by Isaac Villegas
June 21, 2014
Seven years ago, before Cameron had his stroke, back when Cameron walked without a cane, when he rode the bus by himself, when he spent most of his days out and about, I joined him on one of his visits to an assisted living home.
I picked him up from his apartment in the morning, so we could stop in at Elmo’s Diner for breakfast. We walked over to Harris Teeter next door, where he bought a few newspapers, different kinds of newspapers. Then we drove to an assisted living facility on Franklin Street, and Cameron introduced me to the staff there. They knew him well, because Cameron would come weekly, sometimes twice a week, sometimes more, to visit several of the residents.
We went to one man’s room, and Cameron pulled out his newspapers and picked out the New York Times. “This one’s his favorite,” Cameron whispered to me as he took a seat by the man’s bed and began to read to him, to read the paper aloud, article by article, page by page, from front to back. I listened too.
After an hour, we said goodbye to the man and I followed Cameron down the hall to another room, where he introduced me to a woman sitting in a chair, a woman who didn’t seem to recognize Cameron, but was glad to have visitors. We sat down and Cameron pulled out his copy of the News & Observer, which she recognized as her favorite newspaper, and Cameron read to her for a while, and then asked me to take a turn.
On the drive back to Cameron’s apartment, I asked him how he decided to spend his time with those two people. He said that when he began going there, he asked the staff if he could visit people who didn’t have any visitors. They gave him a list of names, people who spent most of their days alone, and Cameron would work his way through the list, finding out what they would like for him to read, and he would visit them whenever he could, sitting with them, reading and talking.
I spent some time yesterday paging through Cameron’s bibles, and I found a lot of highlighted and underlined passages in the Psalms and the Gospel of John. There were marked passages in other books of the bible, but those two had the most. We heard some of those passages a few minutes ago, we could think of it as the best of Psalms and John, according to Cameron Haney. As I read through the verses he highlighted, I heard themes of God’s welcome, of God’s ever-present care and steadfast love, verses that spoke of God’s companionship, of a God who is with us, verses that call out to God, for God to come near.
Here are several lines from the Psalms:
“according to your steadfast love, remember me.”
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
“My times are in your hand.”
“O guard my life and deliver me; I take refuge in you.”
“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.”
And a verse from the Gospel of John, words of promise from Jesus:
“I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
“So that where I am, there you may be also.” That’s the God who Cameron trusted. That’s the God of Cameron’s faith. A God who would never leave us or forsake us. A God who is our refuge, who invites us to dwell in the house of God.
“For I am convinced,” wrote the apostle Paul, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That’s what God is like: the one who is with us, who refuses to be separated from us, who doesn’t abandon us, not in life nor in death.
And because God is like this, because Cameron believed in this God, that’s why Cameron spent his days reading newspapers to people he didn’t know, people in assisted living facilities, who didn’t have family or friends to visit them — to talk and read, to be a companion to strangers, to sit beside people who were where they did not want to be. Because that’s where God is, beside us, in life and in death — God is here, God is there, with people who are where they don’t want to be, with us even in the grave.