(personal reflection by an employee of HOPEww – Bolivia)
The father opened a small door in the wall. We ducked down to enter. The contrast between the bright sun outside and the darkness of the hallway was blinding for a moment. The four of us followed the father through the dim corridor, up a narrow set of stairs and in another long hallway. We could smell food cooking and, despite the mud bricks used to create the walls and floor, the space was clean and tidy. A sense of family and togetherness permeated the home.
We were led into a small, square, dimly-lit room. In the center was the tiny coffin. White flowers spilled onto the ground, brought by family and friends. The father quietly told us the story: what began as a cold quickly became so much more serious for a young child with cerebral palsy. He explained the trip to the hospital but how it was already too late. His anguish and his loss weighted every word.
After a few moments of silence, a woman in our group asked if she could pray. We took hands and listened as she poured out her heart to God about this child and his family. It was only later that I remembered this woman’s own story. This particular woman had also lost her child in similar circumstances. And yet, she prayed and gave and wept and mourned. She offered comfort to this family when others of us could only imagine the loss they felt.
Later, as I was thinking through the day, I thought of how very strong this woman must be. So often, we do not enter a situation or a conversation because it may be painful for us. We avoid engaging in those things that may make us hurt, or may bring back painful memories of our own. This woman courageously immersed herself in this family’s pain. She sat with them for hours yesterday, listening and caring. Surely her heart must have been reminded of her own loss, but somehow she set her pain aside to be present for others.
I believe this woman demonstrated what love looks like: the courage to forget ourselves and be present for someone else in their suffering; the strength to enter into the dark places of pain with that other person despite what it may cost us. Yesterday, in the midst of deep sadness, I had the opportunity to witness this kind of love.
“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to places where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen