This year, on Giving Tuesday, the New York WYA interns took a break from our work and studies to spend an afternoon outside the office by taking the philosophy of WYA to the streets. Having spent many hours training in an understanding of human dignity, we desired to see what it looks like to truly recognize—and respond to— the dignity in others. Working to affect policy is one thing, but policy has no weight unless individuals also actively choose to live in a way which honors the person. So the six of us teamed up with the missionaries of Hearts Home in Brooklyn, accompanying them as they made home visits to people in the neighborhood. The mission of Hearts Home is hospitality and friendship—they understand that loneliness is a poverty which does not discriminate, for as the Dalai Lama says, “we are all basically the same human beings, who feel happiness and try to avoid suffering” (Our Global Family).
Hearts Home welcomed us as their guests with a beautiful lunch before the afternoon began, showing us the essence of hospitality. At Hearts Home, self-gift is not reserved for those determined as “less fortunate.” It is given to each person they encounter, without restraint. Even before we had the chance to attempt this self-gift for those who are perhaps more lonely, we were taught to receive it, first.
Splitting up into groups, the missionaries took us to visit their friends in the community — in shops, nursing homes, and apartments.
Colleen*, one of the residents at a nursing home, is only 45, but is bedridden due to epilepsy. She kept emphasizing her dislike for the place and her desire to leave. And who would not feel these things? There is no “us-and-them” in this situation, nor in any situation of service. The very condition of man is to be a “struggling-caring being” according to Charles Malik. Every human cares and struggles, and to realize this shared experience is the first step to solidarity.
WYA defines solidarity as “the unified commitment of persons to live and work in the truth of who we are and for the pursuit of the common good.” To truly believe in your dignity or in another is the opposite of isolating; it demands a response toward the common good. It is essential, especially as youth, to devote ourselves to human connection, so that this common good may actually be realized. Solidarity may be a heavy word, perhaps the name of a movement that seems out of reach, but in essence? It is friendship.
Thank you to the people at Hearts Home, who gave us a remarkable insight in the importance of presence and solidarity. As our intern Mary Grace points out so simply, “the gift of presence is the least we can give but the most that [another] can receive.”
“We, as young people, particularly commit ourselves in solidarity to all those who live in need, experience the vulnerability and hardships of war, famine, disease or social unrest, and who suffer the poverty of hopelessness.” (WYA Declaration on Solidarity)
By Clare Rahner, a 2018 Batch 3 Intern from North America
*name changed for privacy