The double doors slammed. There was a pause, and then the familiar shuffling of dragging, uncooperative feet. Soon Clarence would round the corner into the airiness of the camp lodge’s lobby. First he would make a beeline to the three garbage cans and fish with his gnarled hands for pop cans. Then he would awkwardly pour coffee from the big metallic urn and carry the steaming stryofoam cup to “his” table.
I had watched this ritual virtually every day for over a year, and I knew that the finale was approaching when his broken gait carried him to my receptionist’s window. He leaned closer to my desk and waited for me to catch his eye. As I looked into his face that seemed to carry such haunting sadness and pain, it brightened with the most delightful grin.
“Haahee,” he said in a loud, throaty voice.
“Hi, Clarence!” I replied enthusiastically.
“Any people comin’ in?” was his next slurred question, followed by “how many?” and “big people?” As simply as possible, I gave him a profile of the guest groups on the campground. Ritual completed, Clarence’s face collapsed back into its almost glazed, catatonic look, and he shuffled out the door to return to the neighboring senior community.
One day a toddler was pushing his own empty stroller down the camp’s sidewalk. Clarence, on his way to the lodge, saw the strange sight and began to point and laugh uproariously. The child’s mom, who had always been a bit nervous about the disabled man, was too far away to stop what happened next. The little boy stopped pushing the stroller and began running toward Clarence. The two uninhibitedly embraced, then joined hands and gleefully danced in a circle until both old man and little boy were out of breath. The mom could only watch the scene through amazed, tear-filled eyes.
Her child had taught her a powerful lesson. Clarence wasn’t someone to be afraid of. He was someone to love, to rejoice with, and to learn from. I learned from Clarence, too. I remember the day when our conversation at the receptionist’s window progressed a little further than usual.
“I’m homesick,” Clarence sadly shared. Oh, he must miss wherever he lived before he came to the retirement community, I thought. “I miss my mom. And my sister,” he continued.
“I’m sure you do,” I said, nodding understandingly. But I didn’t.
“I want to go home,” Clarence said, and pointed upward. Suddenly I comprehended. I had been locked in an earthly perspective, but he had his eyes on eternity. Clarence knew that as a believer in Jesus, his true citizenship was in heaven.
A few weeks later the pop cans began piling up in the garbage. Then came the news that Clarence had died. I was saddened at first. But then it was almost as if I heard him laughing and saying with the clarity of an angel’s voice, “I’m not homesick anymore!” I realized that Clarence was released from the bondage of his human body and was now transformed through the glory of Christ. I smiled to myself and murmured, “I’ll see you at home, Clarence.”
This post is adapted from a piece I wrote in my late-twenties when I was working as the receptionist at a Christian camp and conference center. It was originally published in a Christian denominational magazine.