I am sharing some coffee and cookies in the dining hall with someone who had her car stolen and apartment trashed.
She is in her early 70’s and by herself. Independent her entire life, she is retired now and devotes much of her free time volunteering at different culture institutions in the area. Now, without her car, she is nearly stranded, and on her meager pension another car purchase is out of the question.
Apparently, the same people who stole her car broke into her apartment. She had little worth stealing, so they punished her for being poor by destroying what she had – appliances, furniture, even the photos on the walls.
She looks across the empty dining hall in the direction of the street with large, watery eyes. “So much craziness going on out there…all that demonstration stuff going on last month in the neighborhood, and now this… Who would do such a thing?”
I’ve no answer. I sit with her, nodding silently, feeling totally inadequate to help her, and I know this is all a part of my vocation and it is enough for me to sit and share the pain. At least, that’s what my head is telling me.
Her furniture can be replaced, by and by, but the car is another matter. I do not have one to give her and I do not know anyone who could do such a thing. She is struggling to make public transit work, but it’s quite foreign to her, and her lack of mobility is exacerbating her despair. The despair is what cripples and hurts the most – the lack of independence, the lack of hope, the lack of a future.
I fear it is not the major tragedies in life that kill our faith, but the death by a thousand cuts – a lost car here, a senseless vandalism there, a job loss here, a personal betrayal there.
“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter…” Eccl. 4:1
The hardest service to give, it seems, is to be present in the face of need with no ability to serve, materially. We have nothing to give but our hearts and eyes and ears. It is painful. I want to run, have some other pressing matter that calls me away. I don’t, and I am ashamed that I am thinking about my own discomfort rather than her real burdens.
So I sit, squirming inside, asking God to help the woman who shares coffee and cookies with me, and to grant me the courage to sit with her.