One of my favorite books is Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who, as she puts it, listens to people’s stories. She writes, “Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering… Real stories take time. We stopped telling stories when we started to lose that sort of time, pausing time, reflecting time, wondering time.”
I am now in a new life phase. In the last three years, I have moved that many times, including a frustrating eight months in a furnished house which was intended to be a 2-3-month stop between selling my house and moving back to Minnesota. I sat on furniture and slept in a bed that weren’t mine, surrounded by cardboard boxes that contained the familiar things of my past life. What had been intended as a short-term fix turned into an isolating, frustrating year.
Now I live in what will likely be my last home—a small rental cottage in a senior community in Rochester, NY. It is a city where I know a few people and where I hope to be able to pay the rent if I happen to live as long as my ancestors. However, it is an additional two hours away from old friends in the New Jersey Affiliate Chapter, whom I have tried to see once a year for the last 15 years, and six to seven hours away from happenings at Maryknoll.
So, in many ways it feels like my “telling-stories-time” is on the back burner, but not because I don’t have the “pausing time, the reflecting time, the wondering time” of which Remen writes. The task now is to seek like-minded people who are willing to sit around kitchen tables to tell me their stories and to listen to mine.
It is difficult, as one grows older, to make new relationships, and yet it is necessary, given the steady loss and erosion of long-time friends whose stories I knew so well and whose lives had intersected with mine for so many years.
These are some of my musings when I read in NSFA that Affiliates have been discussing a book they have read in common. I must confess this doesn’t hold much appeal for me. A virtual community, however, could be another matter—a sharing with others of my clumsy attempts to integrate into a new space and a new and confusing city, and of my attempts to be of service to others in a new way. I might like to tell them about my four Syrian women refugees who speak only enough English to respond to “What is your name?” (How I hope, someday, to listen to their stories!) And I’d like to hear others’ stories about how they continue to find ways to feel, and be, relevant—not just as a person but particularly as an older Affiliate.
As Affiliates, many of us have found ways to answer the call of Maryknoll—“to welcome the stranger and to walk with the people.” Members of the Sisters, Fathers and Brothers, and Lay Missioners often answer this call in the “field afar,” whereas most of us find the stranger, the deprived, the needy and lonely right here among us. Sometimes our answer to the call is short-term, like teaching English to new immigrants who then move on to self-sufficiency. Sometimes it’s visiting the incarcerated or working in a food pantry or offering rides to those without transportation.
Whatever form our answer to this call takes, it is a special way of accompaniment. Kitty Madden, whom many of us know and support, calls accompaniment a “bridging work.” For the past 30 years, she has been a bridge between Nicaraguan women who need care in their pregnancies and friends in the North who help her in this work by financially supporting Casa Materna or, as some Affiliates have done, by going to Nicaragua on short-term mission. Imagine the power of the accompaniment that has been given to over 17,000 mothers since the beginnings of this outreach.