He was a lonely world war two veteran who called a stranger every night so he could talk to someone before he went to sleep.
“I like to hear the sound of a human voice before I turn out the light”, he told me, “it helps me sleep.”
He didn’t have an easy life but he didn’t complain about it. All I know is he went to fight in the war because that was what a man did in those days – his duty. It cost him a wife amongst other things.
He found another love and they were happy together for many years but she died a couple of years ago. They had no children which was another source of grief for him and another reason for his loneliness. All his family and friends were dead.
He was not like so many of the kids in the online game I play. He had killed real live people in the war and he regretted it so much he could never have enjoyed role-playing more killing of other people. He would not turn to the television for late night company because the sex advertisements offended him. He had lived through so much but he complained about nothing and bragged about just one thing.
“When I was a boy”, he informed me with some pride, “I won an award for memorizing all the words to the 23rd psalm and I still remember every word.”
He said he won more than an award through memorizing the psalm because the words had given him a lot of comfort in hard times all through his long life and they comforted him still.
He liked to end our calls by reciting that psalm to me and I liked hearing him recite it.
“The Lord has been very good to me”, he said every time we spoke, “I own my own house and I am still able to live here. Not many people are still in their own home at ninety years of age.”
His greatest fear was that he would be forced to leave his home and end his days in an institution but he didn’t dwell on that. He hoped for the best. He hoped he would die in his sleep. He hoped it would happen in his own bed in his own home.
One night, a few weeks ago, I got the call I had been dreading. His health had finally given out and he was in hospital.
“I very much doubt I will be going home,” he said in a voice devoid of all emotion, “when I’m well enough to leave hospital I will have to go into care.”
He was unhappy. Very unhappy. There was nothing I could say and we both knew it. He spared me the worst of his grief but I knew this was his worst nightmare come true.
“Does the psalm still comfort you?” I asked him and he said yes, when he thinks about it, he is still able to draw a little comfort from it.
The words came from me without me realising I was about to say them.
“Perhaps it is time for you to go home and that is why this has happened – to make it easier for you to go home?”
“Oh no”, he protested sadly, “I won’t ever be able to go home again. oh.. you mean.. my other home?” His voice changed as hope entered his mind. “Do you think so?” He asked me wistfully and said he would like that very much.
“It isn’t just the house of the Lord,” I said, “it’s your home too. It’s the home of every child of God.”
“It is, isn’t it,” he said thoughtfully, “it is my eternal home.”
Then he said he was tired and asked if he could recite the psalm to me to end the call. I said I would like that but, this time, he changed the words.
Then we said our farewells but they were different this time too.
“Goodnight sister,” he said.
“Goodnight brother,” I answered him.
Every time I thought of him over the next few weeks I prayed for him. I asked the Lord to have mercy on him and let him go home.
Last night I got the news. They did put him in a nursing home and he died soon after. I am sad but I think we knew we were saying our final farewell when we said it. I am also glad. He will not have to spend years in an institution as he feared so much after all.
He was not in the nursing home for very long at all before the Lord took him home.
He will dwell in the house of the Lord forever and, someday, I will see him there.