The unsung heroes of life are mostly found in the obituaries! I read the ‘front’ pages of the newspaper to learn the bad news – financial disasters, political challenges and stories of murder, mayhem and misery. But the obituaries contain the stories of the people who really do make the world go round. Here I find the life stories of veterans and veterinarians, of people who build bridges and people who are members of bridge clubs, of those who are pipe fitters and those who sell pipes. Here are the stories of people who live their lives, quietly make their contributions and then move on. The world doesn’t always notice their presence, but the world is most often better for their having been here. I pray for those whose stories are there and for all the ‘faithful departed’ on a daily basis. November is not the only time to pray for the deceased.
In the Oct. 29 issue of The Sun, I found the story of Joel ‘Jody’ Myerberg. Gov. O’Malley said of Joel: “For almost 40 years, Joel Myerberg has been an important and powerful advocate for Marylanders with disabilities. His knowledge and insight were sought by governors, mayors, elected officials and individuals working to promote the rights and empowerment of people with disabilities so that they may lead productive, meaningful and independent lives.”
In his junior year in college, Joel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He spent two years at Montebello Hospital on Argonne Drive. That was where my life intersected with his.
I worked at Montebello Hospital for four summers during my seminary years. I had the unglamorous title of attendant, which meant I carried urine bags and bed pans. I tended to the personal needs of the patients. After making my “rounds,” I would go back to different patients’ rooms and spend time talking. I remember the young teenagers who were paralyzed from diving or car accidents. I always think of Sonny Wisniewski and Mike Crawford. I think of Bill Welsh and Jack Prial. I think of George who first introduced me to country music. I remember helping George with a meal and overhearing the lyrics to an old song that went: “I’m not mad at you because you’re only chicken feed. I’m mad at you because I’m not the only chicken you feed!” Who couldn’t love that kind of music?
When I stand before the Lord at the end of my life, I have a hunch that God may look on those years of my life as my “finest hours.” It won’t be my many years on the radio, the many years writing this column, not the countless hours giving retreats, celebrating Masses, counseling and hearing confessions. I think God, rather, might say, “You noticed people that others forgot.”
On Thanksgiving and Christmas I would try to sneak a few hours to visit patients that I sensed would have no visitors.
Joel was one patient I tried to find time to be with. I remember him not for his great advocacy work, but for two special gifts. First, he introduced me to Woody Allen! I was never a Woody Allen fan. I haven’t seen any of his recent movies in the last 20 years. But when “Take the Money and Run” came out, Joel said: “Joe, I beg you. Go see it.”
It turned out to be the funniest movie I ever saw. I saw a whole bunch of his movies during the 1970s. As Bill Kristofco has repeatedly said: “Those who can make us laugh deserve the highest places in heaven!”
The second thing I will remember was Joel’s personal sense of humor. He always gave me a hard time about us Christians worshipping Jesus, a Jew. We didn’t have deep theological discussions, but we did have funny ones. On my last day of work, as I left Joel’s room, he said: “Hey, Joe, any time you want to borrow another one of our guys, just give me a call!”
Those were Joel’s last words that I remember, way back in 1969. I never forgot them. But I think that I still get the last laugh. Because, I think the first words Joel heard from God as he entered eternity, were the words first spoken by Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!”
May Joel and all the departed rest in peace!