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I See Things That No One Else Can See

He’s sitting in his chair when I arrive. That’s it. Just sitting. Not watching TV, not reading. Just vacantly staring up at the ceiling. The curtains are drawn and the window closed, even though outside it’s a pleasant October day. The air is stale, sad, heavy.

He doesn’t hear my knock on the door. He looks at me quizzically when I walk in, then a smile gradually grows over his face as he recognizes who I am. At least I think he does. I’m never quite sure. He struggles to sit up straight. Everything is slow. Everything hurts.

“How’s it going?” I ask him. It instantly seems a stupid question, particularly in a place like this. I know precisely how it’s going, which is to say, not particularly well. I know that he’s lonely, that he’s in near-constant physical pain, that he’s lonely, that he’s confused and disoriented, that he’s lonely, that the food isn’t what he would like it to be, that he’s lonely, that he misses friends who have died, that he’s lonely, that he wonders why he can’t be with his wife… Also, that he’s lonely.

He looks up at me and says with a raspy and strained voice, “It’s really terrible, this life. But I guess we gotta get through it.”

He smiles and tugs on his eyebrow. He’s been doing this since I arrived.

We drift around the edges of conversation. Sentences start but don’t finish. Thoughts float around but never really land. We talk of old days, old friends, of better times. The light in his eyes flickers. We sit in silence, waiting for something, anything to break it.

“I see things that nobody else can see,” he suddenly says. He points to the top of a cupboard where a ceramic ram sits beside a duck and an eagle. “Everyone tells me that those animals don’t move, but I see them running around all the time. They come down at night and I see them wrestling with each other. But nobody else can see this.” He sighs somewhat plaintively or impatiently—as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, but he can’t really make me understand.

I look up at the ornamental animals, willing them to move, to wrestle, to wreak a bit of blessed havoc for the sake of this dear old soul. They remain obstinately, irritatingly still.

I think of Genesis 32 and Jacob wrestling with his mysterious night visitor, of emerging from a night of madness with a limp and a new name, of refusing to let his adversary  go until he received a blessing. I think of the many hurting souls in sad and lonely places who see things that most of us can’t see, don’t want to see, refuse to see. I think of those who wrestle with things seen and unseen, who struggle with God.

I pray for my friend. Some things I pray out loud—that God would ease his pain and his unsettled mind, that he would experience love and comfort, that kindness and grace would soothe his troubled days. Other things I pray in the quiet of my own mind—that he wouldn’t give up wrestling until he wrenches a blessing from the hand of God.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bryan Stauffer #

    Excellent reminder that we serve Him by serving others, and that there are many lonely folks in each of our neighborhoods that could use a word of hope, maybe from me, today!

    October 25, 2018
    • There certainly are, Bryan. I’ve been struck by just how pervasive loneliness is in our culture. So many people who could use a word of hope or simply the presence of another soul to listen.

      October 26, 2018
  2. Irvin Martens #


    October 25, 2018
  3. Kevin K #

    Your ability to bring dignity to the stories of the suffering you encounter in others never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for writing, and listening, and sharing. Greatly appreciated. Thanks as well for being willing to break into the loneliness of another. A gift in it’s own right.

    October 25, 2018
    • Thanks very kindly, Kevin.

      October 26, 2018
  4. Your experience strikes a painful chord, having lost a sister just recently to dementia, then physical agony and then release. Thanks.

    October 25, 2018
    • So sorry for your loss, George.

      October 26, 2018
  5. Jeff Kisner #

    Works with Blind Bartimaeus, lectionary text for this Sunday. What did B see that no one else could see? Someone with power to heal and restore him to his community.

    October 26, 2018
    • Great connection, Jeff. I’ve been reading that story this week, but I hadn’t yet put the two stories together. Thanks.

      October 26, 2018
  6. mike #

    Such a deeply moving story. Thank you,Ryan.

    October 26, 2018
    • Thanks very much, Mike.

      October 29, 2018
  7. Paul Johnston #

    We must be careful of catharsis. Expunging emotions without concrete action does nothing to potentially ameliorate unnecessary suffering. Please understand I do not impugn your motives here, Ryan. You are a good man often bewildered by the front line suffering pastoral ministry exposes you to.

    I have always, however poorly, tried to encourage you to forget your own inadequacies in these situations, inadequacies I fully share, and go forward in holy boldness, proclaiming the salvic power of Jesus Christ. Proclaim Christ to a suffering person and give them reason and hope to make sense of suffering and all its redemptive power. We cannot stop suffering and death, it comes for us all. We can proclaim Christ and to those who are His it will be enough for them. They will suffer and even die in the hope of resurrection. They will die a happy death. They will die stripped of everything else but faith. If that isn’t good enough to obtain salvation, I surely do not know my God or what I am talking about.

    As for the particulars here, I have a suggestion and an offer.

    If you haven’t, report the fact that your friend speaks so vividly of his hallucinations, to his caregivers. Very often antiseizure meds and/or psychotropic drugs taken for mood disorders lead to the kind of hallucinations you describe. If your friend is also taking high blood pressure beta blockers, his chances of hallucinating increase.

    As for his loneliness, I personally cannot visit him as I live in Ontario but if I remember correctly you have about 40 people in your church. If every able-bodied adult in your congregation will visit him once and you schedule those visits over the next few months I would happily donate $1,000 to your community for whatever purpose you see fit.

    October 27, 2018
    • Paul Johnston #

      In this way, working together, let us help in the wrenching of a blessing from God’s hand. 🙂

      October 27, 2018
    • I’m aware that where I see an honest reflection of the pain of following Jesus into hard situations, you see weakness or faithlessness or inadequacy or some other thing. I can’t change this. I suppose we just see some things differently.

      We do have people in our community who regularly visit people like I describe in this post. But thank you for your generous offer.

      October 29, 2018
      • Paul Johnston #

        Wise words, we do see it differently.

        Even here we would disagree. Where you say, “pain of following Jesus” I would say privilige and may I have the faith and courage to make a positive difference.

        There could be much more of the joy of knowing and sharing in Christ with another in need, both parties being graced in a, “Larche” type of holiness, in these stories.

        October 29, 2018
  8. Paul Johnston #

    Respectfully, and with great thanks for all you have done to sharpen my faith, I shall take my leave. May God continue to bless you and lead you into a deeper conversion of the Spirit.

    Take my advice and avoid political liaison with the liberal churches. They do not follow Christ, they follow themselves and create a Christ in their own image. The centre will not hold in Christian faith, it is a lukewarm place of false comforts and sins of omission. It will only be the traditionalist, lived faiths, that survive and prosper. Dark times are ahead, dive headlong into Christ when the time comes.

    October 30, 2018
    • Thank you for reading and for contributing, Paul. May God continue to bless and lead you in the same.

      October 30, 2018

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