July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Once upon a time, there was a man named Lenny. Lenny grew up in a New Jersey suburb in a Conservative Jewish home. He had caring parents, three siblings and some friends. He had a good job and lived in a wonderful apartment. Life seemed to be going quite smoothly.

Suddenly, Lenny’s life came crashing down. Lenny’s parents passed away within weeks of each other. He was involved in a family feud and stopped speaking to his siblings. Lenny developed significant medical issues over a period of a few weeks and lost his job. The little religion that existed in Lenny’s life became meaningless. His few friends were unable to be of any assistance to him either emotionally or financially. As if all of this was not bad enough, Lenny’s landlord raised his rent! Lenny was forced to choose between keeping his apartment or paying for healthcare. Due to a myriad of health complications with which he struggled, Lenny felt that healthcare was of utmost priority.

Lenny packed up a few belongings in a backpack and headed for the streets. This would only be temporary, he figured. He was confident that an affordable apartment would become available. Well, one day of being homeless turned into two, and two turned into three. During the day he would wander the streets of a small town in New Jersey and in the evenings he would roam the streets of Manhattan.

Two years actually went by like this for Lenny. No home, no friends, no family, no connection to a Temple and no job.

Alone. Completely alone.

One day, Lenny, presently 60 years old, met a chaplain in the hospital. He told her his life story. The chaplain listened carefully for a long time. Lenny had so very much to unload and to express. The chaplain then asked Lenny why he was currently a patient in the hospital. Lenny hesitated to answer. He said that his hospitalization was due to a terrible foot infection that became exacerbated. The only pair of shoes that he owned needed to be discarded by the hospital as those shoes were contaminated. Lenny did not have any shoes. Literally.

Though the chaplain had met other homeless people in the past, there was something specific about Lenny that touched her. Was it his candor? His honesty? His gentleness? Was it his strong will not to give up?

Lenny continued to say that whenever he gets admitted to the hospital he feels as if he does not get the same treatment as someone who has a family. He knows that this perception might just be in his head, but it was something that he could not help but feel. Furthermore, he felt very unsettled and confused about his medical condition. Lenny asked the chaplain to pray for him, even though prayers had never once been an essential part of his life. They prayed and recited a psalm. He then thanked the chaplain for being present, for listening and for helping him to regain some of his dignity.

Upon exiting the room, the chaplain spoke to the social worker and a couple of doctors and nurses to get more of the background information on Lenny. She then went home that night and could not stop thinking about Lenny and his life. The chaplain decided to collect a few items to give to Lenny. She asked some friends to help her out with this endeavor, but was unsure if Lenny would even still be a patient when she would return back to the hospital two days later. As much as she hoping for his discharge, the chaplain was secretly happy to find Lenny in the same room when she returned. She gave him the collected items. Lenny was most grateful…especially for the pair of shoes. He felt a bit more optimistic about his medical condition. He joked and remarked how maybe God really heard their prayer from the other day. The chaplain smiled.

Lenny had much to say—about his life, his regrets, spirituality and religion, his goals, his hopes for the future and his medical condition. He remarked that it is solely his perspective on his life that enables him to get through his day-to-day challenges. The chaplain asked Lenny to explain. Lenny said that when he wanders the streets of Manhattan he often sees many other homeless individuals. Many of them are on crutches and have various leg complications. It was then that Lenny told the chaplain something she will never forget. Lenny—the man with no family, no friends, no home, no job and no shoes—told the chaplain: “When I look around at those other homeless people wandering the streets, I feel so blessed and happy to have all that I have.”

The chaplain was stunned. She felt extremely humbled.

She was unsure how a man who seemingly had so little could feel like he had so much.

After a few seconds of silence, the chaplain responded: “Thank you for sharing that, Lenny. You are quite a man.”

Many stories that begin with “Once upon a time” end with “Happily ever after.” However, maybe the phrase “Happily ever after” is just a matter of perspective, after all…

By Debby Pfeiffer

 Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified Chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield, NJ with her husband and five children. She can be reached at  [email protected].

 

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