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  • Writer's pictureJack Shain

Prayer for My Neighbor

Yesterday started out more interesting than usual. Instead of having an internal crisis over a news headline or a morbid number the White House had issued, I was greeted by my next-door neighbor screaming to call 911. He had witnessed our other neighbor, Betty, an 88 year old woman, trip and fall from the two steps that lead to her apartment. She landed face first on the concrete and was not moving. I ran out of my apartment, phone in hand talking to the 911 operator. He ran down to the street to wave down the oncoming ambulance. I walked over to Betty, who was somehow conscious and coherent. Her hearing was not all there but I was shocked when she said she was not in pain (I guess the adrenal glands are one of the last to go).

I offered her a pillow but she refused, saying she was scared to move in case anything else was wrong. Her forehead had swollen and was beginning to cover to top of her left eye. Somehow she did not split the skin and there was minimal bleeding. Her head laid on the ground while the rest of her body was inverted on the stairs. I attempted to ask her questions but fear had begun to take hold of her. She looked up and said, “I guess this is my time.” That remark sent a shiver down my spine.

Working in treatment for over five years, I have seen my fair share of mental states. I have sat with clients who have been actively suicidal. I have been with clients in complete psychosis, who were hallucinating people, insects crawling on their skin, or other things that were not there. But I have never heard anything quite like this. It reminded me of Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. The scariest scene of that movie comes early on when Danny, played by Ewan McGregor, helps his geriatric patient die with the help of his shining abilities. The patient begins to panic, and after 80-plus years of life, he is still afraid of death up until his last breath. I try not to be a nihilist, but that concept terrified me more than any of the supernatural and horror scenes in the film. Now, I don’t want this blog post to be another reflection on death or grief. But with some of the numbers the white house is suggesting (240,000), it’s on the forefront of my mind.

Eventually the ambulance arrived and Betty was picked up by two paramedics who were very professional. They wheeled her out and took her to the hospital. The thought of taking an elderly woman who has shown no signs of Covid-19 to a hospital crossed my mind. I couldn’t help but be skeptical with that decision. It seemed almost like a death sentence. But again I have to remind myself of a very helpful 12-Step slogan, “I am not a doctor.” The rest of the day, I knew I wanted to write about this event, but I did not want to turn it into an existential crisis on life, meaningless, and nihilism. But I felt off the rest of the day.

To be more specific, I felt a little helpless. Not from a feeling like I should have done more but a sense of feeling out of control. It’s cliche but true -- life can change at a single moment. It didn’t help when the news of Fountains of Wayne’s lead singer, Adam Schlesinger, died. Their one hit wonder “Stacy’s Mom” was a staple in my middle school years. I have not known anyone who has died yet, but it starts to make it real when people in the public eye have died from the virus. By the end of this, I am sure everyone will know someone or someone who knows someone who has died. And as a man who likes to always slip into solution, I find that I feel a little helpless sitting and waiting in my apartment. Again, that next episode of Netflix isn’t going to solve this predicament.

When not knowing what to do, I try to let my feet decide. I went to my home group 12-step meeting (actually I clicked a button on Zoom) but found it hard to pay attention. So I tried to outline this blog post instead, and became stuck on how to end it. Instead of forcing an ending, I sat back and listened to my friends' shares. And then it struck me. Listening, true listening, is an action. And as a counselor, I am ashamed to admit how much I don’t practice this. So I stopped typing and turned my attention to the meeting. Even though it was on Zoom, I really spent the next half hour listening. I didn’t need to share or give advice. The answer wasn’t in my head; it never is. So last night I put a ladder to the window, listened to my friends, and allowed myself to feel helpless. It was no surprise that after five minutes I felt connected and calmer. I have not yet heard any news about my neighbor, Betty, but I prayed for her last night. And I ask anyone reading this, to please say a small prayer for her too.

This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.

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