In which our Heroine wishes she was more Heroic.
Every once in a while at the Brayton Ward building, a 400 pound Polynesian guy wearing a dirty yellow XXXL sweatshirt and jeans will come rolling into sacrament meeting. He particularly likes to do this near Christmas time. His name is Joey. There is something wrong with Joey—to be frank, he seems simple-minded. I once spotted him walking in sub-degree temperatures along the side of the highway in only his jeans and mustard colored sweatshirt to keep him warm from the driving snow. Not something a healthy-minded person would do, or one that is well cared for. There is no doubt that Joey is unpredictable, and sometimes disruptive or intrusive. But rarely have I ever seen someone who radiates such purity from the inside out.
Joey enjoys Christmas hymns enormously. He is prone to sing during the piano interlude of each hymn. A few weeks ago Joey found his way to the broadcast of the LDS church devotional at Brayton Chapel and did just this thing, singing random snippets from the song throughout the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s beautiful performances. Poor Joey was wandering the hallways after church. For years now I’ve had a sixth sense that allows me to pinpoint needy people. I find it burdensome and sometimes even annoying on regular occasions, but it is something that I can’t seem to turn off. In my saner, more Christ-like moments, I don’t want it to ever go away. However, in the evening after a long day when I’m aching to get my fussy child home and in bed, I will wish not to have my odd little knack. Ever the one to volunteer my husband for random acts of service, on this occasion I asked Joey if he would like a ride home, assuming he lived nearby.
Joey lives across town in Mountain View. I think we were out on the roads for an extra 45-60 minutes that night. We had a hard time squishing him into the passenger seat. He radiated an odd smell and would frequently interrupt our futile tries at conversation with arbitrary snatches of a hymn here or there. I found myself sitting next to Eva in the backseat and listening as Joey offered strange tales of taking airplane flights and wandering all over the U.S., often finding himself stranded in places like Las Vegas and somehow miraculously ferreting out a benefactor who would send him back home to Anchorage. It was during one of these stories that I found myself wondering how someone like Joey could even survive. It was clear he needed better attention at home than he was currently getting. I wondered where he got the money to eat at the restaurants he pointed out, or to take the bus. It all seemed so impossibly far-fetched that I wondered if his tales were actually true. Then with a jolt of pure understanding I realized that whether they were true or not, Joey had a way of miraculously receiving whatever he needed—even on a daily basis.
Joey reminds me of that scripture in the New Testament “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather in barns; yet your Heavenly father feedeth them… Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet… even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field… shall he not much more clothe you…? Therefore take no though, saying What shall we eat?... for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” (Matthew 6: 25-34)
Joey has an awkward tendency to stand up in the middle of church meetings when he’s not supposed to as well. A couple of weeks after driving him home, I was somewhat exasperated to find him back in our chapel for 9 am church. Our ward choir was doing a series of musical numbers. I believe it was during Angels We Have Heard on High that Joey reverently and joyously stood smack dab in the middle of the congregation and lifted his voice in praise of the baby Jesus. He had his usual bed-head, but had on a clean deep red sweater and some black slacks that weren’t quite big enough for him to zip up. When he stood, his belly hung out (like usual) and he had to hold his pants up with one hand while he clutched his hymn book. It was touching that he tried so hard to look his best, but far more important that he felt so strongly—and understood so clearly—about the Savior.
Upon spying him, I felt an immediate urge to also get up and sing the song like it should be sung: with my whole heart, body, and voice. I reasoned hurriedly to myself that it would be disruptive and stayed firmly on my seat. But then I saw a woman who I greatly admire stand up with tears streaming down her face, and then another woman—one of the most stubborn, but courageous people I know. Only then did I stand, pointing what was happening out to Jon. By the end of the song, nearly the whole congregation was spontaneously standing and belting out the song. Some did it because they felt to sing joyously, others because they were pleased to do so, some for perhaps a sense of fraternity, and some simply to support Joey. It was wonderful.
I feel ashamed that I didn’t have the gumption to stand with guileless Joey right at the beginning. However, I make myself feel better by remembering how I have never laughed at Joey, not once. I feel only irritation and exasperation when I see people snicker or act overly embarrassed on his account—as if they are doing him a favor to make him seem more outside the norm.
I truly believe that some people are sent to this earth to allow others to serve and show kindness to them. Joey is clearly one of these. He is so lit up on the inside. He is happy, even in a happy-go-lucky kind of way. Since I first became aware of him, I have heard countless accounts of kindnesses shown to him. For instance, this Christmas, Joey showed up at one family’s Christmas gathering. They had no idea who he was for the most part, but Joey remembered that one of them had been kind to him once and so requested another compassionate person to drop him off there at that warm house. These people I salute.
Now, to bring it home: Sometimes I feel like I am one of those people too, though I thankfully have all/most of my mental faculties and have a warm home and wonderful caregivers. I have related before how I was born into a family where the father had just left us destitute. I remember kindness after kindness shown to me by not only family members, but my whole community. I have included a picture at the end that shows me at age 6 or 7 with all of my dolls. Most of these were gifts from people outside my family. Trust me, my wise mother would never give me that many toys because it would obviously spoil me rotten (and in fact did).
And then, at age 29 I get cancer. I suddenly find myself at the intimate center of other people’s hopes, services, and prayers. I’m telling you, some people are specifically sent to earth to fill the privileged position of ‘being loved’ by those around them. As I said once before, I seem to have a “cancer of the privileged.” I feel pretty emotional about Joey’s situation, at first connected to him in some indefinable way. After delving deep into my thoughts as I write this, I find myself first wishing I had the courage to immediately stand for Joey, second that I had felt whatever feelings he is obviously gifted with during a regular church hymn, and third that I might make my sadness’s and my difficulties into simple joys like he does.