09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It doesn’t take much time to feel utterly alone.

My wife was away over a weekend and I was home by myself. Even though I went to the grocery store and to Mass, worked out at the local YMCA, and bought some food at a drive-through, it was easy to say perhaps only 10 words the entire weekend. And that includes the “Amen” at communion!

In part this relative quiet was self-imposed. I’m blessed to have friends I could have visited, a Society food pantry where I could have volunteered, and a friendly neighborhood in which to converse with my neighbors. I chose after a very active couple of weeks to retreat instead for a few days and spend quality time with some books and televised sports. All told, I have blessings and choices.

Some of the many people we serve do not have these blessings. We know from membership reporting that “elderly living alone” is our first or second type of family the Society serves in many of our Conferences. Others may have a disability or specific situation that causes them to be homebound. Some are parents who, while they have children around them, lack adult friends and family. It’s in all of these neighbors that we can see the difference between being alone and being lonely.

An extreme feeling of loneliness is an underlying condition that can also lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and many dangerous behaviors such as addictions. If we could stop, or better yet, prevent such loneliness wouldn’t we all want to do so?

When a pair of Vincentians conduct a Home Visit or drop off a bag of groceries, we can easily measure how we provide for immediate needs. What is less evident is the value of simply being present. Often we have no idea of the life of the person we encounter. We may be the first person that neighbor has spoken to in person for a day, or a month. When we knock on the door, we are the face of Christ – friendly, welcoming of a conversation, helpful, and armed with a smile and, ultimately, hope.

Some members ask if the adaptations we all made over the pandemic period can be retained for the future, such as virtual Home Visits by phone or computer. These were necessary to help satisfy corporal needs of mercy such as rent and utilities assistance. We are blessed that we had the tools to adapt such that our neighbors could get the needed material help they sought. But what about their spiritual and emotional needs? Did we fulfill these even a little bit?

We may have taken for granted how much we mean to an isolated neighbor when we participate in person. Others who perform checkbook charity might feel satisfied that they helped in some way. Yet it is as nothing when compared to seeing the gratitude, friendship, and even joy when we make a personal encounter that, when allowed and appropriate, might include prayer and a handshake or hug. You can’t bottle that feeling and you sure can’t mail it in.

As we return post-pandemic to our Society traditions of in-person Home Visits and other personal encounters, let’s do so intentionally in a spirit of truly being a good neighbor even to those who are relatively unknown to us. That neighbor living alone, or otherwise emotionally very lonely, might never thank you for your appearing at their door. You won’t know that they feel more alive today because they spoke to another person in friendship. Some will know they exist simply because someone cared enough to visit them today.

In our Visits we bring more than tangible help; we bring hope and Christ’s love, and even get to feel a bit of it ourselves. It is said that half of success in life is just showing up. When we show up for someone else, we successfully take a few more steps toward our own holiness. Who will you visit tomorrow?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

  • I totally agree with what you are saying. The personal, face to face visit can never be replaced permanently by the telephone visit. Our conference returned to in-person visits in June, but sadly have had to return to telephone visits once again at a unanimous vote at our last meeting. On all the visits I made over the summer, where I would arrive, masked for the neighbors added protection as well as mine, I almost always asked if our neighbor was vaccinated. Not one ever said yes. I never commented further other than to request they wear a mask during our visit because this tends to be a divisive issue in our country. My only concern with your article today is it is written as though the pandemic is over. Perhaps you wrote it when things were better. But here in Idaho, our positivity rate is much higher than last year at this times, our hospitals are at peak capacity and our death rate is very high. Sadly, in-home visits can’t happen here for some time yet.

  • Beautifully said.
    I felt this way when I was very active doing home visits.
    I could see the looks in their eyes that after a while of small talk and conversation, I would sense a sigh of relief, a thought of gratitude that someone came, maybe they could help me in my predicament – but someone came – to see me, to hear me.
    I could imagine their prayer: Dear Lord, thank you, I’m not alone in this world. Somebody cares.

  • Thanks for the reminder, Dave.

  • Thank you, Mr. Barringer, for the beautiful perspective.

  • Thank you for the reminder about the value and need for the home-visit. When I was a homecare aid, I remember the woman I worked with and how much she just wanted to be a part of her society and be able to participate in things we take for granted.

    She is wheelchair bound. What she desired above all things was to move around the neighborhood each day and see people living, working on their car, planting in their garden etc. I must admit that being a part of her life in that 8 hour shift 5 days a week allowed me to feel part of that isolation, and it was like nothing I had ever experienced.

    I actually felt like I was living in the world within a bubble. Even going to the store with her was different because I got a sense that she felt as though she was barely acknowledged, simply tolerated. That job was hard, for that very reason — being exposed to that level of isolation. When I would go home after my time with her it was as if, I was exiting the bubble and life as an authentic participant in society was turned on again.

    What you are saying is absolutely true and I had forgotten my experience with his woman before having read this.

    Thank you for expressing this. The home-visit is absolutely crucial.

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