Saturday, May 27, 2017

Listening Across the Divide

She always wants to talk, because all day, she is alone.

It's one of the reasons I started driving for Meals on Wheels, back when I started at my current church. Meals on Wheels, which provides nutritious meals to the homebound and the elderly, had always been part of the life of the congregation where I grew up, and it seemed a natural fit.   With a part-time pastoring gig far away, I had the bandwidth to both help out with the kids as they grew up and to do volunteering in my own community.  Now that they are mostly grown, I continue to volunteer.

And so I find myself in the homes of those who are unable to get out much for themselves.  Disabled veterans.  Cancer patients, hooked up to their oxygen.  And the old, who more often than not are far from a family scattered by the endless churn of our culture.

She's one of them, a recent widow, deep into her eighties.  She is always in the same chair, right by the door.

Her little dog, in the kitchen.

And all around her, cues that she and I inhabit very different parts of the American political spectrum.

Fox News, always on.  "Even at night," she says.  "Because it makes it almost feel like I'm not alone." A stack of newspapers, all ultra-conservative.  Neat stacks of letters, fundraisers for right wing candidates and causes.

Were we to talk about politics, it would not go well.  But she doesn't want to talk about politics.

She just wants someone to talk to.  Period.  And someone to listen.

She wants to talk about her husband, who had been taking care of her until he suddenly became ill and died.  She wants someone to listen as she describes waking screaming from a nightmare, alone and terrified in the darkness of an empty home with no-one to comfort her or calm her.   She wants to talk about the frustrations of dealing with an impossibly complex medical system.  She wants to talk about dogs.

She wants to hear about life and gardens and beautiful spring days.

So I take the time, and we talk, and I listen.  It is the duty of my faith, and the purpose of the Way of my teacher.

Beyond that, I just enjoy talking to her, in the way that sharing life and stories with another person gives pleasure to human life.

Measured against faith and our common humanity, that she and I are on other sides of our nation's deepening, shadowed divide means nothing.