Several years ago, our local archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, asked readers to respond to the question, “Who is My Neighbor?” For some reason, this question has been on my mind recently, perhaps because of what is happening in our political discourse (about which I will say no more). I believe that, as the Jesuits taught us at Boston College, we are truly called by God “to be men and women for others.” But it’s not enough to simply make abstract statements; a wonderful writing teacher taught me that it is much more effective to show, not just tell, in my writing. So I’ve copied my response to The Catholic Spirit and posted it below:
Dwarfed by the hospital bed, surrounded by IVs and beeping monitors, she was a tiny, frail elderly woman with enormous haunted dark eyes dominating a white face. A native of Poland, she spoke little English, but was nonetheless able to understand the diagnosis: inoperable stomach cancer. Six months, maybe less, to live.
I was a chaplain intern with a grand total of three weeks experience, observing my first hospice consult. What could I, a 27-year-old graduate student, possibly say to a lonely frightened dying woman who didn’t even speak English?
As I stood huddled in a corner of the room and watched, a tear formed in one of those dark eyes and slid slowly down her face. Then another. And another. Her fragile body began to shake; and suddenly I found myself far from the safety of my hidden corner, my inexperience forgotten, my arms around her and my face buried against her shoulder, I dug out my little blue plastic rosary, and as we wept and prayed together, the healing love of Christ transcended the gulf between us, overcoming the barriers of language and age, binding us together as fellow pilgrims walking hand in hand on our journey home.
In truth, I have come to realize since, we are all fellow pilgrims on a journey home to the God who created us. We are, indeed, our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, and we are called to bear each other’s burdens. We have more in common than we realize, as I discovered in my first hospice consult, and it is through Christ’s love that we are able to journey with, and heal, each other.