Often before we eat at drop-in (our church gathering with people from the street), I’ll ask if anyone would like to pray for our meal. On this particular morning, I looked around and someone who I had never seen before raised his hand. Grateful, I walked towards him and gave him the microphone. A beautiful, articulate prayer poured through the speakers.
Afterwards, with a plate of spaghetti in hand, I went up to the man to thank him. When I asked him his name, he said “Death. Because my mother tried to abort me but I came out anyway.” It was about the worst thing I had heard. He moved next to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and then put his finger across my throat. “And I could kill you if I wanted.” As he spoke, he slowly slid his finger across my Adam’s apple. I could feel my pulse accelerate. I stood, statuesque, and lifted a forkful of spaghetti to my mouth.
Generally, I am neither anxious nor afraid. I drift through the days with an overall sense of calm. But over the next weeks, I was disturbed, as if each day Death’s finger was rattling against the cartilage in my neck. I prayed ferociously as I walked to and from work, so strangely aware that at any moment I could die. I told those close to me about the incident; they prayed too. Things didn’t improve. I wondered if part of the Christian vocation was learning recline with the bedfellow of mortality.
One afternoon, quite a while later, I was walking home and saw Death sitting in the small park near our church. He was drinking 2 litres (aka beers) with a few others that I recognized. I walked up to them, unsure if he would recognize me. After a few rounds of small talk, Death began telling me that he used to be a preacher. He told me about the Apostle Peter and Jesus’ invitation to walk on water. It was like listening to a meditation on faith.
Eventually, I looked at Death and said “I’m not sure if you remember me, but…” I recounted my first meeting with him and the paralysis that had ensued. Of all the things I could’ve said to him, this is eventually what came out: “You hurt my feelings…and you need to pray for me because you’re the only one who can heal me.” He agreed. So I sat down beside him, and he prayed. He said sorry to God for what he had said to me, and asked that God would bless me. Afterwards, I thanked him and said I forgave him. I walked home, maybe whistling.
When I got to our apartment and took my phone out of my jean pocket, the voice memo application was open. 45 minutes of something had been recorded, unbeknownst to me. As I played the file, it was virtually our entire conversation in the park. I suppose the point was to remember Death differently. And to note that nothing overrides bad memories like a recorded, positive experience. Oh, and that God answers prayer.