OVALS AND STAR FISH

I was having coffee with my friend Judy a few days ago. She was sharing a tough situation that had come across her desk and she just couldn’t let it go. While she was telling the story, I found myself getting frustrated. Not with Judy, but with the situation she was sharing.

This story wasn’t out of the ordinary. A 60+-year-old widow on a fixed income who maintains her own home the best she can, but runs into a rough month with unexpected expenses or simple repairs that she can’t afford.   I have friends and family with limited resources that run into tough times. It happens. But we are connected. And when someone I’m connected to hits hard times, we band together and pull each other through. Connection to each other saves us.

As a trained social worker, one of the first tools I learned to use with people was a resource map. Draw an oval in the middle of a blank page and write your name in it. Then draw lines extending from that oval with more ovals attached to them. In those you describe the people, groups, and places where you are connected. These are our available resources, valuable assets in our life where we can turn for support.

Listening to Judy that day, I realized I was frustrated because this story was just like so many other stories I was hearing among our Live Love neighbors, and I told her so. She was surprised and, I guess I was too a little bit, once I spoke it out loud. Older neighbors, often widowed, faced with hard times but nowhere to turn for help. What might normally be a minor set back, quickly turns in to a life-altering situation. With no tangible connection to community, or even extended family, they are left isolated and alone. The ovals on their resource map are blank. I don’t know where the family is, and I’m sure there are as many answers to that question as there are stories. But the truth in the end is still the same- they are alone.

And no one should be alone.

It’s crazy to think how many connections we have made from pulling weeds. I brag on our Chandler Code Inspectors when they share with us a new story of someone in need. A neighbor complains about the weeds in a lot and the inspector discovers it’s an older adult who’s really unable on his or her own to get out there and do the yard work anymore. So on our Saturday Service Day, we send some volunteers their way to get the job done and help avoid the fine.

Seems simple enough, until that volunteer takes a few minutes to talk with the neighbor. To learn more about their story. Not surprisingly, it’s always way more interesting than weeds. And once they hear the story, their name often finds its way into an oval connected to that neighbor.

Tracy and her family became connected with Ina Claire and her story. This eventually led to helping her move into an apartment when it was inevitable that she was going to lose her house and she had nowhere to go. Tracy and another volunteer, Sue, still help weekly with Ina Claire’s tasks and appointments.

They filled two ovals on her map.

John connected with 93-year-old Helen, and she calls him several times a week just to check in and talk about her “to do” list around the house. His name is now on Helen’s map. And I bet if you asked John, he would say Helen’s name is on his too.

Nanci connected with Bobbi, who on her own still manages a working farm with goats, pigs, and chickens. It’s hers; it’s all she has. And she longs to continue to care for it. So Nanci and other volunteers work in the pasture and on the home with her. Side-by-side. Because that’s what connection does to us.

It enables us to care.

We band together.

We fill in the ovals.

Connection saves us.

I can still here the voice from years ago that said to me, “You can’t save them all!” But my dear friend Becky always reminds me of the story of the starfish.   You know, the boy that finds all the starfish washed up on the beach and he starts to throw them back in, one at a time. An observer says, “There are way too many! You’ll never save them all!” To which the boy replies without hesitation, “Ya, but I saved THAT one.”

Connecting with others saves us all. But it’s not always easy. Remember, it’s messy.

I remember when Paul was learning what living love meant through his connection with Carlos back in Guatemala. Carlos would call or stop by his office…and in that moment Paul would tell me that a big piece of him did NOT want to answer. He knew the connection would interrupt something that day. It would probably even cost him something. But in the end, we both knew the cost was outweighed by what he gained: connection.

Who are you connected to? Or better yet, who, without your involvement, will remain unconnected…with empty ovals on their resource map? Your “starfish”. They are all over the beach waiting and hoping. Find one and pick it up. And if you really don’t know where to look, I bet I can find one for you!

Annabelle Chinchen