By Claire Ballor
It was written on old pastel paper. The handwriting was in shaky cursive that dated the hand that wrote it. Posted on a crowded bulletin board in the Gorman Lecture Center, the out-of-place note hung beside campus news and ads. Its message was unbearably simple: an elderly woman was looking for a friend for her lonely quadriplegic daughter. I stood there moved by its message, but walked away. I read it with consolation in the fact that the right person would come along and respond to the heartbreaking request since I myself didn’t have time. As I walked away, I suddenly realized that the “right person” was never going to come: they don’t exist. The note would hang there forever if it were waiting for the “right person.”
Two days later, I found myself sitting across from Lois on the Cap Bar patio. The woman behind the shaky cursive was similar to what I had expected; grayed and slower in movement, but wittier than I was prepared for and livelier than most other 80-year-olds I’ve met. We talked for hours as if we had known each other for years. She told me about her beginnings in Boston, her love for dolphins and eventually, she told me about Amy.
Forty-five years ago, her daughter Amy was in a diving accident that left her paralyzed. Her injury left her with significantly limited mobility in her arms and no mobility in her legs. Lois told me about Amy’s resilience and perseverance despite the challenges she faced on a daily basis, but explained that her strength was steadily fading. Years of public stares and words of defeat and judgment were taking their toll. Dozens of surgeries and twice as many doctors had repeatedly failed to ease her pain or help her sleep. Lois knew there was nothing I could do to fix that, but what she asked of me was simple. She asked that I befriend her daughter and visit with her once in a while to eases her loneliness.
Amy and I would sit and talk about her degree in journalism, her love for art, her pipe dreams of one day having her own family and her faith. Some days we would cook together, other days she would be in too much pain to even talk and so we would sit together in silence. I couldn’t help her when her muscles locked and tightened uncontrollably, I couldn’t cure her insomnia, I couldn’t tell her that she was going to get better. Most of the time I was completely useless. But Amy didn’t need me to be her caretaker, healer or monetary donor, she simply needed me to be her friend, and for a much-too-short eight months I was lucky to be just that. Eventually Amy’s illnesses took over her body and on December 10, 2013 the world lost an incredible woman, and I a true friend.
With no other family nearby, I quickly became Lois’ friend, confidant and family. Together, she and Amy have taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned: there is no “right person” to show charity. Amy and Lois are the people sitting alone in the school cafeteria at lunch; the homeless man on the side of the freeway that we look at and then lock our car doors; the janitor cleaning the bathroom who we don’t acknowledge; the lonely man sitting next to us on the plane desperate for conversation. There are no scribbled cursive flyers posted for these people, but they need the same simple thing that Amy needed: friendship. It is the most basic yet impactful form of charity that anyone could give and there is no “right person” to give it.
We can tell ourselves that our lives are too busy, our wallets too tight and our schedules spread too thin. We can console ourselves by believing that the “right person” will come along who has all the time and money in the world to help those around us who are in need. But we all know it’s simply not true. In the spirit of Charity Week, it is my hope that as a community we all realize the impact that even a small donation or a small act of kindness can have in someone’s life. I hope that we all step up and recognize that there is no “right person.” We are all called to extend ourselves and help those in need in any way that we can. You never know whose life you will change in the process or who will change yours.