Tim lay in his bed breathing oxygen through the tube draped over his ears. He knew he was dying. John, his friend, was sitting faithfully by his side.
Years ago, John had lived just three houses down. They’d grown up together; they were practically brothers.
Tim tried to stay awake, but started drifting. His memories became quite vivid.
The ball was hit hard, a line-drive; it struck him before he could react. When Tim opened his eyes, his friend was there, kneeling over him, his head bowed.
“What are you doing?” Tim asked.
Nervous laughter filled the air as John’s face flushed.
“Because...because you needed it,” said the boy who would become a priest.
“Well,” said Tim, a huge knot forming on his forehead, “I guess it must have worked.”
Tim awoke to John touching his hand, mumbling. His head was bowed.
“Are you praying?”
John smiled. “Habit.”
“You’re still hoping I’ll repent? Turn from my sinful ways?”
The tiny office was in the basement of what must have been the smallest church in New York.
“I’ve run the numbers,” John said. “I can make this work.”
John had done well in school; Tim did even better. He’d landed a job at a major brokerage firm.
“All I need is seed money to get started.”
For a food pantry? Tim had no interest.
“Eight, ten thousand dollars, and we can help feed hundreds of people a day.”
His wife wouldn’t understand.
“I know you’re not a believer, but....”
Really, it wasn’t that much.
John was so earnest.
When Tim awoke, John was sitting in his chair with a crossword puzzle in his lap. It was John’s one earthly addiction.
“Can you think of a ten letter word for ‘a long journey to a holy place’?”
“Oh, of course.”
Real Estate was booming, and mortgage-backed securities were all the rage. Tim’s brokerage business was flying high.
“Thanks for inviting me,” John said. “I don’t eat out very often.”
“It’s our pleasure,” replied Jenny, Tim’s second wife. Her diamonds and pearls fit in nicely with the décor.
“I wanted to talk with you about the old recreation center.”
“On Willow Street?” Tim asked. “What about it?”
“It’s run down. The county’s threatening close it.”
“Tim, those kids need the recreation center. For fifty, maybe sixty thousand, I know we could fix it back up.”
“Fifty thousand?” Jenny laughed incredulously. “Honestly!”
“That’s a lot of money,” Tim said.
“They might...they could name it after you. ‘The Tolliver Recreation Center.’”
“I don’t know....”
Jenny jumped in. “How large would that sign be?”
John was asleep, slouched in the chair, his overcoat draped over him. Tim felt obliged to tell him to leave, to go home, but he couldn’t.
He couldn’t imagine facing death alone.
Tim had just gotten back from an Alpine skiing trip when John called.
“I need your help.”
There was desperation in his voice.
“I just got back from Haiti. Children are dying on the streets.”
The earthquake had been devastating; Tim had seen it on the news.
“Our orphanage desperately needs another dormitory.”
“Hold on! Just how much....”
“Two hundred thousand.”
The market was down. Mortgage-backed securities had plummeted.
“I don’t think so.”
“We need it.”
“We could name the building....”
“The Lord...” John became uncharacteristically hesitant.
“The Lord told me to ask you.”
Tim shook his head in cold disbelief.
Hospice is not a place for the faint of heart. John was reading the Bible. His face was creased and haggard and tired.
Tim felt uncharacteristic gratitude, gratitude for his friend, gratitude for the food bank, the recreation center, the dormitory, gratitude for the only things of value in his life, the only things that mattered.
John lowered his Bible.
“Are you ready, yet?” he asked with a hopeful voice.
“To repent of your sins and acknowledge the one true God.”
Tim smiled to himself. He certainly did believe in a just and true God. He had no doubt that he was about to face such a frightening God in the very near future. But would it matter? Acknowledging him now rather than in a few hours, when he saw him?
Tim gazed at his friend. John had such a good heart.
Honestly, it was the least he could do, this one last bit of kindness.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m ready.”
And his journey continued.
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