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It’s easy to feel a bit helpless in the face of wars and famines and poverty and climate disaster and general suffering, but I take some heart in the Jewish notion of ‘tikkun olam’, which means mending the world and which suggests that each of our actions, however apparently small, can have the power to change a life and indeed to change the world.

This Lent at the Irish Chaplaincy we have been telling ‘Stories of Hope’. These are stories of some of the people whose lives have been transformed by little acts of kindness. The first story was that of Emma, a 35-year-old woman who, shortly after release from prison, was in a coma and given a 2% chance of survival. She survived and is doing well, thanks in large part to the support from our team, to whom she said, “You’re given me a reason to live.”

Vera, like many of those supported by our Seniors Project, found it difficult to cope with the lockdown. She received two calls a week from the team: from Rory on a Monday and from Anne on a Thursday. Vera spoke of how, “These calls are the highlight of my week. I look forward to them so much.” She was also delighted to get a card from us on her birthday which she said has pride of place on her mantelpiece. She received as well a special card from a pupil in Holy Family Primary School in Ealing to let her know that she was being thought of during those days. She was thrilled and said, ‘I am so glad that I haven’t been forgotten about.’ Vera’s pleasure at being sent the cards reminded me of another person who had been sent a birthday card by the Seniors team a few years ago. She said, “I was so happy when that card came through the door. I didn’t know you knew it was my birthday. It was the only card I received.”

Joe was known to the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO), a project of the Irish Chaplaincy, since 1987. With no family, ICPO were his only family, and he would ring the office daily. Over the many years, Fr Gerry and Liz would regularly visit Joe as he had never received a social visit. He was released for a short period into the community to a supported living facility for lifers, but this did not work out as Joe wanted to go back to prison where he felt safest. Joe was born in 1941 and was in and out of institutions from the age of 7, although his learning difficulties were not recognised until later in life. Joe sadly died just after his eventual release in 2021. He faced the prospect of a pauper’s funeral, but thanks to the kindness of various people we managed to find grants to cover the cost of the funeral. Gerry led the service and he and the other three people present from the Irish Chaplaincy were Joe’s only mourners.

Like Vera, Ann was given a pre-programmed Tablet as part of our ‘Keeping Connected’ project. “It’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me,” she said,” “I felt so lonely during lockdown. Now I feel so connected.” Rory had helped to get Ann set up with the Tablet and he explained, “She really loved it. I called over to her yesterday to see if she was getting on OK with it. She was there listening to LMFM, her favourite (Drogheda-based) radio station. She was thrilled with it.” Ann went on to say, “With this tablet, I’ve been able to see my nephew, my friends in London and even my friends in Ireland. I love listening to the Irish radio and getting Mass. I can’t thank you enough.” What a difference a Tablet can make!

Mamie too has particularly enjoyed getting Mass on her Tablet, but so too the face-to-face conversations with Joe and others from the Chaplaincy team. And I’ll never forget the pictures of  her in her flat in London speaking via their respective devices to her sister Rita in Dublin on the occasion of Rita’s 100th birthday.

It’s good sometimes to be reminded that our work is clearly making a difference to people, although some of the consequences of our words or actions may be less obvious. Indeed we might never know the impact that we’ve had on someone’s life. Jonathan Sachs stresses, though, in his book To Heal a Fractured World, “Even the smallest good deed can change someone’s life.” He writes as well, on the subject of tikkun olam:

“It is no accident that we are here, in this time and place, with these gifts and capacities, and this opportunity to make a positive difference to the world.”

He goes on to say, “Each situation in which we find ourselves did not happen by accident: we are here, now, in this place, among these people, in these circumstances, so that we can do the act or say the word that will heal one of the fractures of the world,” and, “Change a life and you begin to change the world.”

This reminds me as well of the Buddhist concept of ‘right word, right action’ by which we should be careful and mindful in all we say and do because we just never might know the long-term effect, for good or for ill, on another person and on the world.

I’m grateful that we at the Irish Chaplaincy have been able to bring about a bit of tikkun olam in the cases of Emma, Vera, Joe, Ann and Mamie, and probably in many other cases besides, even if it simply involved a phone call or the giving of a birthday card or a few words of kindness or giving someone a decent burial.

And if I should ever feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world and ask myself ‘who am I to make a difference’ I could just as easily say, ‘who am I not to”!

Emma - Stories of Hope Irish Chaplaincy Vera - Stories of Hope - Irish Chaplaincy

To read these stories in full, go to our Homepage and click on ‘Stories of Hope’.

 

 

Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

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