It Takes More Than a Village
by Sabine Barnhart
by Sabine Barnhart
I was looking up at my wall clock in my office. It was 12:15 P.M. Time to go on my lunch break and see Luisa. Luisa is my care-receiver who was given into my care by my Stephen Minister supervisor from my church.
It's a volunteer program sponsored by churches for all denominations, providing care for anyone going through a crises in their life. A trained Stephen Minister will give his time in building healing relationships with another human being, and walk that extra mile with him.
I grabbed my purse and with a brief "be back in an hour" to Lori at the front desk I rushed out the door. As I made my way down the stairs I was wondering how our meeting will be today. She only lives five minutes from the office, so it makes it convenient for us to meet during my lunch hour.
It's been raining all day today. It was typical Texas weather in the winter. It can never decide if it will be winter or summer. Today it was cold, and raining. I rushed to my car to get out of the rain.
I sat there for a minute composing my thoughts. It's been two days since I last saw Luisa. We've been visiting twice a week. She is recuperating from a leg injury she received when she fell six days before Christmas. Thank goodness she didn't have to get a cast on her leg. Her leg is in a brace and she is using crutches to help with her walking.
I started the car and drove down the road toward her house. What a droopy day, I thought, as I stopped at the first traffic light. I can only imagine what it must feel like being stuck at home, like Luisa is, unable to drive and relying on her older son for help. There is really nobody in her community that checks on her. There is a neighbor, but she is mostly busy with her family. She really doesn't know who she could call for help. I was glad she reached out to the church.
As I continued driving, I remembered our first visit. We met three months ago at her parish church during lunch. We greeted each other and settled down in a quiet room for privacy. She seemed distraught and overwhelmed.
Not quite sure yet if she could trust me, she slowly began talking about her situation. She's a native from Mexico and married an American forty years ago. They had two boys and transferred from Arizona to Texas fourteen years later. Both children were diagnosed with a mental illness during high-school years. Twelve years ago her husband suffered a stroke and was unable to work and care for himself. For the last six years of his life, Luisa took care of him until he passed away. Now she's alone with no friends or relatives, desperately reaching out to church and God to help her make sense out of her life.
As I turned on to her street I remembered the emotions that came out during our first meeting. She sat there crying, letting out all her worries and hurts. All I could do was listen. I didn't realize that I was getting misty-eyed myself, until I had to take my glasses off. I was not prepared for such an instant connection with her. We have since then learned a lot about each other. I realized that what she needed was a friend; someone who listens to her, which is what a Stephen Minister is trained to do.
Her injury before Christmas had somewhat been a blessing in disguise. It gave her an opportunity to learn about herself. Her previous experience of caring for her husband has been helpful to her. She remembered all the things that Rehab had taught her husband, and she is now able to apply the techniques on herself.
We also had a chance to meet more often. Her confinement in her house allowed us to visit more frequently and talk about things important to her in her life.
I pulled in her driveway and sat there for a few seconds to quiet my thoughts. I got out of the car and ran to the front door of the house. Only the glass door had to be opened. I could hear her tell me to come right in as I knocked a few times on the door.
I saw her getting up from her recliner and greeting me with a smile. It felt good to see her smile. We hugged and I sat down on the sofa next to her. I thought she looked so much better. Her face seemed more relaxed and her eyes had a glow. I asked how she was feeling today. She replied that it was getting better.
Luisa has no problems expressing herself. She talks very clearly about herself and her life, and what it is that is going on inside her. I very rarely have to ask her questions. All I do is observe and listen what it is she's trying to tell me underneath the spoken words.
I don't believe in accidents, and feel quite certain that we ended up together because of similar circumstances in our lives. We are both from foreign countries; know about homesickness, and about cultural differences. We are both familiar with feelings of adjustments. We are both Catholics and understand what the Eucharist means to us with all the rituals and ceremonies. And we both believe in the power of prayers. We certainly are able to relate to each other.
I always think Luisa is very smart. Although she never attended college, she's very well read and has her own wisdom that becomes quite apparent when she speaks of life and the world in general. Her greatest obstacle right now is her feeling of abandonment, isolation and loneliness.
Her gratefulness that I am spending my time with her comes out in her eyes. Her big brown eyes just show such an appreciation, that each time I look into those sincere eyes, I am moved by their gentleness. I keep telling her that she teaches me more than I could ever have imagined. Then we both sit there and chuckle about the profound truths we seem to discover about each other.
With every visit, the tone of the conversation does not focus so much on her worries and her injury any more, but moves more toward hope and healing. It's not that I do anything in particular, because Luisa already knows it's within her. She is realizing the potential of moving forward has to come from her and trusting in the goodness and the abundance of life again.
We continued talking for a few more minutes, and then she let me know that my forty-five minutes were up and it was time for me to leave. Strange; I never pay attention to time when I am with her, and if it wasn't for her concern, I would probably be going long past my lunch break. She does not want to use more of my time than what she knows I have for lunch.
Knowing that it was time to leave, we reached out to each other holding hands. Saying prayers out loud over someone else has never been my strength, but with Luisa it's different. The words just come and form into speech.
Luisa folded her hands and bowed again in gratitude; all the more reason to give her a big good-bye hug. I told her I'd see her again next week on Tuesday, same time. "Yes, that would be nice!" she answered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that glow again in her eyes. She looks forward to company and having a friend.
Luisa walked me to the door and said good-bye again. As I walked out the front door, I noticed that the rain had stopped. It was still cloudy and grey outside, but no longer a downpour of water.
I got into my car and backed out of the driveway. When leaving Luisa's house the past few times, I had a feeling of peace and hope in me. I instantly recognized that this is hers, too. It belongs to Luisa just as much as it was mine, since we had nurtured it together during the time we spent with each other. I was certain she felt glimpses of it as well.
I turned on my Praise and Worship music listening to my favorite song. I thought what a wonderful revelation each visit had been. No news in the world could top this real life experience that Luisa and I receive for the forty-five minutes with each visit. How wonderful seeing the Good News come alive in her eyes.
I remembered my own time of need, and how a Stephen Minister volunteered her time to help me through it. The love and empathy this person had for me came from her heart. This freely given response from one person to another comes spontaneously without restrictions. It comes from a natural law that was not written by man. It requires no State enforcement or policing. Reaching out to someone else this way meant so much more to me than being with someone who was ordered or coerced into giving. It gave me the desire to give back to others on my own free will.
I turned back on the main road heading toward my office. I thought of Luisa's smile and her insights she revealed to me earlier, and then I knew Luisa is heading into the right direction. Little steps at a time she will find her strength and her courage again to be part of ‘village' life.
January 27, 2004
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.
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