When David Brooks travels the country, he seeks out the good news. The bad news is all too easy to find.
As a New York Times columnist writing about the social sciences, Brooks logs many miles for his reporting and speaking circuit. The 57-year-old father is keenly aware of the deep political fissures that upend kitchen tables and family reunions. He hears from parents whose children took their own lives. He talks to families whose loved ones overdosed on drugs. And he asks himself: what now?
“Aren’t we all called at moments like these to do something extra?” Brooks wrote last month in a column.
Despite the isolation darkening and defining our era, he noticed, every community has “weavers” who stitch together the social fabric. There’s the vet he met in New Orleans who helps other mentally ill vets, the Chicago woman looking out for neglected kids in her neighborhood, the guy who runs a boxing gym in Appalachian Ohio where he teaches young men about boxing and about life.
Brooks founded a program called “Weave: The Social Fabric Project” to help us more broadly replicate these community builders. He has synthesized their observations: “The phrase we heard most was ‘the whole person.’ Whether you are a teacher, a nurse or a neighbor, you have to see and touch the whole person – the trauma, the insecurities and the dreams as much as the body and the brain.”
This language rings of Catholic social teaching, though the program is secular in scope. And Brooks points the way by identifying a crucial skill of weavers: the ability to listen.
The weavers who come to mind, when I consider this classification, are Catholic sisters. This March, as part of Women’s History Month, we celebrate their impact with National Catholic Sisters Week. While lay people honor their legacy, women religious are hosting events of their own – not to pat themselves on the back but to pay it forward, to continue their work of healing a fractured nation. Many center on listening.
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa, for instance, are launching a “Listen Up!” campaign to encourage deep listening among people of all backgrounds. The Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, meanwhile, will lead a workshop on civil discourse, providing tools to address controversial topics. And Carmelite sisters in Baltimore are inviting teens to their monastery for a retreat that will help them learn to listen to God’s voice. This has become more difficult now that young adults have cell phones, “a 24/7 public-opinion poll in their pockets,” said Sister Cecilia Ashton, a retreat organizer.
Here in my hometown, Sister Rosalind Gefre, CSJ, is gearing up for her 27th season with the St. Paul Saints, a minor-league baseball team. The 89-year-old dynamo who stands less than five feet tall will be perched behind a massage chair near the stadium’s front entrance, loosening strained muscles. But she treats the whole person. Her healing touch extends beyond her strong hands to her listening ear.
Some people air their grievances with the Catholic Church. Others lament the state of their marriage and their bank account.
“People need to talk,” Sister Rosalind said. “They need to share some of that pain. They’ll say, ‘While you’re massaging me, will you pray for me?’ And everybody gets a hug in the massage chair.”
Yes, these are the weavers, the ones who knead our knots as they knit us together. In these troubled times, they are our hope.
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota