A Heart that’s Found a Home | Valentine’s Edition
This would not be the first time Father Bob and I had the privilege of interviewing someone whose grains of sand could potentially be counted. It’s a lesson in psychology. It’s a lesson in spirituality. It’s the closest thing to proof of an afterlife I can reasonably fathom. When someone is given a diagnosis whose likely outcome raises questions of mortality, a sort of math equation begins to take effect in the mind. A person might start thinking to themselves ‘well, self, if this were the last time I might speak to this person, what would I say to them,’ or ‘how much love can I show this person?’ ‘In the amount of time I have left, how much love can I give to the world?’ And then the person might realize – what a silly question – one whose answer could never be known. And so then, the next natural step to take, is to show the absolute most love to each person you encounter, governing nothing, holding nothing back – until the day God calls you home. I’ve seen this phenomenon take place on several occasions and it always makes me question the way in which I treat people with my seemingly unlimited amount of time I have left. And this phenomenon is the exact thing you encounter when you meet Bobbi Gillespie – one of our Villas residents – who only 4 months ago, knew nothing of the cancer in her lungs, nor the tumor accumulating in her brain. But now she knows all about these things, and she knows how to love more fully and live in this world. This is a little part of her story.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
“I was never one to step outside the box, or break the rules, but I did,” Bobbi shares with Father Bob. “And at 15, I got pregnant and married, so I was out of my mom’s house at a young age.” The oldest of eight, her daughter was only a year and a half younger than her youngest brother. “So the two of them were very close.”
Bobbi didn’t experience a lot of hardship growing up as a child, but she remembers not having much. “I mean, I was raised in the ghetto, but at the time, we didn’t know it was the ghetto! I didn’t find out until high school,” Bobbi remembers, laughing. “You know, growing up with 8 kids in the house, we just knew we were fed and clothed and that was that.”
“But at 15 when I was pregnant, I became Catholic. I really wanted my daughter to be baptized and raised in the faith.” And so she was.
Life was life for a while and then at 29, her husband unexpectedly died due to childhood diabetes-related complications. “Back then, the doctors gave you 20 years to live from the date of your diagnosis. And that’s exactly what he did.”
“You know, I didn’t even notice it, but at the time my daughter did… For about 5 or 6 years I went into such a deep depression,” she recalls from over three decades past. “I have to admit, for a while, I went a little overboard with the drinking. It was constant. I really fell apart. You starting thinking that crying all the time is normal. Looking back, I wondered why I didn’t see it while it was taking place? I feel like I’d lost the fight in me. I’d just let go…”
How many of us are willing to admit, on camera, in front of an audience of potentially thousands, such frailty? Granted we’re living in a time of greater openness, and yes, in some ways we live in a therapy culture. But what sharing the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves does, is it brings people closer together. It strengthens relationships, and although I know only what I read in scripture (which I barely read), I think this is what God wants from us – better relationships. Bobbi was living in Cape Coral at the time, and working in Fort Myers for a company that built golf course and job site mobile offices. Some of the symptoms of her depression were absolutely debilitating.
“I used to get these panic attacks. I had this fear of driving over bridges – which makes it hard when you’re living in the Cape. I had to have someone drive me to work every single day,” Bobbi recalls. “Luckily the economy tanked in 2007 and they laid a bunch of people off. Ever since then I’ve worked jobs here and there. I started a cleaning company in Indiana when I moved back.”
Most of the time when people are in long term depressive states, there aren’t a lot of outward signs of the depression. It’s sort of a mode of being, not an emotion that can be detected through facial recognition. But when Bobbi shares this part of her life, she does so without shame, and not because she never felt shame over them, but – I think – because she wants people to know that it’s normal and okay to be in the throes of depression. It is nothing to be ashamed of. And that even in the condition that she’s in – the lung cancer, the brain cancer, etc. – we can live lives of joy, vitality and peace. We all think that an aggressive cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, but what we’ve seen from our friends here and in the past, is that a diagnosis becomes permission for a person to finally start living beyond the trappings of ego, beyond the anger that depletes our energy, the manic anxiety and the seemingly endless difficulties that plague our lives.
And what was it that pulled her out of it? “My daughter found me and brought along a big, horse trailer. She knew what was going on. She knew I was hurting,” Bobbi recalls. “She said, Get in mama, we’re goin’ home.’ And I did. We packed up and moved to Bloomfield, IN.”
Bloomfield was supposed to be a short adventure for her, but as it goes, she got settled in, started taking care of their horses and helping them out in the home, and she stayed. Without enough time and space to go into detail here, Bobbi lived life in sort of a nomadic style, jumping around and never really feeling settled. “When you move around a lot, nothing feels like yours. I made my way back to Florida through Brooksville, and then to Punta Gorda where I lived with my sister.”
Bobbi soon discovered that she and her sister were two different people. “There was surely going to be a crime of passion if the two of us didn’t go our separate ways,” Bobbi laughs. Soon after she started looking for yet another place to live, she found the Villas… And she finally has a place to call her own.
“You know this place is great. There’s always something going on. You’re never lonesome… but the Church… Those people are angels – every single one of them,” says Bobbi, in absolute sincerity. “They don’t do something to get paid, or to get a return. I just think of something and they bring it over. They’re so ‘tuned in’.”
You have to imagine Father Bob’s beaming at these comments. Having an actively engaged congregation – one that truly knows how to be Christ to the other – is the crowning achievement of any pastor (and so silently congratulate yourself as you sit here reading this).
So much of our daily lives and choices on how to spend our resources are spent in a sort of “deal-making” mode, where decisions on where to allocate our resources are based on an unseen horizon. These resources – to which I’m referring: resources of time, energy, not so much money, but every shade and nuance of emotion – are in limited supply as they relate to the perceived distance of our life’s horizon. But when the edge of the Earth is within view, people like Bobbi start spending those resources like no tomorrow, because of course, one day soon, the last grain of sand will fall. This all sounds morbid and depressing until you’ve met Bobbi, or our friend Charmaine, or Jason, or Josephina – and you realize that the thing we’re all looking for – knowledge of the meaning of life, answers to the most fundamental questions on how to live in the world – these people have in spades.
Bobbi’s heart has found a home on the south side of our property here, and in every interaction, she’s teaching us how to live with love, compassion and honesty. So on this Valentine’s Day, put aside the superficiality of Hallmark cards, and expensive dinners, and the dozen roses, and share the innermost side of yourself with someone. It’s the easiest and most sincere way to show you love them. Done on a consistent basis, it will build stronger friendship filled with joy and respect, and as we look back at the giant pile of sand in our rear view, we’ll know that we’ve done our best, life was good, and the world is a better place for our having been here.