From July 2016
I was reminded this week of how much love can be shown through even the smallest of encounters with another precious soul. There is so much suffering and injustice in our world… our country… our communities… our homes. It’s easy for me to become distracted by the “hugeness” of the needs I see, and forget how much healing there can be in one small exchange.
She’s a single mom who, as a member of an oppressed minority group in a war-torn country, had to leave everything that meant stability to her in order to seek refuge and safety for herself and her children. She came into the clinic I was helping at the other day, without an appointment, worriedly asking to see the clinic social worker about some pressing needs in her life. Having no transportation of her own, she had somehow found someone to give her a ride across town to the clinic, but had no ride home. She was not comfortable seeing anyone else in the clinic, as trust does not come easily for those who have survived great trauma.
Someone alerted me that there was a patient who speaks Swahili in the waiting room, but she didn’t have an appointment so she would have to be sent home. This is not an infrequent occurrence for newer arrivals in the U.S., since in many parts of the world, medical care is dispensed without any appointments being given. When someone needs to see a doctor, they go to the nearest clinic and stand in line, with services being given in the order that people arrive.
I went to her feeling heavy hearted, anticipating how disappointed she would be when I explained that the person she wanted to see was not available that day. We greeted each other in Swahili and took the culturally appropriate amount of time to go through all the proper forms of greeting and chatting about everyday life before getting to the point. I brought her a cold bottle of water (it was 103 degrees that afternoon), and played with her 9-month-old baby boy. When she asked me to get her some warm water to mix with his baby formula, I found out that the only baby bottle she owned was broken and much too small for him. I managed to round up a new bottle for her, still grieving the fact that she was not going to receive what she really came there for that day.
My heart ached as I held her hand and explained to her that she would not be able to see her trusted social worker that day, but that I would arrange a ride home for her and help her to make an appointment for another day. I gave her a few moments to herself while I went to make the appointment for her. When I returned, I was surprised to find her smiling and playing lightheartedly with the baby. As we said goodbye, she hugged me warmly and said, “This is a wonderful clinic. This is a place where people in need can come and be helped. I will always come to this clinic.” I was shocked to hear this evaluation from someone who had not received what she had come for, so I asked her what made her feel that way. She answered, “You greeted me as if I am someone important. You played with my baby. You spent 1 hour of your time with me. I know this is a place that cares about people.” I was so humbled by her gracious response, and so thankful for the lesson she gave me: that every encounter has the potential to be a loving, healing encounter.
Moment by moment, each of us are surrounded by opportunities to bring peace and healing to the person right in front of us, even when we feel inadequate to “fix” the pain they are experiencing. In our world…. Our country…. Our communities…. And maybe most of all in our own homes with our own dear ones…. May we not underestimate the healing power of a warm smile, a few understanding words, a compassionate response.