By Emily A., Heart’s Home Volunteer in Argentina
"A few months ago, I became friends with a man who had dramatically marked my views on life and on my mission here." This is how Emily A. introduces us to one of her friends in the Argentinian capital
“C. was born into a rich family in the mountains of Paraguay, and spent more than a few decades of his life like St. Augustine. That is to say: a lot of alcohol, money, and women. Eventually he wound up here in Buenos Aires and spiraled downward into deep poverty. His long-time lady companion left him for another man with more money and he stayed behind, alone in a life void of love. He fell into alcoholism and took up a few jobs here and there, and started going to the soup kitchen to survive. His health became very poor and he could hardly walk, let alone work.
The first thing I noticed when I visited him for the first time was the smell: unwashed bodies, rat and dog urine, and well fermented garbage. It washed over me as I stepped inside. As I entered, my feet stuck a little to the filthy floor with each step; everything was covered in a layer of grime and grease and filled with all types of trash imaginable. I noticed also that he was very very skinny. Alarmingly skinny. The way his bones poked through his skin was my main concern until I saw his eyes. It was as if all the sadness in the world had been boiled down into two deep condensed brown pools. There was something so raw, so deep, so hungry and so very human in those eyes. They housed anguish, but not the blind terrified anguish of a moment—the steady, deep, fully conscious anguish of many long years.
We returned regularly in the following months, each visit more or less the same, talking about everything and nothing, the face falling as we passed out the door. But in our visits, we started noticing little changes in C’s house and in himself. One visit, the window was open, the next, there was less trash, and the house was a little more organized. The next, his hair was combed and his face clean and his bed made. Little by little, he was improving his life himself. His dignity was being restored. Just by existing, being here, talking about insignificant things and passing time with him we showed him he was worthy. By being loved he could then start to love himself and drastically improve his life and his situation. In his loneliness and pain he lacked motivation to live, but the simple presence of another gave that back to him. His eyes burn less now, and his health is improving. We accompanied him once to see a doctor, who told us there was nothing specifically wrong. It was just the loneliness and its consequences that had taken such a terrible toll on his body.
Before I left on mission I was asked by everyone, “What are you going to do there?” Why wasn’t I going to do something, to build, to change? But now I understand a little better, thanks to C. If we had built him a new house to replace the filthy one he has, would it have motivated him to be clean? Or if we had built him a new hospital, would it have motivated him to be healthy? And most importantly, would he have felt loved, or would his eyes continue to burn and burn? It is so beautiful, we come with empty hands and give our hands themselves... and naturally our hearts go right along with them.”