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The Least

For Paul Farmer: You lived a life full of good works. Though you now rest, your work lives. Thank you.

The young man who lives above the organ rents his room for ten dollars a day. It’s a good deal for a student in the city, especially for one who’s rarely home and doesn’t mind choir practice on Monday and Thursday afternoons and during Sunday services. He’s rarely home on Sundays, anyway, spending those moments instead doing rounds at a community clinic. Though his mother raised him Catholic, he doesn’t spend much time in the sanctuary. He sees God in the world, in the face of the sick, the poor, the forsaken. Being a Christian, he thinks, means that you are a servant as Christ was. To be a Christian, one with absolute faith, your life is in service of love, no matter how painful that love often is.

A copy of Matthew 25:31-40 is taped to the young man’s bedroom door. He touches it on his way out even though he knows the words by heart: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Faith without works, after all, is dead.

The young man thinks of the young woman he met last week, the one with lung cancer, and he couldn’t save her. He doesn’t like to envy, but sometimes he envies Christ and his ability to heal with a hand and some meaningful words. He is just a man, a bright man, but a man all the same. He cries though he laughs more often than not. Alone in his bed when the choir has gone home, he hears the church creaking and imagines it speaking in its way, the Holy Ghost come calling. His soul sleeps easier then.

The young man calls his mother once a week from the priest’s office. She asks him if he is eating enough, sleeping enough, praying enough. He does one of those things but doesn’t tell her so. Some lies are kindness. When they speak, he doodles on scraps of paper, twirls his pen, taps his foot, anything to get that hummingbird energy out. His mother senses the movement without seeing him because she’s known his movement since he was womb-bound. She asks him if he needs any money even though she knows that he will give it away if he says yes.

The young man and the old priest talk about God over chess on Thursday evenings when there are no classes or clinical rounds. The young man likes the old priest because he does his good works. They talk about the future a lot. The young man wants to go to Haiti because he dreams about it, certain that this is God’s cue. Christ would be in Haiti, the young man says, and the old priest can’t disagree with his knight and bishops so precariously placed on the board. They’ve been working on this game for weeks. They’re both good players, and neither is in a rush.

Oh, yes, the young man is very bright, no one argues the fact. His classmates envy him as much as they want to work with him. When instructors drone about the burden of care in seminars, he says things like, “Why can’t the patient be treated?”

The teachers tut at youthful optimism and reply, “It isn’t feasible. Think about the cost.”

The young man tuts back, thinking of Christ and how to make a better day for the least of his brother and sisters. He was not formed, to do the least.

The young man does not sleep much, too much movement in him. There’s not much rest in loving so much. In the end, years from now, when his heart has given the last of itself, he will go on to eternal life.


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