Friendship sometimes develops in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Two weeks ago I found myself in just this situation–a friendship that offered both pain and joy.
One of the friends whom OTN has worked with for years was brought into the Emergency Department for severe frostbite in both of his feet. This friend, whom I will refer to as “Jed,” was quickly transferred to the ICU because doctors found that his organs were failing. The OTN staff and volunteers had already been swamped with multiple days of emergency warming shelters and cold weather canvassing, so I offered to visit Jed. I had not then realized that it was the beginning of a friendship.
While we waited at Jed’s bedside it became apparent to the hospital staff that he had a strong community surrounding him. Family members and friends often visited him, and complete strangers sent their thoughts and prayers for Jed’s healing and comfort. When the snowstorm blanketed all of Nashville a few days later I breathed a prayer of thanks that Jed was not out in the freezing temperatures. Instead, he was receiving excellent care from his hospital team. At the same time, though, my mind was painfully aware that many others faced suffering and life-threatening conditions because of the extreme weather and no where to go.
At the ICU, amidst the constant activity of attending nurses and physicians, came the sound of Jed’s dialysis machine. At one point in the middle of the night I listened to my new friend’s breathing, then slowed mine down in tandem with his inhale and exhale.
Many factors separated our lives up to that point, and yet in that moment, the most important aspect we shared was so basic: we both needed to breathe in order to live.
In Greek pneuma, the word for breath, can also be translated as “spirit” or “soul.” As the rhythm of our breaths coalesced, I prayed for my friend, that he would experience life and strength in both body and spirit. Yet this friendship was not one-sided. Watching Jed fight for his life also offered healing to me. Like many of our friends on the streets Jed had experienced significant trauma and brokenness in his life.
Witnessing his vulnerability opened up areas of pain in my life that also needed healing. As I sat in his room there seemed to be so little to offer him; however, the more time I spent with him the more apparent it became that sharing in each other’s presence was a life-giving gift.
Teresa Pecinovsky is a third year MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the English Ministry Pastor at Hanshin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville. Teresa spent the 2014-2015 school year as a field education intern with OTN and now volunteers with the community.