During my year of service at Amate House, I’ve been struck by the opportunities that I’ve had to provide a loving, compassionate presence to my clients at Erie Family Health. At times, simply being present to another can be difficult, especially in a society that so focuses on doing, on action, on accomplishing tasks, on measurable outcomes.
It’s difficult to feel as though you are making a difference when you don’t have any measurable outcomes or you can’t point to some sort of quantifiable or tangible action. But I’ve discovered that standing witness and providing dignity (even when it isn’t measurable) are some of the most human of actions that can be taken. They are often not recognized as important and can often be pushed aside as inaction or passivity.
This year I have been forced to see the difficulty, but also the importance in providing a witness, in providing dignity to another person, and to just sitting. I have tested over 200 individuals for HIV so far this year. That means I have spent over 3000 minutes just sitting. Some doctors in the clinic see such power in being able to give a result on an HIV test. But I feel so helpless with the task. If it’s positive, I can’t cure them and I won’t be with them when they are facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. If it’s negative, I can’t force them to make healthier and safer choices to protect themselves in the future. All I have are those 15 minutes. A mere blip in the lifespan of a human.
I have the opportunity with each individual I test to treat them with the dignity each person deserves. I have the opportunity to be a calming presence. I have the opportunity to provide them with the love each of us ought to be showing one another all the time. I can provide reassurance in a time filled with panic and dread.
There is Nazan, a 13 year old boy who has already been kicked out of his house by his father because he is gay. He finds warm places to sleep by trading his body for a bed. He came in 3 times before he actually let me draw blood for the test. Although he is negative now, he doesn’t see any alternatives to how he is living.
There is Jorge, a man in his 50’s who broke into tears when I told him his test was negative. He is currently watching his partner die of AIDS and wants nothing more than to die with him.
Then there is Delma, an older woman who has entered into a relationship with a gentleman who is HIV+. Her first question to me during the test was “people say I am crazy for loving him, do you think I am crazy?” When I told her how lucky she was to have found someone whom she loves and is loved by in return and that there is nothing crazy about that, she knelt in prayer, then gave me a hug and thanked me for saying out loud what she knows in her heart.
I am not changing the world, I am not making monumental strides in justice, and I may not be able to change the situations of those I encounter. But I can look them in the eye, I can tell them the truth, I can listen, I can care.