Monday, January 9, 2012

Small Talk with Sammy

Sammy is a 40-something man with Down's syndrome. He complains of stomach aches and leg pains, but according to his mother hens, he is purposefully sluggish and mopey when he doesn't get his way. Today, for example, he had flat-out refused to come to church for a ladies' luncheon. He wanted to stay home and watch TV, but his mother and aunt were unable to find a sitter and had to bring him along.

Sometimes I wonder if Sammy's family, who coo over and pat and comfort him, are in serious denial that he is in his last days. I wonder if his complaints are really those of an 80-year-old whose organs are failing and whose time is ticking away.

I was drawn to Sammy's pained look today, and slipped away from the lady-chatter to wait with him in the quiet foyer upstairs. I always hope that the smile he fishes out for me is more than just a mask, that somehow it eases the pains in his body and restores some vigor to his joints. I stood and small-talked, told him I was glad to see him, discussed the food being served downstairs. But something urged me to sit down and have real talk. “Is there something I can do to make you feel better, Sammy?”

Sammy suddenly perked up, as if he had just the right message to deliver. His excitement resulted in a fit of stuttering, but I was able to pick out the words intended for me. Sammy was repeating “take care of the children” like a mantra.

“Just take care of the children.”

The timeliness of that command, and the sternness with which it was delivered, held me transfixed. This man with special needs was reading me like a book. I'm a full-time mom of two toddlers, a restless worker who never sits at meals anymore and averages six hours of sleep at night. I'm a giver, a sacrificer, a worrier and a warrior, and I often question the meaning and purpose to an existence like mine. In the realm of eternity, does it make much difference if my next minute is spent molding Play-Doh or reading about Clifford?

“It doesn't matter if you are young or old,” he managed to say, “we all have to care for the little children.” This he said through a Sammy-smile, tongue lolling around, through thin eye-lashed, near-sighted eyes, and as his words blubbered and stalled and spasmed, his head drew closer and closer to mine. “Because of Judgment Day. Because of Jesus.” Sammy spoke these words with truth and clarity, and it was impossible for me not to see Divinity in his eyes.

Our foreheads touched in one of those brief moments in life when heaven and earth converge, the whisper of angel wings in the church foyer. Then suddenly the moment melted away, as it does so often when your medium to God is a man-child whose favorite things in the world are Mountain Dew and Saturday morning cartoons. Forehead to forehead, he giggled as I tried to maintain some seriousness: reminded him of how much his mother loved him, how much the Down's kids at his day home needed him, and how far his smile went to encourage young and old, religious and pagan, normal and special. Then I tried to contain my own giggling as Sammy, with dozens of church ladies just feet away, burrowed his face in my hair and smacked his lips like a puppy, kissing me.

“Sammy,” I said, suddenly serious, easing him back. “When you see Jesus, tell him...” I studied his eyes, struggled for what message I wanted to send back to Jesus, because I know Sammy is much closer to heaven than I am. With any luck at all his tired, achy joints will take an eternal furlough in the next few years. “When you see Jesus... give him a big hug. Because he loves you, and he'll want you to know you did a good job, and he's proud of you.”

I must confess I was a little disappointed in my childish message to God. I was in a holy place, a holy moment, giggling and reverent and needy and giving in the presence of God, hoping to send with Sammy a message that would reveal the deepest yearnings of my soul to my Beloved Creator.

But that message I sent with Sammy was in fact the greatest desire of my soul. What I want more than anything, when I meet Jesus, is to give him a big hug, to know that he loves me, to be told that I did a good job and that He's proud of me.

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