- On May 11, 2017
- Action, catholic men's conference, Fishers of Men, spirituality
May 10, 2017
My wife and I have worked with and served the poor and homeless of Memphis for years. Each time we serve them we are struck by their grace, spirituality, and gratitude. We are also keenly aware of the loneliness and longing for family that can rob them of hope. In the face of this loneliness our efforts seem somehow inadequate.
In preparation for Catholic Heart Work Camp that we will hold the week of June 5, Rene’ and I have made numerous visits to the homes of lower income, elderly people; all of whom are in desperate need of repairs to make their homes livable and safe. As we get to know them and what type of work they need done, invariably we find ourselves just sitting with them and listening to their stories of spouses that have died, children and grandchildren they have raised and the fact that most feel abandoned and lonely despite the fact that their families live close by. It seems our visit and time spent with them are as important as the work we will do for them.
Yesterday we saw the extremes of this situation. When we first met 70 year old Ms. Christine several years ago we were amazed by her zest for life, strength and determination to insure that her neighborhood was kept up and was safe, despite the fact that she could walk only with the aid of braces and canes. She has outlived three husbands, raised two children, and three grandchildren. Yesterday she came to the door in a wheelchair. She quickly let us know that her deteriorating physical condition was not slowing her down. She still volunteers with the Sheriff’s department, attends every Grizzly’s game, and polices her neighborhood by riding up and down the street in her wheelchair picking up trash and reporting code violations. As we discussed rebuilding her wheelchair ramp and painting her house she confessed that she had no money to buy the supplies needed. Rene’ suggested that her family give her Home Depot gift cards for Mother’s Day and she said, “I’d be happy if they would just call me.” It seems that she never hears from any of them. When her son was incarcerated she was the only visitor he had for five years. He now has a good job but has abandoned his mother in favor of his friends. When she sadly related this reality she seemed to grow smaller and older. As we pulled away I could see her going slowly back inside her immaculate but lonely house. We felt helpless and sad and frankly angry about her unnecessary exile.
Our next stop was to Ms. Ruby’s house. Her grandson was standing in the front yard as we pulled up and he seemed to check us out before going to get his grandma. We were greeted by the biggest smile and warmest welcome of the day. Ms. Ruby showed us through her house and it was obvious in need of serious repair but what we saw was a series of photographs on the fridge, people of different ages, races, sexes. I asked her about them and she said they were the St. Jude patients she has helped through the years by contributing regularly. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “I don’t have much but I give what I have. “ We found out that at 90, she is the oldest member of her church and everyone calls her “mother”. Her dining room table was already full of Mothers Day cards. As we talked with her we fell in love with her vitality and joy. She giggled and laughed and hugged us through her house. Her daughter lives with her. Her son lives in Illinois and calls her at least once per day; worried about where she is if she doesn’t answer the phone. We met her grandson, Trevin who is a semi pro football player, a kind of gentle giant. She helped raise him and his devotion to her is obvious. On his left shoulder is a tattoo portrait of her. On his right shoulder is a portrait of her late husband. She laughs about it and says she didn’t want him to have a tattoo but those two were ok. Ms. Ruby laughingly said that Trevin calls her before and after every football game, asking her to pray “heavy” for his team. I mentioned to her that she was lucky to have such a loving grandson. He came in from another room, larger than life as he announced, that’s my grandma. “I would kill a brick and make a rock cry if anyone tried to hurt her”, he announced as he put his arm around her. She just beamed.
As we drove away, my wife and I were silent for a long while, thinking about the difference in the lives of the two grandmothers we had seen that day. Loneliness robs people of hope, of joy, of the love of life that God wants us to have. I wish there was a way to “fix” broken families like we can fix broken wheel chair ramps.
I wish I could “kill a brick and make a rock cry”.