The fate of the world rests on this

When I was 40 years old, I took my 63-year-old friend into my house. Well, it wouldn’t be accurate to say I invited Dale to live with me. According to him, he did not want to share the address with anyone, being a “man from Monkhia”. It might not even be fair to say I took Dale live in with me. To be honest, I took him so that he would not die alone.

Dale and I went to seminary together. The rest of us thought Dale was an old guy because most of us were in our 20’s and he was in his early 50’s. But Dale never seemed to age. He ran marathons, chopped firewood, and spent his free time hiking in the wilderness. He traveled all over the world and spoke seven languages, including ancient Coptic. This man looked older than he was.

Ten years after being classmates, Dale and I returned to work at the same seminary. It was great to renew our friendship as colleagues this time.

During the summer break from sessions, I got a call from the register saying that Dale was in the hospital. He had a stroke caused by a brain tumor. He was partially paralyzed, unable to speak, and not expected to live. Shall I go with him to see him?

In the ICU, as we stood on his bed, Dale opened his eyes. It was impossible to know if he recognized us. He raised one living hand and touched his throat.

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“He will continue like this,” said the nurse. “I think he wants to talk.”

“He wants his cross,” I said. Dale always wore a cross where his fingers were.

I searched the drawer next to his bed and found the crucifix, placed around his neck above the many wires and pipes that surrounded him. Dale wrapped his big arms around that cross and held on tight. It was at that moment that I knew Dale was still there, still himself. And I will not leave him until the end of his journey. If he believed in the cross, so would I.

It certainly wasn’t that simple. Dale outlived most of his family. Another brother was working in a private mine in the southwest. My first task was to obtain a power of attorney, and the second was to obtain power of attorney for Dale’s medical decisions. My friend could not speak. He needed someone to talk to instead.

It took weeks to get the proper paperwork and see his doctors. I then learned that arrangements were being made for Dale to be taken into low-income care: a low-budget nursing home where he would no longer receive treatment. It is fatal within a few weeks.

After reviewing Dale’s medical coverage, I understand that he is entitled to a number of therapies and treatments. He even chose several hospitals and nursing homes, including Stanford, which specialized in the brain cancer that afflicted him.

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So I stood on more lines, held more forms, and tried to find an admin who could make it happen. When I finally appeared before this man, the size of his desk and his well-appointed office told me that this was the court of final appeal. Had he not signed the forms, Dale, a lifelong worker, would have died a pauper in his final hours.

The administrator was not unreasonable. “Sure, Dale can get further cancer treatment, as well as three therapies: speech, occupational, physical. But those services are available locally. He doesn’t need to go to Stanford. A difference in care levels of about 5% is not cost-effective.”

“Five percent,” I protested. “If someone aims a laser at my brain, 5% more accuracy is important. 5% more attentive nurses, 5% more advanced equipment, 5% more experienced doctors: I think I’d like that.”

The woman stood up and put her hands firmly on the desk. “Your father will be treated very well at our hospital,” she concluded with genuine gentleness in her voice.

“He is not my father,” I corrected. And I stood up. “But if he were in your father’s position, would you change your mind?”

The idea seemed to shock him. He sat down, took out his pen, tapped it a few times, and disappeared from my sight. When he looked up again, he said quietly, “If I had my dad, I’d get him at Stanford.” And he signed the papers authorizing the transfer.

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Dale got the expert help he was looking for. And then a few months later, he was actually able to tell me himself.

I thought for a long time about the effect of the word father on that fateful conversation. How he opened a door he didn’t want to open. My father may not be the same as yours. However, we all agree on what a father should be. We all know what family means, even if our particular experiences aren’t perfect.

When Pope Francis says that the fate of the world depends on our “family feeling” for each other, I think he’s talking about situations like this, as well as grand diplomatic alliances. I have to answer to others like my family. I must accept responsibility for the world’s suffering, as if it had anything to do with me, so does he.

Dale and I lived together for 18 months. We shared glorious meals and interesting conversations. We traveled together – him and his stroller – to say goodbye to all the people he loved. I held his hand when he died. And because of living together, the meaning of family has changed for me.


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