man. You’re a wonderful man.”
Each utterance was as though for the very first time.
I had burrowed into myself emotionally at this point. I confess I had become an observer, as though I were in a strange jungle of indescribable flora and fauna.
An outsider in a strange new world, I asked myself, “What next?”
The last man in our crowded parlor was a dignified ninety-year old black gentleman who informed us modestly he had been a Deacon in his church for many years.
He confessed he was no longer good at sharing conversationally but could express himself in song. We did not hesitate to encourage him!
He began crooning, "He Touched Me," in a mellow, deep voice that lovingly caressed each phrase. I listened enthralled by the power of his performance.
Dub’s face shone moist with tears flowing from his eyes as I suddenly experienced something unaccustomed and unidentifiable inside. An emotion was escaping from the prison of my soul as the Deacon’s plaintive song ended on a pianissimo of gentle praise.
Dub choked out, "When I had my head-on collision and lost my leg, I was in the hospital for six months. One day, a pretty young lady came to the hospital and up to my room and sang that same song for me: "He Touched Me". I felt like God wanted me to know he cared about my suffering. . ..."
At this point, I should mention an incessant background sound floating in the air.
It was a woman's plaintive voice repeating a phrase from a distance. Perhaps she was in another room?
It grew louder until her bed appeared at the doorway as the floor nurse wheeled her in and trundled her to the back of the room and locked the brake on the bed’s wheels.
We heard her voice so often it became the patter of rain or the sound of wind in an uncomfortable downpour. She called politely but beseechingly!
"Help me, please. Somebody help me. Please help me, somebody."
None of the patients blinked an eye her way. Dub gave me a searching look.
Shortly, I couldn't bear it any longer. I jumped up and went in search of hospital personnel. I caught up with a nurse. She listened to me and then shook her head despairingly. "She does this. She can't help it. We aren't ignoring her. It is just her thing; part of her symptom."
Let me tell you, if you are hearing it for the first time you feel like a monster for not rushing over and trying to do. . .what? Something. Anything. The awful reality of it is: there is nothing to be done!
One middle-aged fellow who had suffered a stroke sat in his wheelchair. His wife stood behind him constantly patting him on the arms or rubbing his shoulder in perpetual reassurance and consolation.
She was unfailingly encouraging and tender. I recited to myself silently, "In sickness and in health. . ."
The man's face owned one expression and it never changed: oblivion. He might well have been a drawing of a man.
Dub stood and explained to everybody we were not there to preach to them but to "encourage them.”
Dub Horn is very good at this. Let me tell you; what he says and does is outside of my experience as the Jehovah's Witness I once was for 20 years. There had been no such thing as charity for strangers, only fellow members.
You might say we thought our message was charity enough.
Dub’s manner is tenderly personal yet neutral as to an agenda. He smiles genuinely and asks simple questions and gives affirmations. He has no reading material to peddle in order to acquire a convert. He is a beacon and there are always troubled ships foundering out there on rough seas. Unglamorous and yet, magnificent…my friend is anonymous, invisible as he speaks.
"We are here today because God wants us to be together to encourage one another. We don't have to get out and go to a big fancy church to do that. We just gather and His Spirit is with us."
There are a few nods and an old fashioned "amen" or two from the Deacon. I am amused.
"Why are we still here? Why are we living so long with so many discouraging problems in our health? I'll tell you why: God still has something important for each one of us to do with our lives before he calls us home."
I immediately call to mind the line in Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “He listens as a three years child; the Mariner hath his will.”
Among our tight group are faces which are mostly flesh facades. The patients seem impassive at first, yet… do I see a flicker of change?
(This is not possible, I’m projecting and not seeing anything.)
Dub smiled. He was light and conversational. He sat on a tall cushion about 3 feet off the floor at about eye-level to those seated in wheelchairs.
"What does God want with us? What is our purpose now that we can hardly move about any longer? Well, what are we doing today? We are just sitting here, right? Did you know by YOU being here with me you have encouraged me? That's what you've done for ME today.
