Daria wakes up every morning to a predictable routine. She is wheeled in to a room with some forty others, who are also in wheelchairs. She will sit around a table with four or five others, while time creeps along. There is little conversation. Most have vacant stares. One of the more eventful moments of the day happens when a staff person serves up a small bowl of applesauce. Unlike others, Daria does not need the assistance of someone to spoon-feed her. Unlike almost everyone else, she reads. Her mind still works, and there are a thousand memories that one can draw out.
I met Daria the other day. A few others and I came to spend a few hours in a Jewish care center. Rather than simply take in the holy land sites, we determined to come alongside the local ministries and engage in the work of being the hands and feet of Jesus. Go to the most desperate and you often find this is where the holy land is—it is where God is most present. We were given various assignments. Mine was to wheel Mena out on the patio where she could have a smoke. Our only communication was to hold each other’s hand. She would soon tire and want to sleep—and cry. Others played balloon volleyball, giving patients the opportunity to experience some movement. Some helped people put stickers on a page, while others simply sat to say, “You’re not alone.” And some spent hours helping others eat. Whether we realized it or not, we entered into John 13 territory, literally and metaphorically washing the feet of others. It is the act of giving oneself for others. Like Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, it points to the Cross.
Only one spoke English. Daria. I discovered she was born and raised in a large city in Russia. She has survived the ruthless dictatorship of men like Stalin, as well as the ravages of Communism and the “lies” (her words) of Lenin. Like so many other Jews in the early 40’s, Daria fled when the Germans approached the city. She has known fear and hardship. A former secondary school teacher, Daria never married. Never found a man worth committing her life. She would have eventually divorced them all. In 1990, like many others, Daria immigrated to Israel. Now she lives out her days in a nursing home, one with minimal governmental assistance. A cloud of hopelessness hangs in the air, though we might all be surprised at what the Spirit is doing.
Daria was reading a romance novel, so we talked about passion and love, and then I told her I was a writer. “Oh,” she said. “What do you write about?” I told her I had recently written a love story. I showed her the cast of characters this one man has loved. His name is Jesus. Daria was a bit curious, but not so impressed. For her, Jesus is a historic prophet who was untrained in the ways of the world. A tragic figure who relied on others for food and shelter, who never really worked. “Wasn’t he the one who talked to a Roman official as if he was his equal?” I asked Daria if she thought Jesus was crazy. “Not at all!” she replied. “Just naive.” “A drifter who took more than he gave.”
Daria typifies a number of people in Israel. At best, Jesus is a prophet—at worst, a sham, a fake, a charlatan. I explained to Daria that she has Jesus all wrong. It’s worse. Jesus did not talk to a Roman official as if he was his equal. He told Pilate he was actually above him, and this one over the hoi polloi would have no authority unless Jesus gave it to him. This would suggest that Jesus was more than naïve—he was crazy. Daria agreed.
It was then I proposed that Jesus might have actually performed the hardest labor of any person on earth. He came to do the work of the cross. “What do you mean?” she asked. I explained that the hardest work is dying for someone else, especially if one is undeserving. Especially if one has no interest in receiving such grace and saying thanks. Jesus came to die so that she wouldn’t have to die. But strangely, Daria wants to die. She believes there is no life beyond the grave. “We die and we rot.” This is how Daria sees it, and this appears to be fine with her. “Who wants to keep living?” But I told Daria there is life that is offered on the other side, where we are freed from a crumbling and decrepit existence, a world filled with joy and peace and purpose. No more wheelchairs. No more aimless existence.
“I am a realist,” Daria explained. This talk of another life is a nice wish. This talk of peace and joy is so abstract. “I am happy it works for you.” Daria wasn’t taking me seriously. Daria does not realize she is living in unreality. Like the Shawshank Redemption movie, her prison walls have become her reality, as well as her security. And they deceive. I shared my story of how God set me free, and now I live with hope. I have met this Jesus who does not take but gives.
I want to believe Daria is thinking. I want to hope Daria is beginning to see that there is more to life than this life, that Jesus is the ultimate Giver and not a taker. I hang on the fact God uses the seeds we plant, His Spirit germinates life, and I will one day see Daria on the other side.