When Your Friend Is About To Cross Over

Lessley Ellis is a friend of mine. I know, that doesn’t sound that unique, but you see Lessley is about to cross over from this life to the next, from this world where his walking was sometimes painful for his tired legs, to the next world where he envisions streets of gold and a new spring in his step. He lays in a bed right now of a local hospital hospice ward, his kidneys failing him and no longer desiring to continue the journey of dialysis and just simply feeling lousy. He’s ready to move on, even though he’s only 62 years old.

The first time I met Lessley was on a February Saturday morning at our church. The day before had brought several inches of snow. After our Bible Study a few of us men grabbed snow shovels and headed out to clear sidewalks around the building. Suddenly, Lessley pulled into the parking lot in his red Honda Civic Hatchback, popped the hatch and pulled out a small snowblower. He started clearing the walk without asking permission…just did it! Then he started coming to church on Sundays…and that men’s bible study group on Saturdays…and we became friends.

Some would say that our friendship was an unusual match. You see, Lessley couldn’t read but a few words. Ben Dickerson, our associate pastor, took him under his wing and started teaching him how to read. Roger Mollenkamp picked up the challenge. Flash cards can work even with a fifty-year-old. I remember a while later when Lessley read part of the scripture that we were studying on one of those Saturday mornings. He was far from fluid, but he was so happy. In his eyes, he had scaled a mountain that had seemed unclimbable for a long time.

He had come from Detroit, lived a hard life growing up, dropped out of school, fled the demon of drugs that surrounded him, and come to Colorado. He worked as a custodian and then for several years tossed trash cans for Waste Management. The physical labor wrecked his body and probably hurried the onset of his kidney problems. At church, however, he’d do what needed to be done…picking up a vacuum cleaner, taking out the trash after a church dinner, helping wherever.

Life was sometimes confusing to him. He didn’t understand why some people were the way they were. We’d have a cup of coffee together or go out for lunch. Sometimes he’d drop by my office and we’d sit and talk. He’d get emotional. I know there were more than a few times when he felt slighted and minimized because of his lack of education, his job, and even the color of his skin. The combination of the three could result in a person treating him like he didn’t matter. It may not have been intentional, but a few times I witnessed a 6’2″ inch African American man feeling like he was about five feet tall.

We’d talk through it, or I’d just listen to his questions about the insensitivity of humanity. Most of the time, he didn’t expect an answer, but just appreciated that he had someone who would listen.

When he worked for Waste Management he’d bring me things. Like a water dispenser that produced hot or cold water. It still worked fine, but someone had tossed it to the curb. It became a part of my office attire. As did a Michael Garman art piece, tossed to the curb because a tiny article of it had broken off. I didn’t even know something was missing and it sat on top of a bookshelf in my office until I retired.

That kinda described one of the things I loved about Lessley. Something that might be tossed to the curb for the trash guys to pick up, he could still find value in. Something seen as being useless, he saw as still having some life in it. He taught me a lot of things that I could never learn in a book.

I’ll always remember that smile of his, half his front teeth missing but still able to grin. He had dreams that never panned out, like going to barber school (but getting taken by the people who ran it), buying an old pickup truck thinking he could earn some money hauling things like scrap metal, and a few other ideas that I’d try to offer him some guidance about but never discouraging him.

Some of the people in our lives that bless us the most are the ones that our world says have the least to offer us. Lessley had little, in terms to worldly possessions, but offered so much. I admit, as I type this I’m fighting back the tears that are causing me to rely on Grammarly to correct.

When Carol and I saw him this afternoon he clung to our hands as we were saying our goodbyes. The tears came to him when his strength was waning. We ached in the valley of that room on the sixth floor. He asked me if I would do his funeral and I said “I would be honored!” I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold it together, but I’m sure he’d be smiling.

And to think! It all began on a Saturday morning with a snowblower.

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One Comment on “When Your Friend Is About To Cross Over”

  1. mbmankin Says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Bill! Thank you.

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