(Sister Susanne, Erika and Sister Margaritis)
Yesterday I needed to reserve a room in the Harold Washington Library. You can only do that in person, so I went. Happily, because its architecture, spaciousness and tranquility makes HWL one of my favorite places in Chicago. Anyway, as I was leaving I was behind these two beaming sisters — sisters by religion and birth.
I laughed out loud because, while everyone else had to stop in front of a security guard and show the contents of our bag before leaving, they got to walk on by. It was a small and well-deserved social courtesy that caught my attention.
As I walked behind them, adapting to their non-hurried pace, I found myself staring at their clergy dress and habits. Seven years of parochial school — and obligatory uniforms — came back to mind. And left just as quickly. Instead, I became strongly curious about these women and their vocational choice.
I wanted to be soul-refreshed. I wanted to be near them, and talk with them, because their presence felt so good to me. They were pristine and radiant and free of the jaded cynicism I encounter way too much. They were relief. They embodied my idealism. They were bright, even from behind.
I noticed Sister Susanne had a Map of Chicago in her hand. Great, now I had a pick-up line :-) So when we reached the bottom of the last escalator, I said with a smile, “Excuse me, ladies… May I ask where you’re visiting from?”
And that was that. Our hour-long conversation got so lively and animated, we were actually asked to go have a seat on an out-of-the-way bench. Oh, right. We were in a library. Shhhhhh.
Question: How many times a day do you hear a sentence start with, “In these tough economic times…”
I have very low tolerance for doom-and-gloom pessimism. And since I tune stuff like that out, you can imagine just how much media-mess I choose to ignore. But it’s only so I can have room for uplifting information like this:
In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Sister Susanne runs a free medical clinic. She manages/supervises a volunteer staff of 30+ medical doctors, 20+ registered nurses, and 15+ medical secretaries. This clinic is part of a very special place called St. Anthony’s Center (which is an ecumenical endeavor). It’s housed in a 3-story building that used to be a storage facility. Wanna guess what’s on the other 2 floors? A free meal program, and a free clothing center. No one pays to get anything (totally free). And no one is paid to do anything (totally volunteered).
And if all that’s not enough Active and Dispensed Love, they even have time set aside every week for senior volunteers to come and thinly slice fruits and veggies to dehydrate and send to third-world countries!
All this goodness has been going on for over 20 years. And it was conceived by a humble, but persistent nun who encountered a lot of resistance in the beginning. (WHY are the most benevolent people and ideas met with such resistance?! Infuriating!) But she was stronger than the nay-sayers. Every week thousands of people are affected by the outrageous spirit of giving that is smartly organized and nurtured.
That’s the kind of humanity I choose to believe and participate in. That’s the kind of legacy I want to create with my life.