Yesterday on our home visits for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, my colleague and I visited V and B. They live in a tiny two room apartment above a store front on an inner-city street near our parish church. B has a job as a cook at a restaurant in one of the suburbs outside the city. He proudly told us he has worked there for eight years, since the place opened. He makes around $300 per week, more or less, depending on the hours he gets. V has applied for disability, but has been turned down. B is 50 years old and V is 49. Their apartment is crowded, with not much floor space. What felt claustrophobic to us, may have been cozy for them.
V had called St. Vincent’s asking for help with food. As we talked to them we learned more about their situation. The rent for their substandard dwelling is $500 per month, which includes their utilities. V went on to explain how she would pay just what she had to on the bi-weekly car payment to keep their vehicle from being repossessed. They were not eligible for food stamps and we did not ask them about their health care situation, but with the latest cuts initiated by our Republican governor, I would not be surprised if they had no coverage at all.
This morning I read the following in “The Divine Dance” by Richard Rohr.
I often notice these qualities in those who are marginalized, oppressed, poor . . . . . . . . . they have to trust love, they need communion, they know that only vulnerable people understand them. They profit from mutualality, always in relationship. They find little ways to serve their community, the sick or those poorer than themselves.
I immediately thought of B and V. The way V kept apologizing for asking for help seemed so unnecessary. She said she didn’t want to take from those who may need help more than they did. When we told her she could call SVdP every 60 days for assistance, she said she didn’t want to abuse it or take from others more deserving. She told us that she liked to cook and that she always prepared more than they needed, and so she would share their meal with two of her neighbors in the building. One was a single man who didn’t have anyone else.
Before we left, we prayed with B and V and they joined us in the Lord’s Prayer. When we finished B picked up two angel figurines from a shelf and held them out as gifts for each of us. We tried to rebuff his offering, saying “That’s OK. You don’t have to give us anything”, but he insisted so we both graciously accepted. I told him that I would place the angel on my desk and every time I looked at her, I would think of both of them. So that is exactly what I did and will do.
This morning I thanked God for V and B and I prayed for them. I asked that they be blessed daily with all their needs, that they always have food, clothing, shelter, health care, reliable transportation, and enough work and income to cover their basic needs and to support their simple lifestyle.
I live in stark contrast to them. I have a big house, where my husband and I can retreat to separate rooms when we need our space, or when we feel inclined, we can sit with one another, reading or watching our big screen TV. B and V are forced to live in close proximity, so personal space is non-existent. They most likely have learned how to defer to one another, to forgive and be forgiven, to be less possessive and territorial, more Christ-like.
I have a kitchen with newer appliances, lots of tools, dishes and cookware. I have a refrigerator and freezer full of good things to eat or cook. I have a pantry with lots of non-perishables to choose from whenever I prepare a meal. Most days we eat together and refrigerate what is left or freeze it for another day. I do not share with my neighbors. I don’t even know if anyone living on this street is in need of a meal or a friend. V walks down the hall and shares their meal with her neighbors. For one man, this is probably the only warm meal he ever gets.
B is gracious and kind. He is proud of his job and I imagine he does it very well. He does not seem to harbor anger or resentment over his situation. He is humble. I am prideful and continually have to work not to judge others.
Richard Rohr’s words touched me because we had met Jesus in these two persons. They give of themselves and what they have. They may not attend any church, but they experience Eucharist each time they share their meal with a neighbor. I feel we were more blessed by V and B than we could ever have blessed them. This is the reward I receive for doing the work Jesus called us to do through the ministry of the Society of Saint Vincent DePaul.