The phone rings. . .You never know who is going to be on the other end of the line. It might be an elderly woman who has no family or friends. She is a repeat caller. Her log contains hundreds of entries. She calls every evening about this time to say goodnight before she goes to bed. She'll also call the first thing in the morning as she awakes, and several more times during the day. Television shows. . . jokes. . .fears. . . hopes. . . victories. . . setbacks. . .little happenings through the day. . .we are the receivers of modern anti-religious prayer. . .nameless. . . faceless. . .we know so much about her. We are strangers, unrelated and anonymous, but we are also her closest family and friends. We care when no one else does. . .
It might be someone needing any of a multitude of questions answered. . . information on support groups, AA, NA, OEA, anger management classes, and on and on. Our card file was probably close to a foot thick. Hundreds upon hundreds of organizations reaching out to people. . .All these different cards filled with various meeting times, addresses, and brief descriptions of what their purpose and their intended clientèle is. You never knew what the call would bring.
We were called suicide hotline workers, but in reality only a small fraction of our calls were suicidal people, but they did call. Thankfully they did call. That was our purpose. . .that was our calling. . .
We were trained to quickly establish a rapport over the phone. We were trained to listen. We were trained in ways to make connections and to help resurrect relationship bridges between the caller and any support systems that they might have. . .but sometimes nothing worked. . .I remember. . .
Sometimes the despair is too deep. . . the wounds and pain so lethal that you can find no basis to build upon, but you cannot fail. To fail is unthinkable. . . not possible. It cannot happen. Yet while there is any bit of strength left in your arm, would you ever let go of a hand grasping yours in a raging river current? You are the life saver. No one else is available. There is no other help. . .Would you ever let go? You will yourself to continue beyond what is possible. My shift ends at 11 p.m. I've already been talking for more than two hours. It is an inky blackness I speak into. The depths of it terrify me. I cannot fail. . .
They want permission to end the conversation. They wish me to say 'good bye. . .' I refuse. I will never say good-bye. I am an atheist. I have no prayer to say. I believe in no God to come to my aid, but I know that death in this way is wrong and cannot be permitted. To their goodbye, I give no quarter. . .I respond with silence. They know. I know. Their goodbye is forever. . .I reject it. . .To my refusal, they speak again. . . opening themselves more and more attempting to bribe me, cajole me. . . trying to get me to agree with the hopelessness of their place, an unspoken request asking me to allow them their desire. We return. . . round and round to the terminus of the call, but I will not. . . I refuse. . .They tire. . . I wear them down. . .I have strength of purpose beyond what they know. It is now 4:30 a.m. The approaching day begins to gently season the eastern sky. The first bird begins to sing the coming sun. . . We have been now talking for well over six hours. . .
It is a small thing, but I have a tenuous thread by which I hold them. It is less than the anchor of a spider web, but I have earned their respect by staying with them so very long and they will not be rude and hang up upon me. There is no 'goodbye' allowed. . . only 'see you later' can be offered and received. . .By such a light and airy thing, I hold them hostage. . .I cheat. I do not play by the rules as they see them. They have come to expect apathy from the madly rushing world. . . They called and I deeply listen to them. . .I am shameless in letting them know. . . I care. . .I love with passion an anonymous voice on the dark end of the phone. . .Finally, I do win. . . I have never lost the strength of my arm to grasp the hand in the raging current. . . They are worn down, exhausted. . .desiring rest and restoration of their energy, maybe even forgetting a portion of the pain. Love heals. . . Love conquers. . . the light of love leads you home. . .
This battle. . . these battles. . .I remember. I warred as an atheist for the flesh of men, to deny death, this long decades before I knew God. . .I gave no quarter, nothing short of victory was acceptable. . .defeat not considered. . .not allowed. . .
How then can I accept anything less fighting spiritual battles, for my family, for my friends,. . .for the kingdom of God. . .There is no such thing as fighting fair when the stakes are eternity. . .
I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .