• February 20, 2013

Just by being here, we showed him he was worthy.

Jeanne - Brooklyn, NY

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.”

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