During my two years as an IVC volunteer, I served at Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly, an organization dedicated to providing friendship and relieving loneliness among seniors. Years later, I am still involved there as a volunteer. There is a beautiful motto to guide all who work with isolated and lonely elders: “Flowers before Bread.” This means that love, dignity and beauty are as essential to our lives as our physical needs. Bringing love and beauty is what we do through visiting our elders in their homes, taking them out to celebrations of life, and becoming their friends. After every party, they leave with a fresh flower to take home: usually a rose, our symbol.
Jesus would have fit right into Little Brothers. He seemed to have always enjoyed celebrations (weddings) and meals (Passover) with his friends. I like to imagine that there was always room at His gatherings. I thought of this as I kept trying to schedule outings with Edna, one of my assigned elders. Though I would offer to take her out, she often just wanted me to visit at her place. So, sharing a lunch I had picked up, consisting of her favorite sandwich, became a familiar pattern in our friendship. We would eat from the to-go packaging that is common to take-out eateries. At one of our visits, she commented that she had no matching set of dishes for her table. All the elders get a Christmas gift in December. So that Christmas I arranged for Edna to receive place settings through the Little Brothers Gift Program.
When I arrived in January for a visit, she sat at her dining room table with the biggest grin. There, for us to use for our take-out lunch, were the four place settings of her new dishes around the table. All of them were arranged as artfully as in any store. But this surprise was not just for me. She told me that at each meal, she sits in a different chair before her new place settings. Then at the next meal, she moves to a new chair and circulates all around the table until all the settings are used. She washes them as she goes and sets them out and starts all over.
Dignity and beauty before sustenance. All of our elders have a place at our organization’s table. But they make a place at their table for us everyday by opening up their hearts to us. It isn’t about the bread we break together—it is the love, trust and friendship. Jesus knew that we do not live by bread alone. Our elders know that, too.
Vicky Risacher is a member of the Regional Council for the Chicago Chapter of IVC. She divides her volunteer time between visiting Elders, singing at Old St. Patrick’s Church and assisting visitors to Chicago at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.