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All It Takes Is Compassion

If you want to relieve the world's suffering, there’s only one thing you need to do: Share it. Enter into it. In fact, the word compassion at its core means "to suffer with." Suffering-with is how transformation happens.

I didn't reach this lofty conclusion on my own. I had help—namely from a white-haired priest I'll call Fr. Tony. Not that he browbeat me or anything. In the more than seven years I've known him, Fr. Tony has never so much as wagged a finger. But he does give his opinion.

"You. Did. This. To. Me."
—Mother Teresa, explaining why she worked with the destitute

In this case, I was telling the good padre how hard it was, how tender and awkward and at times overwhelming, to take Communion to the convalescent center. How I sometimes want to give up.

Suffice it to say, tending to those who are ill (or just old) is not always one big Norman Rockwell painting. More like Grandma Moses with a dark side. If you extend such care regularly, to a loved one or as part of your job, I salute you.

But I'm not used to this.

In fact, I have this theory: In times of convenience, meet God where He is. In times of struggle, let God meet you where you are. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons I have God meet me at The Container Store, just so I can zone out and decompress from the convalescent place.

I was telling all this to Fr. Tony. "Hold out your hand," he said. Then imitating Mother Teresa, he pointed one by one to my thumb and fingertips as he spoke those five words: "You. Did. This. To. Me" (a reference to Matthew 25:40).

Dude, that is deep. I didn't say that.

We sat in his office and talked awhile. And I realized some of the other reasons I stay in this role.

In a Nutshell, Because Love Keeps Showing Up

I stay because it's only once a month, and the church needs the help. Because I believe that what I carry in that little pyx (round container for the consecrated hosts) has power beyond all telling. And because I have tremendous respect for the other people who serve.

Not to mention the snippets of dialogue you pick up in such places. To a writer, these are gold. Here's one Rated-PG example I heard one morning in the hall, just as a middle-aged man in a wheelchair entered the elevator with his (male) nurse:

Nurse: How you doin' today, Carl? Any pain?
Carl (dryly): I've got a pain in my ass, from you.
Nurse (brightly): Well, that's my job!

Call me my father's daughter, but that little exchange cracked me up. Sidenote: I don't think Carl (whose real name isn't Carl) was referring to a shot.

Later that morning, I had the privilege of giving Communion to Carl. Total reverence and respect. He told me all about his growing-up years and his now-grown daughters.

Most people just want to be heard. They want their stories to be heard. They need someone to laugh at their jokes and acknowledge they matter. Cue "Bartender's Blues" by James Taylor.

"Like a white candle in a holy place, so is the beauty of an aged face." —Joseph Campbell

Which brings me to a patient I'll call James. James has to be well into his nineties, if not his hundreds. After two years of entering his room on a monthly basis, I no longer get yelled at by his roommate.

This is progress. What's next? Touch football?!

I wince when I write about James because I know one day I'll go for my usual rounds and he won't be there. And I will miss him terribly.

James, who stirs himself awake and fumbles with the sheets to take my hand. James, whose smile heals more divisions than all the world's peace banners. James, whose only prayer request, back when he could voice one, was "for my family."

It is time to meet with the other dozen or so patients on the list. Crouching down next to James' bed, I smile, lean in and say, "You're still my favorite." His smile stays with me, and I suspect it always will. Not a bad tradeoff for one hour a month.

What is your volunteer success story? And if you don't yet have one, where could Life be calling you to invest a little time and compassion?

In times of convenience, meet God where He is. In times of struggle, let God meet you.

Gina DeLapa

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders® Coach, a sought-after speaker, and the proud creator of the Ultimate Reminders® book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("Beware the organization whose response to a burning building is to form a committee") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at UltimateReminders.com/mondaymorningpeptalk.