Nearly two months have passed since an historical senate race in Massachusetts afforded a Republican, Scott Brown, a win for the congressional seat long-held by a Democrat. Although Sen. Brown ran a fantastic race to win, it was Democratic contender Martha Coakley’s lack of campaign gusto that helped tip the race in Brown’s favor.
While Brown canvassed communities throughout the small state in search of votes, Coakley took three weeks off in December to enjoy the holiday season. When asked by a Boston Globe reporter why she was not campaigning, she made an ill-fated remark in which she asked why a candidate of her caliber should stand in freezing weather outside of Fenway Park to shake hands with the public.
Coakley did not realize that being present with people is precisely what successful campaigns are all about. More significantly, being present with people is what being human is all about.
Being present in one another’s lives is the single most important attribute that makes for a cohesive and caring community. When we think of all the special people we have known over the years, I bet that they are special because they were present with us in times of transition, trial or triumph.
Even people who had little to offer made a difference because of the simple fact that when we needed someone to talk to or cry with, he or she was present in our greatest time of need.
True, authentic friendship is a scarce commodity these days. A recent poll I noted in a previous article stated that 61 percent of people have only a few, if any, close friends. Only one in four people have someone to confide in. These are dismal and foreboding figures that point to a growing sense of isolation in our society.
Several Bible verses that my Catholic brothers and sisters will appreciate state that a friend’s presence provides a “sturdy shelter” and “life-saving medicine” (Ecclesiasticus 6:14-17). Jesus calls us to be in community and be present with those who are looking for confidants and spiritual guides. This is part of what Peter meant when he wrote that we are a “priesthood of all believers.”
We are called to relate to every person with whom we come into contact. We are called to suffer with others, show kindness towards others, sympathize with the plight of others, and offer a listening ear to others. First John 3:18 says to do so as we seek to “love others in word and speech.”
Our friendship is a form of medicine indeed.
Over the past year, I have made a commitment to be present with others and help my church — and other churches — be present in the community. I learned that the little, subtle things make the biggest difference.
I visited a church in New York last year and noticed that the church’s three big, red front doors were closed. Since it was my first time visiting the church, it took me 10 minutes to find the entrance. It was a single, unmarked door in the back of the building. It was across from the dumpster.
I brought this to the pastor’s attention. Although opening those big doors will not magically allow the congregation to be physically present with others, open doors communicate that the church has an investment in the spiritual and moral life of the neighborhood. It communicates an acute presence and relevance to the surrounding environment.
Being present acts as a bridge in our relationships with others because it connects us with God’s presence in our lives. And, fortunately for us, God still stands with us whether it is a cold or hot day, at a ballpark or in the quietness of our hearts.