My friend, Joe is dying. Joe has advanced stage cancer.
I've known him for about three years. I met him on a street corner. Almost all of that time Joe has been homeless and on the street.
Thanks to a public health benefit, Joe's health care as he reaches the end of his life has been really excellent. Ironically, Joe's had the best living situation of his life during his time in a couple of local hospitals and a rehabilitation center.
Joe and I have stayed in touch by phone, and I've visited him in the care centers where he's been receiving treatment.
Earlier this week I visited him in the hospital. He is weak, battling pneumonia and the cancer. As always, he was glad to see me. We visited for a while, and then, I had to go to get to another appointment.
As I prepared to leave, Joe asked me. "Larry, can I get a $20 bill from you?"
I said, "Sure, Joe, that's an easy one," as I lifted the bank note from my wallet.
"Here you go! Are you going to buy you something better to eat," I asked and motioned to his untouched, cold meal the nurses had set before him.
"Yeah, man, I'm going to find me a great buffet," he exclaimed, flashing his broad smile.
As I turned to leave, he called out, "Larry, how long's it been since I asked you for a $20?"
"Long time, Joe, long time," I answered.
"I love you man," I told him. "I'll be back by."
"I love you, too, Larry," he replied.
As I walked to my car, I remembered our street routine, repeated so many times. Joe would ask me for money. Usually, I gave him $20 at a time for something to eat. He needed a little help because he hated the shelters and preferred the freedom of the street, as cruel and unforgiving as it was. At least with the street, he could deal on his own terms.
As I recalled those times, it hit me. Joe didn't really need my $20. He wasn't going to any buffet. He's headed to hospice.
What Joe needed was to know that I'd still honor his reqeust. Joe needed to know that he was worth something to me, that he was special, that we were, after all, friends.
As I pondered in my flashback mode, I realized that is all Joe ever needed from me. The money possessed varying degrees of value to him, depending on his circumstance. But being able to approach a friend and have a request honored, there was what he really sought. It all translated to his own sense of worth.
Joe, old pal, you're worth so much more than you understand, so much more.