We think of “being present” for the other as being available to hear them and be with them. We say we reach out to them but often we are really offering to wait for them to come to us. I have learned that is not enough. Offering to be there is a far cry from going to where they are. And I have also learned that when someone needs another, they rarely have the presence of mind to reach out to someone else, instead they are trapped, caught in a place of aloneness.
A friend recently lost a son, a tragedy that words cannot adequately describe. He was loved by many, as was his mother, my friend. People packed both the funeral and the Shiva minyanim, expressing their love and support. At one minyan, I approached my friend and I said in earnest, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” She responded, “Thanks, you’re the third rabbi who has made that offer tonight.” She was appreciative, but her matter-of-fact response was very instructive.
Two weeks later I called her. She had heard that I weaved the story of her son into a sermon and was overflowing with gratitude that I had remembered her and him. The simple act of making a phone call, reaching out to her, rather than sitting waiting for her to call me, was received as a profound gesture of caring. In those few minutes I truly did something important and meaningful. I went to her and provided comfort. Realistically, she never would have called me, and it was unrealistic for me to think otherwise. She was unable to reach out to me. Whether we are providing pastoral care or being a friend, it is what we do that makes the difference in the lives of others.