The time and temperature sign read 28 degrees last Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. The setting of the sun made it feel colder. A line of people sitting on concrete with their backs against brick walls would have seemed to make it feel even colder. But there was a sense of community that was heart-warming.
Last weekend Salina hosted the Missions of Mercy Dental Clinic at our Bicentennial Center. Dental services were offered free of charge on a first come first serve basis beginning at 4:30 a.m. on Friday and ending at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. The first people lined up on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.
With temperatures forecasted to dip well below freezing for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, some friends and I headed over Wednesday night to serve hot chocolate and pizza to those who would be out in the elements for nearly 48 hours. We made sure they had hats and gloves and their fill of hot chocolate. We learned where they were from and what they were anticipating having done. Many were there to have their teeth pulled.
My friends and I left grateful and a little bit sad. We returned to heated homes with every convenience. Most of us had taken our dental care for granted. Now, our new friends were the last people most of us thought of before we went to sleep and the first people we thought of when we woke up. I learned later that one of my friends dropped off a thermos full of mocha coffee on her way to work on Thursday for a girl who said it was her favorite. She left it outside her tent with a note attached.
Thursday night, those same friends and a few more joined me to once again take hot chocolate and snacks to the growing number of people lining up to ensure themselves one of the first places. This time I also took hats, gloves, hand warmers and foot warmers. Those were gone before we reached the end of the line. The recipient of the mocha coffee hugged me when she saw me again. She asked me if I saw the comment on Salina Shares’ Facebook page thanking us for our kindness the night before. I told her, yes, I had seen it. She told me it was from her mom in Wichita, so happy that people were looking out for her daughters.
As we went down the line, we were touched by the kindness we witnessed and received. People were truly looking out for one another. They were sharing what they had, however little it may have been. Towards the end of our time there a young couple arrived and made their way around the building to the back of the line. They came with nothing to sit on, no blankets or warm coats, completely unprepared for the harsh cold. One couple near them had two blankets and gave them one. In another part of the line we met a single man who had ordered a pizza and after eating a couple slices, went to those around him in line to see if anyone else wanted some. As we were about to leave, one of my friends handed me a ten dollar bill that had been given to her from someone she served hot chocolate to. They wanted to contribute toward what we were doing.
More than one person asked me who we were with and why we were there. We told them we were from Salina Shares and we were there because when we thought of them lining up outside, we knew they would be cold. We knew the hot chocolate was a temporary solution, but we hoped it would warm them up for a little while and let them know people care.
It’s called empathy and it really is that simple. It is what will finally move us out of our living rooms, conference rooms, or church sanctuaries to reach out to others. It is what will move us from gratitude for what we do have, to actually giving away what we have. Empathy will move us right out of our comfort zones.
Henri Nouwen once wrote that “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world, but leads us deeper into it.” I have definitely found this to be true. In the process, I have also learned much about how to be community from people like the dental clinic clients, my Laundry Love friends, and residents of the Del Rey trailer park. I am convinced that they can teach my friends and I a thing or two.
Connecting with community and spiritual service can be as simple as cocoa on a cold night.
Abundantly Blessed by Those Teaching Me,