Posts Tagged ‘pastor’

The Reverend

December 17, 2009

We met him in 1977, while in the hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “I’m not sure we’ve met,” he said to my dad. “I’m Reverend E.W. Harris, a couple of my members are patients here. And you are….?”

“We’re the Funky Heart family, our son Steve is here for a heart operation.”

“Where are you from?”

“South Carolina.”

“I won’t hold that against you.”

And so began a friendship that would last nearly 20 years. Rev. Harris was a Methodist minister, but he took a bunch of Baptists a long way from home under his wing and became our “second pastor.” He didn’t know us, had no connection to us, and by most standards had no responsibility towards us. At least by Man’s standard. A higher power told him otherwise.

Did my parents need a car? Yes you do, no arguing. You look like you need to see something besides these hospital walls for a few hours. Borrow mine. It’s ok, I’m planning to be here most of the day. My wife will take you around the city.

His wife was his chauffeur; Reverend Harris was born with “tunnel vision” – an ailment that limited his vision to only what he could see directly in front of his eyes. Look through a couple of paper towel tubes and you will get a good idea of how he saw the world.

But he always had a smile and an encouraging word, and jokingly let us know that as far as he was concerned, the Methodists would get to Heaven a few moments before the Baptists would. “I’m hurt,” he pouted when my dad told him that my pastor from home was flying in for my surgery. “We pray to the same God. But my prayers get there a little bit faster.”

How do you figure that?

“God has a summer home in Mobile.” (Alabama city on the Gulf of Mexico, for my non – US readers.)

He was there during that first surgery and my recovery, and there again when I went to surgery in 1988. He was there when the surgeon told my parents “I will speak to you last.” Dr. Pacifico’s skills and Reverend Harris’ prayers got me out of that operating room alive.

Our friendship continued for years after that, long after my doctor moved and I found care elsewhere. UAB is a great hospital, but it is a long way from home. My favorite doctor was now in Greeneville, North Carolina, a lot closer. It continued until that day a few years ago when the call came; the call you begin to expect when friends reach a certain age but never want to answer.

And Reverend Harris had one last surprise for us – he wanted a Baptist to speak at his funeral!

“Looks like you were right, E.W.,” Dad said that day. “You made to Heaven before the Baptists did!”

Connected

October 29, 2008

UPDATE: As of 6:00 PM Eastern, Katie is out of surgery. Click here to go to her blog for more information.

It’s been an interesting day. Even though I’m here in South Carolina, I’ve been following Katie’s surgery, checking her website for updates. Judging from my website stats page, quite a few people are also keeping up with her by clicking through from here to her blog.

The Internet has given a whole new dimension to friendship and concern. In 1967 and 1977, when I was a long way from home having surgery, all my friends and family had no choice but to wait by the phone for updates. In ’67, no one had even thought of a home answering machine, (as far as I know) so you pretty much had to be there or you missed the call. The first time it was just the three of us, but in 1977, my church passed the hat and collected enough money to send my pastor to Alabama to be with us for a few days. He arrived the day before the surgery, stayed for 3 days – they got up enough cash to pay for a hotel room, too – and then he flew home. I didn’t find out until later that someone (and I still don’t know who it was) gave him two rolls of quarters so he could call home with any news. And in those days, you had to find a pay phone. But since hardly anyone had a cell phone (I had never heard of one) there literally WAS one on every corner.

Websites are active 24 hours a day (unless the server goes down, which occasionally happens) and e-mail is almost instantaneous, so we can find out what is going almost as soon as it happens. Sitting in a waiting room waiting on someone to let you know how a surgery is proceeding is a mind numbing kind of loneliness; having friends to share the burden doesn’t seem to make it any easier. When it comes down to it, it’s just you and the clock.

Rodney Dangerfield once said, “I’m having heart surgery; if everything goes right, it will take about four hours. If it goes wrong, it’ll take about thirty minutes.” Rodney was only half joking; you mentally note the time your loved one was taken from you and watch the clock. If you don’t hear anything for a while, you’re relieved: apparently nothing has come up that would alter or cancel the planned procedure. But if they are gone too long (and everyone has a different idea of how long is too long) your worrying again. Something’s up… it’s taking too long. There must be a problem. What’s going on? It’s a natural reaction.

You have family and friends there with you, and those who can’t be there but who call in to check. Hopefully they are doing all that they can do to support you. Your internet friends  – many of them you have never met – are “standing” with you too. Because “alone we can do so little; but together we can do so much.” (Helen Keller)