I hope I can do the same for you and tell you: “God knows you and loves you and will never leave you in your time of distress."
What I like about his delivery is that it has no “preacher” in it at all.
He is just a person, a civilian, a fellow sufferer who has spent his last 8 or 9 years struggling against setback after setback. He is real.
The faces of the catatonic listeners reflect. . .something. . . again, I can't exactly say what it is. . ..but, it is definitely a change of character or mood . . .or…
I'd compare it to looking out upon a lake and the water is reflecting the movement of the clouds.
Dub continues. . .
"I'm here to encourage you to love. God islove. He lives in us whenwe love. Some of you cannot move and yet your mind moves. You can hear. You can think. God has your undivided attention you might say.”
"Search in your own heart.”
“Is there somebody in your life who has wronged you? If you say to yourself 'I hate so-and-so,’ you aren't hurting them one little bit. But, you are hurting yourself.”
“Let go of that. Forgive. Feel love instead of hate for that person who wronged you. It won't do anything for them—but I'll tell you truly: it will allow the love of God to shine inside you."
The energy in this visiting room has as a kind of weather change occurring between sunlight and clouds before a rain. I think I am sensing something.
Dub grins and starts to sing: "This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine. . .."
He waves his hands like a maestro before a motionless orchestra as he sings… and slowly…a few voices join him!
As this goes on, more wheel chairs with more patients are pushed into the room. One new lady is profoundly affected by some sort of palsy.
Her head and eyes roll constantly. It is disconcerting to encounter for the first time! One of the other ladies cries aloud: "She's crazy!"
Dub stops singing and calmly holds his hand toward the unkind remark palm down and quietly remonstrates:
“We don't say that. . .we say. . .she has different opportunities than the rest of us. . ."
The offending lady immediately sees wisdom in this.
"Yes. Yes she does. She has different opportunities than the rest of us."
And the singing continues, "Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."
By the end of our time in that Visiting room, I can feel all sorts of things happening inside of me I file away for thinking about later. Mostly, I reflect on how very little of my life spent as a Jehovah's Witness was an actual outreach to somebody with profound physical needs to gift them with anything simple like companionship or a word of encouragement. It seems my purpose before was more of prospecting for customers. (Peculiar thought!)
It shook me and rocked my world on that amazing 3 rd floor. So little can really mean so much!
I called to mind a moment when I sat with a Witness friend in a shopping mall food court sipping coffee years earlier. A deaf man approached our table as we were talking.
The man silently offered my companion his card with American Sign Language printed on it. It requested a donation.
My JW friend looked toward him appraisingly and asked slowly: "You can't hear?" He watched the fellow as he articulated his gestured reply.
Then, my JW friend shook his head "No."
He handed the card back. The deaf fellow nodded at him and walked off to another table. The friend turned to me, apparently pleased with himself.
“I watched his eyes as I spoke to see if he was reading my lips or not. If he’s really deaf, he will. If not, he’s faking.” What made me uncomfortable about that at the time? I thought about it today for some reason. Why must we judge the needs of others? Why had I just sat there like a stone?
Dub has experienced a wonderful visitation this amazing Sunday and so have I. I speculated to my cheerful companion making remarks concerning each person we met up on the 3rd floor. Who are they now compared with what they once were? What sort of life was theirs?
I jabber compulsively for a while. Relief is needed. It is as if I have to debrief myself and talk endlessly about our experience to deal with the feelings I'm experiencing. One part of me wanted to flee in terror when I first got there and the other part wanted to hug everybody.
Dub sums it all up nicely. "When we give we always get more in return."
Why hadn't I ever felt this way before? I had to ask.
Dub smiles and shakes his head saliently, “It isn’t about you.”
And then I suddenly see as if for the first time
It is back!
The tickle of original feeling from when I was only five has returned!
The original God who didn’t need a name is present in the act of giving, caring.
Perhaps I am like the Samaritan apostate who listens to conscience?
Perhaps I don’t have to be the Priest after all.