Most of us have plenty. In truth, most of us have more than we need. I was speaking with a co-worker this week and he was saying how amazed he was at how people in our organization and fellow organizations step up when there is a need in our community. I told him I agreed.
We work with a lot of folks who are having a rough time. In certain situations it’s their own poor decisions, in others, the community, the state, and the federal resources have failed them. They feel and at times are the forgotten ones. There are residences you go into and cannot believe what you see. The basics of food, clothes, electricity, heat, medicine do not seem accessible and many are at the end of their ropes.
It’s hard when you know the suffering of others to come home. There may be cracks in the walls, leaks in the ceiling, toilet paper runs out and food spoils, but your house is a palace in comparison to these you see and spend time helping. These are the ones who empty and need to be filled. Much of what you have becomes superfluous, extra, easily given away because you know you won’t miss it.
It’s hard to imagine but can you, for a moment, think of living in a world where it wasn’t; “This is mine and you can’t have any!” to a place of sharing and; “What’s mine is yours.” Only when we begin to give away what we possess do we discover we have everything we need.
I heard a story today about a chaplain who worked in a veteran’s hospital in the 1950’s. There was an African-American soldier in the hospital who had lost a leg in the Korean War. The physical therapists had worked with him trying to get him used to wear a prosthetic leg. Both the soldier and medical personnel tried everything they could think of but nothing worked and the soldier was ready to give up and live life with one leg and crutches for the rest of his life.
The chaplain was made aware of the situation and stopped by soldier’s bed one night to see if he could be of any help. “I can still feel my leg, my real leg!” the soldier cried. “It’s a phantom pain.” replied the chaplain, “It will go away in time.” “That leg!” retorted the soldier gesturing toward the prosthetic one, “will never be ‘my’ leg.” After visiting with the young man the chaplain prayed with him and asked if he could take the prosthetic one with him. The soldier responded with a shrug.
The next day the chaplain returned with the same leg except it was painted a shade of brown to more closely match the soldier’s own skin tone. “What did you do?” asked the perplexed soldier. The chaplain, hoping he hadn’t offended the young man said he took it home with him and thought painting it might make it seem more palatable. “That’s all you did?” asked the soldier admiring the leg. “That’s it.” smiled the chaplain. The chaplain helped the young man to the side of the bed, attached the leg, helped him take his first few steps and from that day forward the soldier made remarkable progress.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The chaplain helped the soldier not by insisting he use resources given to him by the hospital but by listening and understanding what the soldier was going through and then adapting his help to the soldier’s personal, unique need.
Too often we see people who need assistance and we automatically assume there are places and resources that are available. We surmise that if someone wants help enough they’ll figure out how to get it. The truth is everyone’s story is unique and unless we listen, understand and are willing to personally get involved many will go on suffering and being blamed for doing so.
Last night, at the incarcerated father class hosted in the county jail, was a long night. Partnering with the correctional facility and teaching there comes with the understanding you are working on their schedule. Class began almost an hour late due to corrections’ staff trying to get almost 400 residents in their suitable places.
Waiting, I filled the dry erase board with notes for the evening’s session. Finishing up I tried to wait patiently even buzzing the tower for an update on the students. I sat down, stood up, walked around, checked the notes on the board and kept checking my watch. A door clicked open and in walked a resident. We had never met and struck up a conversation. He was a talker! but in a good way. He told me about his sentence, his work release assignment and why he was incarcerated. We talked about his plans for when he is released. What obstacles he might face once paroled and resources that might help.
“I should be honest and tell you I’ve tried meth a few times. Friends offered it to me and I didn’t want to say no to them. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to and hang around.” I smiled, walked over to my supplies, picked up a business card and handed it to him. “If you ever need someone to talk to who can help keep you walking in the right direction just call this number and remember, make good choices.” I said, looking him in the eye. The speaker in the room buzzed, his name was called and a corrections officer opened the door to take him out. I stood up, shook his hand and was thankful that occasionally these classes don’t start on time.