On Tuesday, I was attending the Night Ministry Lighting Up The Night event. That was the first time I was invited; it is a big fundraiser, with a fancy dinner and both silent and live auctions, in which I did not participate. It was interesting to see people I got to know through different volunteering events at a very different kind of event, in fancy clothes :).
Geoffrey Baer from WTTW was an emcee for this event, and in the very beginning, he talked about human connections. That’s what the Night Ministry is about: not just providing food and medical care, but also providing companionship and an opportunity to connect with others.
At the start of the event, we were asked to take a piece of paper which was put on the right side of each plate and to write down a name of a person, with whom we talk most often, with whom we can discuss things, which are essential for us. And then to fold this piece of paper and put it away. Later through the course of the event, there were more stories of people who managed to get their lives back on track, and all of them were talking not just about The Night Ministry, but about particular people, who helped them along the way.
Other speakers were citing the numbers from different surveys and researches, which indicate that being lonely might be very dangerous to your health, cause heart diseases, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
And a little bit later Geoffrey Baer retook the podium and said: “And now look at this name you’ve written on a piece of paper earlier, and think how would you feel without this person in your life. And think about the fact that many homeless people would have no name to write on this piece of paper.”
I was thinking about this. And I was also thinking, that this is precisely the thing I am doing with my blogging, and also that with most of my volunteering activities I am doing just this – giving people support at the time they need it most. Talking to the youth in the shelter. Escorting patients to an abortion clinic. Blogging about difficult parenting situations. Even with my political activism, I value canvassing the most, because I know that nothing can influence people more than a real-live conversation. Eye-to-eye. Heart-to-heart.
When they asked all volunteers to stand up, I was so proud to be standing there are receiving the audience ovation. And when they were mentioning “volunteers, who come and cook with the youth,” my neighbor was pushing my elbow: this is about you! And I’ve smiled back: yes!
I was in Madison WI this weekend, celebrating my granddaughter’s second birthday, and when we were slowly walking around the Capitol Square, my granddaughter almost ran into a group of homeless people seating on the edge of a flowerbed. They have admired little Nadia and asked whether Anna is her mother, and then all of us got engaged in a conversation. A little bit later, when we were on our way back after dropping off my mother in the hotel, we ran into one of these guys again.
Anna said: look, Nadia, it’s the same person we talked to before. And he said: yes, my name is Robert! And Anna chatted with him for a little bit more, while he was following us, and amidst all “nice talking to you,” he started crying and changed his trajectory. For him, this human connection, the fact that we were talking to him like to an equal person meant a world more than a box of leftover mac & cheese Anna has handed him at the beginning of the conversation.
And I have nothing else to add.