Seeing Clearly: Happy Presence Day
Editor’s note: As part of FMS’ Lenten blog series, Programs Associate Rose Urankar shares an unexpected experience practicing ministry of presence.
Ah, a day off! One of the best things about transitioning into the working world after 18 years of Catholic education is celebrating federal holidays with a vacation day. This President’s Day, I was excited to do everything I enjoy—sleep in, read, watch obscure Olympic events that don’t make the cut for Prime Time—unencumbered by an alarm clock.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up at 8am to my buzzing phone. Without opening my bleary eyes, I blindly jabbed my phone, assuming it was the vibration of a rogue alarm. After a moment of pointless poking, it became clear that I might have to resolve this in a different way. I opened my eyes to see that one of my community members was calling me.
“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone.
“Hey, are you awake?” Amanda asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Great. Can you come downstairs? I need someone to take me to the hospital.”
Now I was awake.
To clarify, this was not an emergency situation or a surprise. Amanda had been battling a fever and a sore throat (maybe strep?) for a few days and had told us the previous evening that she planned to go to the doctor the next day if she did not improve. I happily agreed to drive her, knowing how awful it feels to be your own caretaker when you are sick.
I bounded down the steps, ready for a quick trek to the hospital. (The use of “quick” and “hospital” in the same sentence can only be attributed to the ignorance that overcomes me in the first sleepy hour of a new day.)
“You might want to bring a book,” Amanda suggested. “Before we go to the hospital, we need to drop off a rental car near my work, which is 40 minutes away. But don’t worry, we can just go to a hospital out there before coming home.”
I decided to pack a book and a lunch.
The morning became an exercise in FMS’s signature ministry of presence as Amanda and I took what I might describe as a driving tour of insignificant locations in the greater DC area—a high school, a gas station, a suburban shopping plaza, a hospital waiting room. (A pilgrimage to shrines of the American experience in honor of President’s Day, perhaps?)
While we waited for Amanda’s prescription (her choice: a one-and-done shot of penicillin. “Why would I worry myself with a bunch of pills when I could just get a huge shot of penicillin in my thigh right now?”), I noticed another patient. His leg was cramping, so he had it propped up on an ice pack. The pack kept falling on the ground, and without anyone to help him, he would use his crutches like giant chop-sticks to retrieve it. The persnickety pack kept slipping, to his great frustration, and his other leg began to cramp up. Amanda and I both helped him a couple of times and listened to him as he cringed through his pain. After more waiting, he was taken to his appointment, Amanda got her family-size dose of penicillin, and we went home.
Although it did not play out as I had expected, I did not have a bad morning. Amanda is my friend and I always enjoy spending time with her, no matter if we are washing dishes, talking and eating ice cream on her bedroom floor, or running an errand. But aside from this, I was glad to be able to accompany her when she was in need.
Accompaniment is central to FMS’s philosophy of service, but it is sometimes difficult to find ways to embody that in my role as an Office Associate. It seems that our missioners have opportunities every day to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Bolivia, Guatemala, and Jamaica who are experiencing oppression…while I sit at my desk in DC. I am sure many of us feel this way, as we work in (potentially) lackluster office jobs and daydream of doing something different. But my experience of accompaniment on my day off reminded me that we are all able to live mission, no matter what we are doing with our lives, if our hearts are open to service.
May we have new vision to see President’s Day (and all days) as Presence Day—an opportunity to sacrifice our will and desires in favor of someone else’s. An opportunity to live the Gospel call.
Reflection question: In what ways may God be calling you to sacrifice your own desires and see someone else’s more clearly?