"The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved." ~Mother Teresa
I recently stood at the bedside of someone who was dying. I wish I could tell you that I sat, but just moments before, I stood in the doorway, hesitant to even go in. Although fully aware that sometimes words are not necessary, I still felt the heaviness of the moment and the anxiety of not knowing what to say. It made me feel wholly inadequate, but somehow, I mustered the courage and went in anyway. As the scene unfolded, we fumbled our way awkwardly through the moment. Me trying my best to understand him and him graciously tolerating my efforts.
I left his side, not knowing if I said the right things. But I do know that the greatest gift we can give to the world around us is not perfect words at the right moment, but the gift of presence and acknowledgment. It's a gift that says much even when a few words are exchanged. It means …..
I see you in your pain and suffering.
You are important to me.
I think of the people who have had the most significant impact during some of the most challenging seasons of my life. They are people who consistently showed up. Even when they completely blundered their attempts. Their efforts alone reminded me that I was cared for and not alone in my journey.
Two summers ago, I visited Miami Beach. It's one of those places in the world where vast wealth and poverty coexist in one location. Not like the safe suburbs, I grew up in where you had to cross town and the tracks to experience deprivation. On one side of the beachfront strip are suites which cost more per night than the average 6-month annual income. On the other side of that strip is a tree-lined park with homeless individuals who have set up camp. The disparity is unsettling and not something my heart easily reconciles.
On one of our daily walks to the beach, my husband made eye contact with one of the homeless gentlemen who was sitting on the grass. Without much forethought, he said a casual hello. The man smiled and returned the greeting. But the look in his eyes is not one I will soon forget.
The thought wrecks my heart. Not because of his current situation or because of the past events that may have led him there. Yes, that too is heartbreaking.
It wrecked me that he seemed shocked that someone made eye contact with him. Shocked that someone took the time to notice his existence. I wonder how many tourists passed him day in and day out, never even bothering to look at him. Or how long it had been since someone took a moment to say hello. A hello that held so much more than just 5 letters. A hello that meant I see you. I acknowledge your existence and your worth as a human being.
When I was in the 6th grade, I did a research paper on Mother Teresa. I have always been fascinated by her heart for people. Canonized as a Saint in 2016, her life goal was to aid "the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for." I can't think of anyone who more closely emulated the life and teachings of Jesus. I may never go to the slums of Calcutta, India, and care for the destitute, but daily, I am surrounded by people who have been dropped in life. People who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for.
Statistics have shown that one in five people experience persistent loneliness. I have been the one in five before, and I have also been the one guilty of contributing to the loneliness.
As the holidays come and go and the gifts under the tree are torn open, I realize these are not the most important gifts I can give to the world around me. There are lonely and broken people all around me just waiting for someone to make eye contact and to be acknowledged. If only I have the eyes to see and a heart that is willing to heal the brokenness.