Pastor Walter Mitty went over to his neighbor Michael’s house last Sunday to watch the Duke vs. Louisville tournament game, eat pizza and have a couple beers.
The pastor of Poplar Park Community Church was looking forward to kicking back with his best friend. Lent was always a busy time, and although the Easter gospel, the music and standing room only at the church energized him every year, he still always heaved a sigh of relief as he walked home from the Easter Sunday service.
“It’s the beer,” thought Mitty as he watched his friend go to the bathroom twice during the first ten minutes of the game, but three more trips before halftime made him start to worry.
“You alright, Michael?”
“I’m not sure. At first I chalked it up to getting old, but then I saw this program about prostate cancer on TV, and I had to answer “yes” to all of the symptoms they listed.
The two friends sat in silence. Michael had put the TV on mute when the first half ended.
“You going to see a doctor?” asked Mitty after five minutes of silently trying to manage his impulse to jump in, fix things and make everything turn out alright.
“Tomorrow,” answered Michael, “a guy my family doctor recommended named Abdul Maalik. Said he was top notch.”
“You know, Walt, it’s funny. When my wife started having symptoms of breast cancer eight years ago, I worried all the time. I was terrified that I’d lose her and be alone. But now that it might be happening to me, I’m not as upset as I thought I’d be. I guess it’s easier when it happens to you than someone you love.”
Mitty felt tears welling up his eyes. It had been seven months since his brother Herman had died of lung cancer, and he had been his brother’s caretaker during the four years between his diagnosis and death. The thought of losing his best friend so soon after losing his brother felt like too much to bear.
“You know, being diagnosed with prostate cancer isn’t an automatic death sentence,” said Michael, reading his friend’s thoughts. “And I haven’t even been diagnosed yet.”
Mitty knew in his head that his neighbor was right, but that realization didn’t calm his fears. At the same time, he felt grateful that his friend was including him in this very personal part of his life.
“Funny thing about intimacy,” thought Mitty. “The closeness creates such warm, wonderful feelings and at the same time so much suffering.”
The beginning of the second half of the game along with the beer and pizza allowed the two friends to gain some distance from their anxieties. They were able to get lost in the competition between the two talented, well coach teams until it happened. Right in front of thousands of fans and millions of viewers, the Louisville guard Kevin Ware broke his tibia after trying to block a shot. The two friends winced as they watched the replay and empathized with the tears of the Louisville players.
“Funny thing about intimacy,” thought Pastor Walt for the second time in fifteen minutes. “Those players and their coaches really felt like a family. They really did love each other. That bond helped them win games but it also caused them pain when they saw what happened to their teammate.”
Pastor Walt gave Michael a hug before walking next door to the comfort of his own home. As he brushed his teeth, his thoughts went back to the Holy Week which had just ended with the Easter service that morning. He often thought about God in terms of omnipotence and holiness, but this night what struck him about the Holy Week story was how much Jesus had suffered, because he had taken the risk of getting close to his disciples. One of them betrayed him. Peter denied knowing him. All of them abandoned him when he needed them most.
“Simon, do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter three times in a post-Easter encounter with the disciple he had nicknamed The Rock. Peter got the point. Being close to Jesus wasn’t going to be a non-stop victory march, an escape into some kind of other worldly serenity.
“Funny thing about intimacy,” thought the Pastor of Poplar Park Community Church as he snuggled under the covers and laid his head on the pillow. “It’s my attachment to Michael that adds so much joy to my life and at the same time makes just the thought of losing him painful.”
As he surrendered to sleep his last thought was, “Maybe that’s what Holy Week is all about. Intimacy.”