I visited Harold periodically when I was near his nursing home. At one time, he had been a reporter of note. During his middle years, he spent too much time observing the bottom of a whiskey bottle. He lost his wife and family, job and home. But by the time he and his second wife became active in the church, he had dried out, become a follower of Jesus and, was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed our visits were less intelligible and more about presence. One day, near the end of his life, I stopped by. He was sitting on his hospital bed, his hands trembling mightily. He looked up and greeted the stranger who had stopped by. On the bedtable was a plastic cup with some water in it. He was trying to hold it but the tremors made his attempts precarious. I sat down quietly in the chair opposite him. After a moment or two, he pointed to the plastic pitcher nearby. It had been a long time since I had heard his voice, so I understood. I got up and poured some water into the near empty cup. We sat a bit longer. I thought he would try to lift it to drink. I was ready to reach over to help. Instead he slowly and carefully slid the Dixie cup towards me. He lifted his head and met my eyes. And said clearly, “A cup of cold water for you.”
It was a sacred moment. I had been received. On some level Harold knew what he was doing. This man, who depended on those who had become complete strangers to him, for every aspect of his life, had welcomed me. I sat a long time after that, tears in my eyes, soaking in God’s presence. I didn’t want to leave.
I hope one day in eternity to sit down with him again and drink deeply from the river of life together.
The success of the Corps of Discovery was dependent in large part to the men and women who received them along the way. They were strangers to one another; their languages and ways were unintelligible to each other. And yet, time and again, when the men landed, wintered, and at points nearly died, the Natives opened their lives, knowledge and experience to help them.
Whenever Lewis and Clark’s expedition came upon tribal people they stopped and made great ceremony of giving gifts that included a coin with Jefferson’s head on one side and hands linked on the other. They explained that now the tribes were part of a new country with a new leader and that they had been sent as envoys in his name. The visitors were received with respect. While the explorers acted with integrity, those who followed them did not, nor did their leaders. I expect a time will come when we as a nation, will be called to give account for our betrayal of the Native people and their hospitality.
Jesus said, “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, and you did not feed, offer cold water, or clothes.” But wait, we say, “when were you hungry, thirsty, naked?” And Jesus responds, “See the least of these? They are my envoys, what you do to them, you do to me.”
Kate Kotfila is Pastor of Cambridge United Presbyterian Church. She and her husband David live in Jackson. They have two adult children & a faithful (if clueless) Plott hound, Arnie.