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Kaci Hickox is a 33 years old nurse who donated her time and risked her life to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. She recently spent a month taking care of the most vulnerable of our neighbors in West Africa. There the Ebola epidemic has killed over 5000 people in one of the most impoverished regions on earth.
The United Nations have said that unless the epidemic is stopped at its source, then the potential for spreading elsewhere is inevitable. The UN has challenged nations in developed countries to use their considerable resources to assist the poor countries in West Africa.
In response developed nations such as the United States and non-government groups like Doctors Without Borders have responded. Kaci Hickox is one of these heroic responders who has stepped away from her work in upstate Maine and risked her life to be of help.
Recently she returned without symptoms and was forced into a quarantine in New Jersey, simply because she had treated patients with Ebola. She took a medical test that tested negative for Ebola. Health care experts say that a person is only contagious when they are showing symptoms of Ebola and only when a person comes in contact with bodily fluids. Kaci Hickox shows no such signs and monitors her temperature and health regularly.
Under pressure from health experts Governor Christy of New Jersey allowed Kaci to return to her home in upstate Maine. Upon coming home to Maine, Governor Paul LePage fanned the flames of fear and ordered Kaci to be quarantined in her own home for 21 days. Kaci has responded by challenging the quarantine on the basis of science and on constitutional grounds.
Yesterday Kaci Hickox stepped out of her home and went on a bicycle ride through the rural streets of her neighborhood. Governor LePage and some in her community have derided her ‘for her reckless behavior’.
Health official have said that such unfounded fear fueled by politicians such as Governors Christy and LePage, has had a chilling effect on the need for volunteers to go to the source and stem this epidemic. Health officials have said that only about half of the badly needed 700 to 1000 foreign health workers have signed up.
Who can blame health professionals for not signing up? Not only are you asked to leave your family and work for on average a month and to put oneself at risk by treating contagious patients…now fear mongers back at home will require you to be quarantined and ostracized for an additional 21 days (even when there is no medical basis).
However in the midst of this culture of fear, we have heroic figures like Kaci Hickox. Her courage speaks to the very best in the human spirit. Her courage comes from a deep place of compassion for our most vulnerable of neighbors in West Africa. And, her courage comes from a deep seated understanding of our constitutional rights as a citizen of the United States to not stand silent as reckless politician like Paul LePage fans the flames of ignorance and fear.
I don’t know if Kaci Hickox is motivated by a faith life. But in her actions I see the spirit of Jesus at work who says in Matthew 25:40 ‘whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me’. I thank God for heroic figures like Kaci who risk their life for the common good.
A favorite boyhood memory is walking with my Dad, Norman along the beach. My grandmother had a cottage at Breakwater Village in Point Judith, Rhode Island. For two weeks in July my family would call that little cottage home.
Each morning my Dad would wake me up and after a quick breakfast, invite me to walk with him on the beach. For me it was a favorite time to explore what the sea had tossed upon the beach and to be with my Dad. One morning I remember seeing fishermen’s raincoats and boots the result of a boat that had gone aground in a storm the night before. Each found item fired my imagination.
My Dad and I would walk and scan the beach for shells and interesting shaped rocks and driftwood. Often I would collect shells to take home. But as I look back I was collecting memories simply walking and talking with my father.
A recent film (2013) ‘About Time’ written by Richard Curtis reminds me of those boyhood times. In this sweet film the main character Tim (actor Domhnall Gleeson),through the magic of Hollywood learns from his father (played by the wonderful actor Bill Nighy), that the men in their family are able to travel back in time. Specifically they are able to go back to any moment in their own life experience and relive it or alter it.
At first Tim dreams about accumulating money and fame. But his father who is a wise soul challenges him to use the gift to grow in matters of the heart, ‘that which is really of value’.
While the film is billed as a romantic comedy, with Tim’s love interest played by actress Rachel McAdams, it is especially about the gift of living well, the importance of relationships and the gift of memory. In one poignant scene as Bill Nighy’s character draws to the end of his life, he invites Tim to go back one last time to a beach where father and son can once again romp and play in the sand.
This beautiful film reminds us of what we know. That memory can continue to teach and restore us.
It has been 50 years since I walked on that beach with my Dad. ‘About Time’ reminds me that we too are time travelers and that in going back to our past we remember lessons that help us to live more fully in the present. Memories both happy and painful hold lessons to be learned. Even moments of grace.
The film resonates with parents (like me) for we too hope that our children will have good memories to return to, memories that bless and restore. To my Dad who passed away 14 years ago, I say: “Thanks Dad for taking me to the beach those early mornings. Thanks for listening to my questions, for being excited about what excited my eight year old heart. Thanks for encouraging me to continue looking with wonder at what the sea tosses upon the beach.”
I recently moved to a new community. The neighborhood I work in has a bustling downtown. Cabot Street features restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques that invite people to browse and visit. Often I cross paths with people I know, sometimes we offer a quick wave, often we stop and talk. One of the things I enjoy most about my neighborhood are the people I’m getting to know as friends.
Within the downtown are those less visible. They are our neighbors who are homeless. It is not uncommon for people to walk past the homeless as if they weren’t there. Perhaps we walk past because we think that their story is so different from our own? Perhaps we walk past because they remind us of our own vulnerability?
The church I serve has long been seen as a hospitable place for our neighbors on the street. We serve three meals per week for guests who are homeless or live on the margins. This past week we partnered with another church to house three families with ten children. Soon the winter weather will come and our most fragile friends will come seeking warmth,to use the restrooms or plug in a cell phone.
Providing hospitality isn’t easy. Some guests are active in their addiction or struggle with mental health issues. Sometimes we have to set boundaries for appropriate behavior.
Some churches lock their doors and see assistance as enabling. Some cities seek to criminalize the most vulnerable and force them into jails or to the next community.
I’m grateful for churches and communities that strive to provide a warm welcome and practical assistance. Gradually I’m getting to know the names and stories of my new neighbors on the street. I’m reminded that our stories have much in common.
Jesus in Matthew 25 says, ‘whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers, you do unto me’. Jesus identifies with the most vulnerable at the deepest of levels and invites us to do the same.
Recognizing one another as a neighbor has all sorts of implications. As we get to know and care about each other, we begin to see the complex issues that bring someone to the streets. We begin to explore what social services are necessary for a healthy community to provide, so that all our neighbors are treated with dignity. But it all begins by simply knowing each other’s name.