Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is There Coffee in Heaven?

Recently, I read an article in a newspaper about a place called the Southbury Training School. The school is in Danbury, Connecticut and it is home to about five hundred men who are mentally challenged. It has been in existence for a long time and many of the men have lived there most of their lives. A small group is bussed every morning to a rest area on Interstate 84, where their job is to keep it clean. They remove the garbage, clean the bathrooms, polish the floors.
One man’s name is Bobby. He loves coffee and always carries a plastic cup with him, attached by a string to his belt. One day, while the men were being driven back to the school, their conversation revolved around a cemetery that the van passed. For a little while, the men wondered aloud where would they go after death, and would anyone remember them, and would there be coffee up there. It was Bobby who asked the last question about the coffee and when he did he was promptly told to shut up by the others. Their attention span is very brief, and Bobby did not seem to mind the rebuff. He found immediate delight in the raising of his plastic coffee cup to his lips, gazing out the window as he took a gulp.
Anthony worries about death, since several friends of his have died. They were life-time friends – men he lived with ever since he came to the school fifty years ago. On his small refrigerator he has taped their pictures and obituary notices. He hopes that someone takes care of him when he is dying and has left a note to that effect on the same refrigerator door.
It is a very small world, that school, and it is a world that reveals a facet of poverty. It is a world that offers windows through which we can glimpse the grace of God.
The men are well cared for and they also care for each other. Their poverty is not one of lack of income. It is, rather, a poverty of roads that they could have taken if they were born normal. Their choices were severely limited by mental illness. They could never live out the kind of dreams that come to so many others, like those who pass through the rest area every day. Yet they keep the place clean and the grass mowed.
The gospels often portray Jesus as speaking of things that are hidden and secret. Jesus speaks in this way and his disciples do not understand. They cannot grasp what he is saying and are afraid to ask. Jesus does not clarify things for them. Life moves on and they stay with him. They trust him enough to stay, even though they are afraid and do not understand.
Our lives are not much different. Beneath the wealth of our words sleeps wonder, and every now and then it awakens and beckons us to look about at the passing beauty that is life and those places where something of God might be more clearly seen. Maybe some day, one of you will enter a rest area on Interstate 84 and will see a man there, dressed in a yellow work vest. His name is Bobby – buy him a cup of hot coffee, a taste for him of heaven on earth and an image for us of God in this world.

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