Monday, February 13, 2006

Watching a Man Die

I have been watching a man die slowly, over a period of 14 years. His name is Phil, and he's homeless. I think he's had places to live and employment off and on over the years, but he always winds up at the exit of the same Albertsons with his bike, a bike trailer, and his sign.

He first caught everyone's attention about when he was much younger. It was about the time that homeless folks really became noticeable in Boise. Whereas others help up signs that said, "Will work for food," or "Need gas to get to new job," his sign said, "Why lie? I need a beer." I don't recall if I contributed to his beer fund, but I might've bought him lunch once or twice.

I found it humorous at the time and refreshingly honest. Chalk that up to my own naiveté. He kept using the sign and kept panhandling. he's disappear for a while, or I simply wouldn't have any reason to be on this side of town, but eventually he'd pop up again.

Well, now I live on this side of town. I see him walking to and from the various places he panhandles, or from the homes of his remaining family. (Yep, his brothers and sisters live in the area.) I've gotten to know him a lot better since the days when he used to hold the beer sign. Now, the sign on his trailer says, "Homeless. Need help. God bless."

Phil has cancer, and he looks more gaunt everytime I see him. His grandfather and father both died of lung cancer, and that's apparently what's going to do him in as well. Well, that and years of drug and alcohol abuse. He has a cold right now, and he mistook me for someone who gave hime some Advil. Or he just mentioned the Advil because he doesn't really engage with folks according to the norms of social discourse. As Paul Grice would say, he violated the cooperative principle of conversational implicature. Maybe he has a cold, or maybe it's the cancer.

He still smokes.

I remember when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with oat-cell carcinoma of the lungs. After she finished a round of chemotherapy and learned that the spread of cancer showed few signs of abating, she decided to accept the inevitable, swear off further chemo, and get ready to die. She started to smoke again, figuring that it was pointless to give it up if it had already done the deed and couldn't be undone. (A poem about that experience from the imagined perspective of my ex-wife is here.)

I think Phil is at that phase. He doesn't much think about being miserable or not being miserable. He's so used to it that he doesn't complain. I spoke to another guy, Mike, who was standing on the very same spot last Sunday. He was perfectly willing to say that things could be better. He wanted to be inside watching the Super Bowl. He was still alive. I think Phil resigned himself to death a long time ago.

Please pray for Phil and for his conversion.
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