How Do I Respond?
The cries of the widow, the child, and the oppressed will reach their goal of God and God will grant them mercy, so says the author of Sirach. I have often wondered if that is enough. Do I leave well enough alone and let God handle everything, or do I have a role to play in that most tender part of another’s life; when one is suffering?
The question is always surfacing as I see people who are without the basic necessities of life, whether they live in the Dominican Republic, or here on the streets of Omaha. I ask this when I see students who are depressed or lonely. I feel sad for a friend who is a single mom and is not sure how she can go on. Most recently, I asked this question when I was working in the Dominican Republic over the summer. I had the privilege of traveling to each village (campo) where Creighton students were living and learning. Upon entering one village, I found the students in the midst of coping with the recent death of one of the women from the campo. Altagracia was the unofficial “grandma” of the campo and had died from a heart attack two hours earlier. The students had attempted to resuscitate Altagracia, but it must have been her time to go. What an uncomfortable situation. We all were looking for the “right things” to do and say. What is the right thing? I did not know. Amazing enough, I learned over the following months. The image that stuck in my mind from that day was a Creighton Nursing student simply and gently holding a teenage girl (the granddaughter of Altagracia) as she cried. They were both crying.
Back in the states, I dropped the question for a few weeks. It was not in my consciousness as I got back into routines and life in the U.S. Then I went to see the movie “Return to Paradise.” I had no idea what was in store for me. First, some of the scenery of the movie reminded me of the Dominican Republic. That set the mood for my later lesson. More importantly, the movie ended with a difficult death scene. In it, one character, imprisoned and sentenced to death, is being taken to the scaffold where he is about to be hung. The other character, his close friend, is watching from his cell in the prison. There is nothing for him to do that will help his friend to live. He can only watch. Moments before his death, the man in his prison cell screams to his friend, “Look at me. Look at my eyes. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. I see you.” It hit me. That is it. I can be a witness to the suffering of others.
In the moments when we can not take back or stop the suffering of others, I have learned that to be with someone in a time of suffering and to be able to say to them, I am here and I see what is happening to you, is the most healing thing. Your suffering may not be right, or fair. I cannot alleviate it, but I can witness it and let you know that your suffering is not in vain. I can take it and carry it and let others know what happened to you. I can be your witness. Isn’t that what Jesus did while he was here? He witnessed the tears, the suffering, and the hardships of those around him. It helped them to not feel alone or abandoned. Isn’t that what the nursing student did for the granddaughter of Altagracia as she held her and they cried? Isn’t that what is being asked of me, and all of us?