For the last week or so, something has been telling me to check on my neighbor Ruth. Every night when I got home, I’d think about walking over to her house and knocking on the door. But I kept putting it off. It can always wait another day.
Ruth has lived near me several years. She’s in her mid 50s and lives alone. I originally got to know her because she has two young granddaughters who like to ask Lucy to stop and see them when they’re at Ruth’s house.
About six months ago, a man moved in with Ruth and I soon met him. He seemed nice enough. He was her ex-husband — and they were trying to see whether they could get back together again. As I talked to both of them over the coming weeks — sometimes individually and sometimes together — I knew it wasn’t going to work.
Ruth kicked him out about six weeks ago. She briefly told me that when I saw her on the street one day, but I didn’t have time to stop to chat about it then. But I’d been having a strange feeling lately that I needed to check on her.
I finally got home tonight about 8:30, but I didn’t even go inside. I left my things in the car and walked straight to Ruth’s house and knocked on the door.
When she got to the door, I could tell she was down.
She was pulling on a mask, because she said she had been around someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and she hadn’t gotten results back from the test she took to make sure she doesn’t have it. Since she was afraid for me to get too close to her, we stood on her porch in the unseasonably comfortable evening breeze.
She told me what I had already suspected — that her ex-husband had been abusive before and that he had already gotten emotionally abusive this time. She said she felt relieved to have him gone, but said she was depressed about being alone. She’s been looking into getting counseling, but she’s having trouble finding the right help.
Then she told me why she had allowed her ex to come back in the first place. She had gotten so lonely — so much in need of some sort of companionship — that she tried to kill herself last year. She said that allowing her ex to return was a desperation response to hitting that low point.
I asked her how I could help and she just asked me to pray for her. I promised that I’d do that, but I asked if there was anything else I could do, too.
She started crying.
“You knocking on the door tonight was the best thing you could do,” she said through tears. “I’ve been really alone and I feel isolated except for work. It means a lot to me that you came over here to say you care about me. I feel so alone.”
We talked for a few more minutes — about the past abuse, about what she had just gone through with the ex, and about the issues she wants counseling about.
I reminded her that she has my phone number and I asked her to call me if she just wants to talk. I told her I can’t promise to solve her problems, but I can listen — and I can promise that I care about her.
Any mention of me caring about her made her cry harder. I think she’s just gotten so far down — and feels so alone — that it was hard for her to believe anyone really cared.
When it was time to leave, I came close and told her to hold her breath, because I was going to give her a hug. As I put my arm around her shoulder and squeezed, I could feel her chest heaving as she cried harder. Her fingers gripped my arm tightly.
And then I was off. I wasn’t there for much more than 10 minutes.
I walked back to my house looking around at all the other houses, filled with people who are doubtlessly hiding secrets of their own. How many are unhappy? How many are lonely? How many might try suicide?
I’m not under the impression that I can save the world. I’m not even under the impression that I can save Ruth. But I know there are hurting people all around me — and a lot of them would be better if they knew someone cared.
Ruth needed to know that someone cared about her tonight. She needed a hug. It won’t solve her problems, but she needed human empathy and a warm human touch.
There might be someone in your life who needs you. If a little voice in your heart tells you to go check on someone, listen to the voice. Tell someone you care. Give a hug. You never know how much comfort you might provide to someone in a moment of serious need.