By KRISTINE SCHROEDER
“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone” (St. John of the Cross).
An 88 page report by Surgeon General Vivak Murthy, entitled “Loneliness poses health risks as deadly as smoking,” outlines the health effects of the U.S. epidemic of loneliness. The report states that, in the past 60 years, there has been a dramatic increase in single-dwelling households. Widespread loneliness not only occurs in adults, but has seen a surge in youth ages 15-24. Dr. Vivak reports that isolation is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and increases the risk of stroke or heart attack. He equated loneliness to a hunger or thirst for companionship that can also lead to anxiety, depression and even dementia.
As a child, I spent a week or more each summer on my grandparents’ Indiana farm. That time shaped much of who I am. For our birthdays and Christmas, we 33 cousins received a card and one dollar. It was appreciated as a token of their love. The last year, Grandma gave us a two dollar bill. Mine is tucked away with my valuables.
When she passed, 17 years after her beloved, little of monetary value was left. I inherited a thin green checked apron, a warped quart cook pot and a 12-inch ecru statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with his head glued on. The pot and apron have since been dispensed with, but I treasure that statue, which sits on the end of my dresser, all the more with each passing year.
It is a reminder of what was most important in their lives and what should be premier in mine. Their faith carried Oliver and Clara through the Great Depression, the death of two toddlers, and the departure of family, friends and old ways forgotten in our frenetic world.
They raised most of their food. The days were demanding; but because the family worked together, it was also rewarding. When I visited, we spent our time on the front porch shelling peas or popping green beans; weeding in the garden; or collecting warm eggs from the henhouse. The evenings were usually a euchre game and popcorn.
I loved spending time with my grandma because she spent time with me. She made me feel important by listening to what my little self had to say, and by sharing her stories, too. It was warmth. It was love, and I still carry her kind and selfless love with me today.
Our world needs that kind of companionship. The Corporal Works of Mercy tell us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to travelers, visit the sick and imprisoned, and comfort the mourning. We are called to be aware of people struggling in our neighborhoods, our families and our community, and be Christ for them.
Be present. Visit the sick. Take a new parent a meal. Spend time, real verbal time, with your children and grandchildren, write a person in prison. Our corner of the world is ripe with opportunities to spread joy and hope where sorrow and despair exist.
Love transforms. It begins with a single selfless act of charity. Chiara Lubich was a 23-year-old Italian teacher in Trento, Italy, when her town was bombed by the Allies. Most people, including her family, fled; but Chiara felt a call from God to return and, with the help of a small group of women, aided those less fortunate. While it was not her intention at the time, years later, her acts of kindness led to the founding of the international movement Focolare.
Few of us will initiate a worldwide organization. But God calls everyone to take inventory of the people He sets in our path today. Each of us is expected to shed our selfish plans and share a kind word or an hour on someone’s front porch listening to them. God desires that we share our hearts, our love, our very lives; and in doing so, be the love that He shines on us. When we choose to do His will, we will reduce the isolation and loneliness in our world today. Amen.