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How to be a better Good Samaritan


Photo by Ruths138

Photo by Ruths138

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help?

Several years ago, when my Dad was in the early stages of dementia, he lost most of his Christian friends. The reason was simple: They were too uncomfortable with his symptoms to be a friend to him during his life’s biggest, darkest, and final struggle.

So I contacted everyone I could think of at his church, and couldn’t believe the excuses they gave for keeping their distance–leaders included. As one of them so eloquently stated, “I’m not going to babysit.” A handful of people tried to help, but most of those same people also defended the excuses we were hearing.

We eventually found a long-term friend for Dad and regular, ongoing emotional/spiritual support for my parents from two other churches in town. Finally, we had found Christians who wanted to treat Dad with dignity, and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives! Then, amazingly, near the end of Dad’s time at home before moving to a nursing home, three people from his original church kindly came alongside him.

I share this so the other side of the story can be heard. And here’s the thing all Good Samaritans seem to know: When we fail to obey God’s command to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

Our faith, like western society, is terribly individualistic. So please humor me as I repeat: When we fail to love our neighbor, our sin isn’t just between us and God.

What happens when we pass by someone who needs our help? What’s it like for those people? We shield ourselves from those thoughts. It’s too uncomfortable, too convicting to realize that our sin has tangible, painful, and sometimes disastrous consequences for the people we overlook.

I wish Dad hadn’t spent the last years of his life aching for the sense of community that should’ve embraced him all along, and believe me, this is a lesson my family will never forget.

Sometimes we have only one chance to be a light in someone’s life, and sometimes we might be the only one to notice that person’s suffering. If we pass them by, the consequences are permanent.

So let us rethink the story of the good Samaritan and our own role in that story. When we cross paths with someone lonely or in need, let’s resolve to treat our opportunity with the gravity and careful thought it deserves.

Let’s start recognizing the difference between our excuses and legitimate reasons for not being able to help. When we’re being honest with ourselves, if we realize that we really can help, then let’s roll up our sleeves and enjoy the surprises and blessings God has in store for us along the way.


A musical Mennonite, the sound of silence, and the hokey pokey

photo © 2010 gerbor, Flickr

photo © 2010 gerbor, Flickr

I have no doubt I inherited my love of music from my Dad. He grew up singing in a quartet with his dad and brothers, trained professionally as an opera singer before switching to a career in ministry, and conducted many choirs over the years. The rest of my family is no less musical – Dad’s twin brother did, in fact, have a long and successful career as an opera singer in Europe. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents also sang in quartets, conducted choirs, wrote music, and played instruments. We Mennonites have inherited a rich musical heritage.

So it’s no surprise that, as a kid, I listened to music and loved to sing along. I had many favourites, Raffi and Sesame Street among them. As a teen I sang in choirs at school and church. At home, I spent hours alone in my room with the stereo blasting one Christian rock band or another. And in university, I studied guitar – classical and electric – and listened to folk, celtic, and oldies, like the Rankin Family, Enya, and ABBA.

Then, when I came down with chronic pain, I found that worship music got me through the darkest times. Later on, in an especially painful dating relationship, my tastes switched and singers like Dido and Evanescence kept me company. And all the way through, of course, Dad’s own voice and his musical favourites – the Gaithers, Steve Green, opera, and country music – were a staple in our home.

But when Dad came down with dementia, as I watched him lose bits of himself on a daily basis and I began to grieve those losses, my tastes switched again. To silence. For the first time in my life, I lost interest in music. You see, I couldn’t listen to moving or meaningful lyrics anymore. They stirred up too many emotions for me during a time when I was already overwhelmed by the deep, difficult emotions I slogged through every minute of every day.

Lyrics that were trite, materialistic, and romantic also hit me in all the wrong ways. I couldn’t listen to people obsess over normal, everyday stuff – it reminded me that most of society didn’t understand the heart-wrenching, mind-bending daily grind of a family carrying a loved one along the road of dementia. This type of music declared society’s ultimate values, and its general apathy towards the problems faced by families like mine.

Even instrumental pieces, if they sounded overly melancholy, chaotic, or epic, were too much for me. My brother, who listens to movie and television soundtracks, has learned to skip the ‘sad’ and ‘heavy’ songs if I’m in the room.

There were a few exceptions: Classical and jazz were usually easy to listen to. Also, when I was looking after Dad on a daily basis, we’d often take in free classical concerts in the community. Two of those stand out to me: I lost myself at a fantastic jazz concert put on by a local university music professor. And I found myself thoroughly enchanted by a string quintet’s performance of Peter and the Wolf.

But for the most part, I listened to the sound of silence. (Not the song. Actual silence.) By the time I was expecting my son, I had read numerous articles on the benefits of playing music to babies in utero. I liked the idea of this, and deliberated over the styles and composers to prioritize on the playlist. But I kept forgetting, because I was so used to silence by then.

In spite of my quiet ways, though, today my now-two-year-old son is a music lover, and in that he takes after his Grandpa Friesen and the rest of his music-loving Mennonite family. And while I still don’t listen to music for my own sake, I find myself happiest with the music my little boy introduces into my life.

And you should see him dance the hokey pokey.


When Duty Becomes a Friend

Megan Follows as Anne Shirley and Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables

Megan Follows as Anne Shirley and Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert in Kevin Sullivan’s “Anne of Green Gables”

How sadly things had changed since she had sat there the night after coming home! Then she had been full of hope and joy and the future had looked rosy with promise. Anne felt as if she had lived years since then, but before she went to bed there was a smile on her lips and peace in her heart. She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend–as duty ever is when we meet it frankly. – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

At this moment in the story, not long after Matthew’s death, Anne decides not to go to college in favour of staying home to take over the work of running Green Gables, thereby also saving Marilla’s eyesight.

That last part of the quote, about finding duty a “friend,” makes perfect sense to me after having made a similar decision to stay home as a caregiver for my Dad a few years ago.

It certainly came at a cost. I was in grad school, and delayed graduation meant taking on a significant amount of added student debt, not to mention losing a year of income at a new job. It also meant my husband and I delaying our plans to have a family, which might not seem like a big deal until you read about the risks of having children in your late 30s.

But one morning when I was with Dad, as I felt the sting of my circumstances, I also felt deeply privileged to be there for him at this vulnerable time in his life, especially after everything he had done for me over the years.

In that moment, and afterwards, I considered my duty a friend. And although I still feel the sting of that sacrifice, I’ve never regretted my decision.


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