11/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Serving Others Goes Awry

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the idea of being a pen pal to a prisoner through Prison Fellowship International. I thought it would be easy enough to write to a prisoner, so I called the organization and asked for a connection. They matched me up with an elderly man who happened to share my Christian faith. A safe match, so they thought. Clyde and I wrote to each other for a few years. I visited him at the prison occasionally. Then, out of the blue, Clyde sent me a letter that revealed he had fallen in love with me. Prison Fellowship had hoped he was too old for that, but not so. In my last letter to Clyde, I wished him well but told him I would no longer be writing.

Six years later, I was living in Chelsea in Manhattan. My side of the street was lined with decent apartments, but the other side was filled with rows of SROs, or Single Room Occupancies. A single room contained everything: a toilet protruding from the wall, a twin bed, and a tiny sink. Charlie was an old man who lived in one of these SROs. I would often see him sitting on the ledge of his narrow window. Not having learned my lesson from Clyde, I befriended Charlie. At least once a week for over a year, I would help him get a little exercise by slowly walking around the block with him. He shuffled around on flat, flimsy shoes. I sometimes guided his arm to help him with a curb. My mom was suspicious of Charlie, but I insisted he was a poor old man needing company. Then one day, Charlie landed a big, wet kiss on me! I can still feel his scruffy, pudgy face on my cheek. To be clear, this was not merely a friendly kiss. When I protested, he went on to insist there was no reason we couldn't have a romantic relationship, and thus, another round of service ended.

Why do I reflect upon these failures? Because I don't really consider them as such.

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