once again the kids are napping and i should be too, but as i laid there i couldn't turn my brain off.
i am thinking of bill.
bill lived two houses down from ours. he was a quiet man and mostly kept to himself and his menagerie of cats. the only real evidence that bill moved in and out of his house was the occasional sighting of his recycling box that like clockwork came to the curb every monday morning. it was always filled to the brim with empty bottles and cans telling more of his story then he probably ever imagined. you see all of these vacant containers once held alcohol. bill was a drunk, and a crazy one at that.
i am a bar tender at an italian resturant in our neighborhood. i rarely have disgruntled patrons, but bill was one of the few. in fact when he would saunter into my place of employment i always felt dread because one of two situations were inevidable. number one he would very rarely come in happy and feel like talking, though i would have to tread very carefully because at any moment he could turn on a dime. or number two he would come in already a little tipsy and angry wanting to sit in silence downing bottles of corona quickly. on these such occasions i would stay clear and just let him work out what he needed to in his own mind. no matter how he came in i would always leave the empty bottles sitting in front of him so that he would know exactly how many he had drunk, otherwise he would accuse me of lying and over charging him.
one night about 3 months ago already, he came in happy and smiling and his long crazy white hair was somewhat flat against his head. he was in the mood to talk. he sat down ordered his beer and said to me, "i've just come from an interview with the palm beach paper."
"really?" i said, "what were you interviewed for bill?"
"oh," he replied, "after the war i stayed on in germany and joined a german band. we recorded 6 or 7 albums. we were always asked to play for parties of very famous people. the paper wanted to interview me because i am going to my 25th year reunion with the other members of the band. can you imagine that?" he shakes his head in disbelief and looks at me with a look of anticipation. "i haven't seen them in 25 years. it is going to be so good to see them all."
"wow bill", i say, "that is wonderful. what years were you in germany?"
"1951-1957, 25 years ago." he shakes his head again. this time in disbelief that so many years have passed. and my heart sinks as i think to myself, oh bill, how sad that it has been 50 years since your glory days have passed you by and you don't even know it.
right than and there my heart became even more burdened for bill. a man who once upon a time had talent, enormous talent. what happened? was it alcohol? was that what made him a hermit? or was it something else? maybe an undiagnosed disease that slowly started to deteriorate his mind making him want to drink so he could forget and not feel...
for the past two weeks i have noticed that bill's car has not moved. i haven't seen him around and i started to become agitated. there was no one to ask about him though. no one really sees bill much. but i did hear rumors that the police had been to his house a while ago. my neighbors and i speculated what may have happened to him.
this morning as i got in my car to do some errands i heard chain saws and when i drove by bill's house i noticed his yard was full of tree branches. the feeling of dread moved slowly to the back of my throat and i knew in my heart that bill had died. i turned the car around and parked it in front of his house. silently i approached the house, hoping for the best. a man was in the front yard stacking piles of branches and palm fronds. i asked him about the owner and he looked at me blankly. he went around to the back of the house. i sensed that i should wait. another man came walking towards me. a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a kind smile on his face. "can i help you mam?" he asked me.
"yes", i said, "the gentleman who owns this house, bill, is he ok?"
he took a slow puff from his cigarette and as he exhaled he said, "no mam. he's dead".
"really?" i sighed. "how long ago?" i asked.
"one or two months ago. his brother up in north carolina hired me to clean the whole place. inside and out. it is a pretty big mess."
"yes, i imagine it would be. bill didn't get out much."
he takes another puff and i sigh again. we stand there in mutual silence.
"well, thank you for telling me. i have been wondering."
"no problem", he says kindly. he steps on his finished cigarette and says, "i had better get back to work".
"sure. thanks again." he gives me one last smile and starts back to the jungle that is bill's overgrown back yard.
i get in the car and drive away.
that was almost 6 hours ago and i can't shake it. the feelings of guilt. there were so many times this last year that i felt the Spirit prompting me to take food to him, check on him, ask if he needed anything.
and i didn't.
cause i was afraid.
there i said it. once again fear got in the way. sure i tried to be kind to him and listen to his stories when he came into work. cause it felt safe there. he wouldn't know where i lived, and more importantly there was a bar in between us. a natural barrier.
i feel sick inside cause i didn't reach out to this lonely, talented, old man cause i was too full of fear and self protection....
this past sunday pastor shirley told the story of Christ's ascension and the fact that before He left us to join His Father He gave us a job, a very specific job. one that He said from the start would not be easy. and that job is to show others His saving love. to BE His love to our neighbors, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.
and i didn't, in this instance i didn't.
and now bill is gone.
i only hope before bill got to the place where he was of living 25 years ago, that someone had told him and that he had made a decision. but i won't ever know and because of this i have a heavy heart. i know i will have to answer some day for my lack of courage, with bill.