Writing today’s 30 Days of Deity Devotion post, I remembered a person who was very influential in my life. Her name is Rhea, and she’s a Messianic Jew.
Rhea and I worked together at an ophthalmology center. She’d been hired to provide transportation for patients who couldn’t otherwise get to the office, which made sense because we served a visually-impaired population, and because the local mass transit system isn’t very good.
Rhea not only loved to help people, but she had a magic notebook that helped her do it. It contained pages of phone numbers to all sorts of service providers. I was often amazed by the way she could connect people in need with just the right organization that could help. She made a difference in the lives of many, many people. And she did it with respect for their dignity, an appreciation of humanity, and a sense of humor.
One particular day, she brought a patient to the office for a very early appointment. This elderly man was having trouble seeing, he had a prosthetic leg, and experienced difficulty walking with a cane. I helped him to an exam room, and while performing the initial portion of his exam, I noticed he seemed distracted, that he spoke very quietly, and I heard his stomach growling. I asked if he’d had anything to eat that day, and he said no. With a little gentle prodding, it turned out he hadn’t eaten the previous day, either. I asked if a cheese sandwich and an apple sounded good to him, and I brought him what would have been my lunch with a cup of coffee. When I checked on him a few minutes later, he asked if I could wrap half his sandwich to save for later. Turned out he had a dog at home who didn’t have food. I encouraged him to finish eating, and promised I wouldn’t let his dog go hungry.
I went in search of Rhea, and explained what I had found out. To my surprise, she put her head down and sobbed…for the cruelty of the world, for the wreck of this man’s life, for the inhumanity that had led to his predicament, for everyone crushed by poverty. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed myself just then, and we hugged each other for a couple of minutes.
I suddenly realized the only difference between me and Rhea at that moment was that she knew who could help that man, and I didn’t. “Hey,” I said gently. “I know that you have phone numbers for food banks, assistance groups, all sorts of social services. I’m not dumping this on you. If you’ll just let me use your book, I’ll make the calls.”
I poured her a cup of coffee while she went through her bag for her notebook. Then we made some notes together. Rhea sat down with him, and discussed some of the available options. With his permission, we arranged for a social worker consult, found a group that would make improvements to help him stay in his home or would help him find a new place, put him in contact with the local food pantry, and even arranged for him see a doctor at no cost who would get him a better-fitting prosthetic leg and provide physical therapy. I explained the situation to the doctor and the rest of the office staff; we all emptied our pockets and came up with about a hundred dollars. After his appointment, Rhea made a shopping list with him, and stopped on the way home to buy bags of groceries and dog food. In addition, the office manager got authorization to take money from petty cash so Rhea could buy a hot meal for him to take home.
The next time I saw the man, he was walking easier with his new prosthesis, he was clearly more energetic, seemed more interested, and was more talkative.
This episode showed me the kind of difference a few determined people can make in the world. I now know that Rhea’s “magic” notebook was simply a collection of phone numbers she had acquired over time, and that anyone can look online and find those kinds of resources. It’s the willingness to take the time to do it that makes actual magic happen.