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Homelessness: My Friend Bobby

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Recently, my friend Bobby died. A San Diego, Calif., native, Robert Eugene Ojala, 56 years old, was homeless. Bobby was grateful for the hospital and residential hospice care he received that enabled him to spend his last several weeks indoors and free of pain.

After run-ins with the law, Bobby found Jesus and changed his attitude about life. Although he may not have often attended formal services, Bobby spoke about how important Christian values were to him.

He also had a sense of humor about himself. Tattoos from his earlier beliefs covered his torso, both legs and arms. He knew that the sight of his tattoos sometimes caused people to be afraid of him.

Bobby would explain to me, "That person is afraid of me because of my tattoos." He knew that there was nothing to be afraid of because he did his best to act according to Christian beliefs.

2012-09-04-IMG_4575Bobby.jpg

I would tell Bobby that it was a shame that people were afraid of him because I knew him so differently. In response, he just smiled.

Bobby would tell me about his life in the riverbed. He prided himself on having created a home around his 18-inch foam mattress bed that supported his pain-tortured body. Although he had made friends with many people in positions of authority, one day when he was gone, someone cleared out his "home." Bobby was devastated: "Where will I go? Why did they do this to me? What can I do now?"

Bobby was very respectful of me. Although he walked with a cane, he always managed to hold doors open for me so I could precede him as we walked into buildings.

My friend was also contrary. When I said, "red," he would say, "blue." One day, I asked Bobby why he was so contrary.

"What do you mean?" Bobby asked.

"Well, when I say, 'red,' you say, 'blue.'"

Smiling Bobby said, "You mean 'chartreuse.'" See what I mean -- always contrary.

Bobby was brilliant and very logical. For example, one day I made an appointment to meet Bobby at a convenience store between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. I had a noon appointment elsewhere and felt that range of time would give me the flexibility I needed to meet him.

However, an unexpected change in that noon appointment allowed me to arrive at the convenience store promptly at 1 p.m. And I was sitting there for over two hours when up strolled Bobby.

My patience worn thin, I exclaimed to Bobby, "Where have you been? I've been here for two hours and 15 minutes waiting for you."

Calmly, Bobby replied, "You said to be here between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. It's 3:15pm. I'm 15 minutes late."

Upon reflection, I could see that I created the wait for myself by not giving a specific time for our meeting. So I said to Bobby, "Well, next time I'll just pick a specific time to meet, like 3 p.m."

"That's fine," he said. "I'll be there by 3:15pm."

Our exchange still makes me chuckle.

Apparently, Bobby had promised his late wife that he would put roses on her grave. His wife, Robyn, died in 2006. Six years later, he still wore his wedding band.

Although Bobby was unable to fulfill this promise, several kind people at hospice were able to locate the tiny cemetery in a remote part of Georgia where Robyn is probably buried. We will need to investigate a little further, but I'd like to see if we can honor Bobby by putting roses on Robyn's grave.

To Bobby, I say, "Rest In Peace, Dear Friend."