Each day for the past year, we receive a phone call--sometimes more than one--from the desert, actually from Las Vegas. The caller knows my wife, who is a gifted listener; at times, I pick up the phone and chat with this woman of 60, who has stage-4 cancer and, although not apparently in pain, is dying of loneliness. She and I have never met face to face and probably never will.
I have learned that the caller, whom I can call "M," fled her third marriage to live, alone, in Las Vegas, where she seems to know no one; she has no family. Her one-sided conversation tends to avoid how she feels, instead dwells on the dull, daily events of her day. It is clear that M must have someone to reach out to, someone who will listen and care.
We have been selected.
I think of M. often and pray for her, mainly that she finds, somewhere, a caregiver or friend closer to her who can befriend her. I think often of human loneliness and the desperate need we have of love. And I think of Christ in the desert, that spiritual landscape as far removed from the glitz of Las Vegas as imaginable, feeling no doubt totally alone, abandoned.
I believe M. feels less alone after these daily phone calls, less helpless. I worry that she will die alone, forgotten, far away from us.
It was Jesus who said, "What you do to the least of my brethren, you do also to me." That foundational statement of Christianity, and of most other religions, is a mandate to love one another as best we can. Love forms whatever bond we as isolated individuals have.
So even when the sound of phone ringing as many as three times a day annoys me, I must welcome it as a reminder of the pain of being totally alone in the trackless desert--and of the necessity of listening, which is surely a form of love and of prayer.