From Exile to Hope: January 12, 2022

From Exile to Hope: January 12, 2022

January 12, 2023

A year of...

By: Cindy Hickman

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at the pharmacy waiting for a vaccination. A woman sat down in line behind me, and a man joined in line behind her. I’ve stopped calling people “elderly” since I have begun to feel little “elderly” myself, but we all probably fit that label.

We joked a bit about being brave as we waited to get our shots. The woman opened up a conversation by turning to the man and asking if he had always lived in this community.

No, he and his wife had moved here several years ago to be near family. The woman said she had done the same, and she was glad she did. Her husband had died several years ago, and she was grateful to have her children close by.

The man nodded. His wife had died too. Last week. The funeral was just a few days ago.

This announcement of fresh grief felt like a shocking, icy sting. The woman and I turned to the man. I am sure we both wanted to take some of his grief in our hands, lighten the weight of loss he carried.

What it must have been like for him that morning, to wake up to another morning of loss? Was it hard to motivate himself to come to the pharmacy to get a vaccination he had probably been putting off as he cared for his wife in her last days? Did it matter if he got a life-saving vaccine when he had lost his life’s partner? Or did he come to the pharmacy that day because he needed to be out of the empty house, to do something that might, for a few moments, feel normal? Was he hoping there would be someone to talk to in his new season of loneliness? I have no way of knowing, but I heard the pain in his voice.

The woman said she was sorry, and she told him how hard it had been for her to get used to being alone. He nodded. The woman continued the conversation. She talked about her children, and he told her about his. The nurse called my name, and I went in to get my vaccination.

I have thought about that conversation a lot since that day. It lasted just a few brief moments. I hope it was a comfort to the man. I felt the woman’s kindness. There was a connection, a bridge of human compassion. Someone cared.

Friends and I gather every Tuesday afternoon for an hour and read the bible. We are reading the Gospel of Mark. In Mark, Jesus has caring moments like the one outside the pharmacy all the time. Simon, Andrew, James and John, a man with an unclean spirit, Simon’s mother-in-law, a leper, a man with a withered hand, a man who lived among the tombs, a woman suffering from hemorrhages, the daughter of a leader from the synagogue, the Syrophoenician woman, a deaf man, a blind man and more. These were all people Jesus didn’t know, until he encountered them along the way, talked with them, and created a connection by caring for them. You could make a good argument that Jesus wasn’t creating a church. He was creating connections, using human compassion to glue us together. Remember when four friends tore off a roof and lowered their paralyzed friend to Jesus? Jesus saw “their faith,” the faith of the ones carrying the stretcher and that was what made the man well. There is healing in our connection to one another.

In this time of “Quiet Quitting,” “The Great Resignation,” and “The Great Disengagement,” when we seem to be withdrawing from one another, I wonder how much human connection we have let it slip away without realizing what a treasure it is. The pandemic disrupted our habits and the communities of care we were all part of. That includes the church. There is so much goodness in the world, we can go without human connection for a while, but eventually it takes its toll. We need one another. In order to be healthy, we need to both give and receive human compassion in daily doses like fresh air, sunshine, and good food.

Human compassion is quiet and subtle and readily available, as close as the person waiting behind us in line at the pharmacy. It is a currency of exchange. We offer compassion and we receive it. Small doses of compassion make us thirst for bigger gulps. Caring about an individual leads us to compassion for groups of people and a hunger to address issues that create suffering. As long as we trust in Christ, we have a steady supply of compassion, enough to create life-giving connections.
We are just beginning a new year. What if 2023 was a Year of Caring, Compassion and Connection? What if we commit ourselves to simply caring? What if?

By the way, Polk County is desperate for volunteers to serve as guardians for dependent adults when family members are not available.  You can find out more through the Department of Human Services River Place 2309 Euclid Ave. Des Moines, IA 50310 Telephone: (515) 725-2600. Outside of Polk County, individuals interested in serving in the role of guardian to a dependent adult should contact their local DHS office. DHS office information can be located at:

Just a thought, in this Year of Caring. 

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