On Christmas day, of this year, the abbot came by the retreat house office, asking me to please talk to an elderly woman who seemed confused and may need some help. She was parked in our parking lot that is next to our gatehouse. It was around 7 PM when I went out to speak to her. There was only one car in the parking-lot so it was easy to know where to go.
She was an elderly woman and as soon as she rolled down the window, I knew that I was going to like her. She was not guarded, or afraid, and it put me at ease. She owned a nice car and she was well dressed. She also had a little dog, a pigmy terrier of some sort. She greeted me warmly, and I asked her if she was ok.
She responded in the affirmative and started to chat with me. It did not take long for me to understand that she was in a confused state of mind, at least when it came to expressing what she was going through. My heart went out to her. She being by herself on Christmas-Day. She assured me that she had a room in Conyers and has been in the area for a week. I believed her because of the way she was dressed as well as her car. She just wanted to stay in the parking-lot for the night, for she was afraid to go out now that it was dark, because ‘they’ would harm her. I tried to tell her that the gate was locked at night and it was getting cold. She responded that she likes being in her car and that she had plenty of gas to keep the car-running and stay “cozy and warm”. I could tell that to force her off the property would do her no good and could actually cause her to have an accident, if she really believed (I had no reason that she did not) that ‘they’ were after her. So I said that she could stay and went back in.
I called the abbot and let him know what I did, but I also said that I was going to call the police, and to ask them to please come by a couple of times for a ‘welfare’ check on her. He agreed. I went back to my room and notified the police of the situation. The assured me they would come by and make sure she was safe a few times that night. Afterwards, I became concerned that the police may scare her, or that they may make her leave. It is so hard to know actually what to do in these kinds of situations.
After Compline, which is at 7:30 PM, the last prayer (divine office of the day), I went to the retreat house kitchen and got some items for her to snack on. Also some water and a couple of shakes for her to drink on. I went out and brought the water and other food items to her. She was grateful, especially for the water. She also, to my relief, actually thanked me for alerting the police to her being in our parking-lot for the night. I told her that I was concerned because it was so cold and wanted her to be safe. She said that they sent a very nice lady policewoman to check up on her (a thoughtful touch for sure), who let her know that she would come by a couple of times while she was doing her rounds.
She liked to talk and we did so for about 15 or twenty minutes. She was a kind woman I got that right away, but troubled. I had the feeling that her family was looking for her, and worried, but was afraid to ask her for any family names and phone numbers, since she may have fled if she thought I was working with them. It was one of those situations that I could only do so much….which is true of any human situation.
People come to the Monastery for many reasons. Most come just to visit, others come for retreat and perhaps to talk to one of the monks about this or that. Many come on a regular basis and I have the honor of knowing many of them. One thing I have learned, “All God’s children have troubles”, and it is one reality that can make us understand that we can always be of help to someone around us. Some, we may know and love, others just pass by. However, I never forget those who ‘pass-by’ like this beautiful elderly lady, whose name is, by the way, ‘Peggy’. I hope she finds her way back to her family, or to a safe place where she will be taken care of.
None of us really plan where we end up in many situations that come into our lives. For all I know I could one day end up wandering around, needing someone to just listen a bit and perhaps give a little kindness’. The human condition is a fragile one. So is our mental health.
Some we can help only once, others perhaps more often, and then the few that we seemed called to help over the long haul. Some will be truthful, some will take advantage, but in the end, it does not matter. For each is a child of God and Christ dwells in their hearts as well. Even those who take advantage, and with whom I have to set up boundaries, their lives are harsh and hard. For in using others they only cement themselves more deeply in a style of life that becomes more and more of a burden to themselves. For they are often left alone since they cannot be trusted.
I have to tell myself over and over again, that I can’t save anyone, or change them, but I can be there if it is only for a very short time, like with Peggy. Yet she will never be forgotten and in God’s eyes, she is His beloved daughter.
One thing I have learned. To seek to grow in love of others, which I believe often flows from our love of God (if a believer), keeps the heart fleshy, it does not become hard and bitter. Though if helping others is fed by compulsion the heart will have to build walls of protection which can cause the heart to go numb or angry/bitter. Grace is at work in every heart I believe, in believers as well as unbelievers. It is a reality that goes way above my pay grade to understand, yet I see grace at work in everyone I meet. Perhaps the only reason we are here is to help one another. When we don’t, we then get the type of world we live in. There is no easy answer, yet to grow in the love of God and others is a good start…..grace builds on grace.
I have learned that I can’t help everyone. Another lesson that I have taken to heart, is to listen to my ‘gut’. Don’t know how that works, but over time I have grown in respect for its innate intelligence when dealing with those whom I meet.