I lay here in the pre-dawn darkness thinking about “tired.” I always am these days. It seems there isn’t enough sleep in the world to restore me to “rested.” I wake up feeling fine, get up and get on the computer, and within an hour I’m groggily tired again. I take naps—at least once a day, sometimes twice—and within an hour I’m tired again.
I have chronic fatigue syndrome. It is an autoimmune disease. A doctor once stated that the first symptom of autoimmune disease is fatigue. But I know that and I’m not interested in writing about it. I’m not interested in much of anything anymore. I’m too tired. I sleep, read and watch television—do anything to distract me from my circumstances.
My circumstances are that I am too tired to get out of bed and nobody comes to visit me. I realize now, at the age of 64, that having friends doesn’t just happen. There is a skill set for acquiring and keeping friends, and I never learned it. My parents were angry at each other most of the time and what they modeled was how to avoid people, not how to get close to them. And, of course, I suffered from depression from age 14. That caused me to isolate myself.
In the past decade, after I stopped taking drugs and regained my soul, it was all about business. I was an activist in society. In one week, I had meetings with three different executive directors. I had busy-ness and didn’t much notice that I didn’t have friends. I had busy-ness, which is what so many of us have.
I had a friend who was a physician. He thought he had a lot of friends because his wife, who knew all the skills of friendship, would give parties and all his colleagues would attend. Then he blew a brain aneurism, nearly died, spent six months in the hospital and never worked again. After the first outpouring of cards and flowers to the ICU, his so-called friends—his colleagues—dropped him. Neither he nor his colleagues had ever developed real friendship skills. All they had were business relationships, sometimes played out in social settings.
So it has come to this. Alone in my bed. Nobody calls; nobody visits. Only my paid employees show up—aide, case manager, computer tech, etc. But it occurs to me there is one exception.
In this apartment building we have the most hideously nasty tenants association I’ve ever seen. It is typically 12 people out of 180 tenants, led by a real bitch. My friend and I variously spent two years trying to get the association redirected into being useful and properly run. She moved out and I gave up, then I had a brilliant insight. Instead of trying to reform them, I would start a positive alternative: a prayer group.
One of the best experiences of my life was a large group—forty people—at the Alliance Church who met every Wednesday night for prayer. By listening to them, I learned how to pray. So I reserved a small reading room here and posted a notice that there would be a prayer group. I had in mind that we would all sit around and pray out loud and then leave with our hearts healed. I was focusing on the praying of Alliance’s Wednesday night meetings and forgetting that there were things that led up to that time when we all felt easy to pray openly.
I began my prayer group in January and nobody came. I wasn’t surprised. I would take my CD player and a good CD of hymns, and after listening a while I would start to pray. I found myself praying every week for the betterment of my neighbors—the neighbors I fought with in tenants association meetings I prayed for in prayer meeting.
The second month two other people joined me: James, a white fellow who spends his days picking up trash around the building and who receives regular services at the psychiatric center, and Sam, a black man who lost his legs to diabetes. It had been my perception that Sam and I had a hostile relationship so I was shocked when he started coming. I learned that he keeps his radio turned on to the religious station all day, and he knows his bible backwards and forwards. He was churched but, like me, once he started using a wheelchair and couldn’t get out, his church stopped caring for him. He rejoiced at having an in-house hour for God-talk.
He brought me smack up against a challenge: I called it a prayer group because I wanted to pray with others. He called it a bible study group and expected me to lead it. I didn’t see myself as being good enough to lead a bible study group and, by the way, in my personal devotions I wasn’t reading the Holy Bible; I was reading the Holy Koran. We maneuvered a while, and gradually a format evolved: fifteen minutes of hymn’s playing in the background while we all re-connected, followed by a reading from some sacred text, then discussion, ending with fifteen minutes of prayer.
The third month, Marcia accepted my invitation to join us. She, too, was a marginalized member of my church downtown. Back in the day when I could still drive and she didn’t have a car, I would take her to church. She quit going when another church member criticized her for smelling of cigarette smoke. Privileged Christians often fail to accept the people who Christ accepted, and us marginalized folks know we aren’t really welcome. We have a frail hold on the church and are easily blown away.
Being blown away from church doesn’t mean we’re blown away from God. God holds on. I am not alone; I am in the hands of God.