What about Bob?


I’ve known Bob for at least 15 years.  He’s unique to say the least.  He’s one of those people who passes through my small town on a fairly regular basis, before he burns his bridges or gets frustrated and moves on to the next place.  His life seems to be a journey between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. My little town of Hope, BC lies right along the way.

Bob has schizophrenia. He freely admits to hearing voices, and often struggles with the paranoia that comes along with that. I also learned recently that he was born with Fragile X syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that carries with it the characteristics of intellectual disability, autistic like behaviours, and tendencies toward being obsessive compulsive. Bob has them all.

For some reason, Bob and I became friends. It started all those years ago when he came to our church because he had no money, no food, and no place to go. Our pattern is pretty predictable.  He comes to the church and tells me he needs help. I get him some food and try to link him with agencies that can provide more long term support. He gets mad at someone along the way (often me), loses his cool and either scams a bus ticket or hitch hikes out of town, telling me he hates this place, that no one here will help him, and that he’s never coming back. Usually in the next 12-18 months we repeat the cycle. It’s gone on for the entire 15 years that I have known him.

I should have told you. Bob is 70 years old. The fact that the majority of the time he is homeless, disconnected from the medicine that he needs for his mental illness, and nourished more from cigarettes than food, serves as a testament to the power of the human will to survive.  

Part of the problem with Bob’s transient habits is that he has never stayed in one place long enough to establish an address. On his most recent visit I was able to help him set up a bank account so that he could access his Old Age Pension checks wherever he found himself. It was no small feat to make that happen, but small towns are beautiful because people in banks and social service agencies know each other and often take a chance with you to do some good. (Thanks Julie, Allison, and Shonet). Of course, the government is always a challenge to deal with and by the time we had gotten the checks to start coming into his account Bob had lost his temper and disappeared.  

I got a call about 10 days later from a Service Canada agent in Edmonton, AB. Bob was sitting in his office, yelling at him about his checks. Bob had remembered the church phone # and the agent wanted to know if I had any information that would help. I filled him in on the bank account and how Bob could access it. Amazingly enough, Bob still had his CIBC ATM card and the hope of some money calmed him down enough for the agent to thank me and end the call.

5 days later Bob shows up at our church. He’s burned through 90% of what he had taken out of his account. He is sure that the church has another check for him and is yelling at my associate, accusing him of hiding the check. When I take Bob to the bank he still has quite a bit of money in his account. He hadn’t been getting checks for several months, so the retroactive payments were all there. We were able to use the funds to help him secure a hotel room for the next 30 days, with a mini fridge and a microwave, tv and air conditioning.  There was enough there to replenish his cigarettes (I’m learning that a smoke is one of the best ways to keep Bob at peace) and to buy some food. We talked about how much he had left for the month and how much he can spend each day on food and cigarettes in order for the money to last until the next check.

But here’s the reality. Bob doesn’t have the mental or emotional skills to make that work. He literally can’t do it. It’s not that he maliciously wants to waste it. It’s not even that he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t have the ability to function without help. He hasn’t come to the church since he got tucked in, but he will, the minute he runs out of money. And the cycle will begin again. Bob needs a system to help him. He wants to be settled and happy. His needs aren’t much. Shelter, some food, and cigarettes. But he doesn’t have the resources to manage what he gets and make that happen.

It leaves me perplexed. What about Bob? I mean, we are all broken in different ways, but I can at least manage my brokenness in a way that is seen as socially acceptable. I don’t have the barriers that Bob received when he was born. What can we do to help him? Especially when at times he is his own worst enemy.

I wrote a poem several years ago. It’s never going to make it in the literary world, but it speaks true to my experience. When I see Bob it gives me some guidance.

Once, in my carelessness,
I broke a tea cup.
An heirloom,
All we have left of my wife’s grandmother.

I break a lot of things.
We just sweep the shards into a pile
And toss them in the garbage.

Not this time.
We carefully picked up each piece;
Saved it,
As if it were an act of love for grandma,
As if by loving pieces we could restore the whole.

Once, in our carelessness,
We broke the world.

We live in a broken world. Sometimes all we can do is love the pieces. That’s what God did for us. 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8, NIV

I can speak from personal experience. God loved me in my brokenness, and still does. He’s the only one who can restore my "whole" by loving my "pieces". So what’s next for Bob? Who knows. But what’s next for me is to love. Just like I have been loved. Maybe you see brokenness around you today. How will you respond?


Jeff Kuhn1 Comment