In praise of trudging buddies

A few years ago, I was a member of a support group, trying to help an alcoholic friend with his recovery. My friend had several relapses, and after his latest one, in a moment of vexation, I asked another member of the group, “What are we going to do? Nothing seems to be working!” He replied to me, “Look. I’m an alcoholic myself. All I know what to do is to not give up on him, to walk along with him. I’m his trudging buddy.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Trudging buddy. I was talking with Tess, a school counsellor I know, working in an extremely difficult and violent school district. She told me of a young boy who came into her office overwhelmed by life. He lived in Mexico with his parents and 6 siblings until the drug cartel kidnapped and killed his father. Often his school would close, for days at a time, as the cartel would enter his town and go from door to door threatening, killing and kidnapping people. When another cousin was killed and his own sister was threatened, his mother fled to Los Angeles, crossing the border illegally, to live with a cousin and her 5 family members in a one-room apartment. When one of the men began to act improperly toward her daughter, his mother moved the family to a storage unit where they lived for a brief time. When they ran out of money, they were evicted, and their possessions thrown away. He was currently living in a car.

I asked Tess what could she do in the face of so immense a problem? These were her words describing what her staff must do.

This job of mine is wonderful, it’s glorious, it’s painful, it hurts and then the moment is gone. And then the next child comes through the door. With all the torment and difficulty, the road we walk on is such a sacred road. It is the silent plodding of the people who are marching it. It is the wiping of the nose, wiping the behinds, drying tears, listening with compassion to terrible stories, and so many are doing it, some with uncertainty, some with the best of intentions, but they’re doing it, and maybe not with a halo over their heads and there is no applause or recognition for what they do, but they do it. There are days when they don’t want to do it, but they do, and maybe especially when it hurts. The older you are, the more you accumulate in life. The joy and hurt and the love you’ve lost and gained and you’re tempted not to give any more because you know what’s coming next and still you do it and you wait to embrace what’s next. It’s wonderful. It’s glorious. It hurts.

May God send us all trudging buddies like these.

Fr. Jim