The Power of Our Responses

How do you respond in the normal course? Are you empathetic? Resourceful? Singularly-focused? Kind? I’ve been stuck on this topic for weeks, ever since I heard a piece on NPR that talked about the impact of a single person’s response.  The story offered a rare glimpse into something we do effortlessly – instinctively – everyday. We respond. Transition has taught me something very important about responding. Through its lens, I now recognize that we choose how we respond in every moment, in every situation. Taken together, our responses represent an opportunity to telegraph to the world the fullness of who we are. How do you choose to respond?

A little light for the season!

The piece that started all this was NPR’s coverage of Plague, a podcast that explores the Catholic Church’s role in the AIDS epidemic. One of the earliest episodes features a story about Karen Helfenstein, a Sister of Charity nun in New York City in the 1980s.

In an important moment, Sister Karen responded. Genuinely. Differently. Expansively.

Her simple choice changed a community and its very history.

Sister Karen served as VP of Mission for St Vincent’s Hospital, a Greenwich Village institution that cared for the sick and dying throughout the early decades of the AIDS crisis.  Early on ACT UP, an advocacy group, staged a protest in the Emergency Department (ED) of the hospital. The protesters were furious over what they believed to be the hospital’s poor treatment of those suffering and of those who loved them. The protest got a little out of hand. Somewhere along the way protestors defaced a statue of Jesus Christ by affixing condoms to it.

Law enforcement was called. The protest turned ugly.

The act of affixing condoms on Christ was a flashpoint for both sides. To the gay community, the act symbolized their outrage over the Catholic Church’s stance against the distribution of condoms even though condoms were widely recognized as an important tool in preventing the spread of AIDS.  On the other side, few could envision a more egregious act than to deface the embodiment of Christ, let alone with condoms.

Sister Karen was charged with responding to the event on behalf of the hospital.

Many around her wanted the hospital to press charges against the protestors. These voices were incensed. Indignant.

It all hung on her response.

Instead of feeding off the crowd’s fury, she responded differently. Sister Karen invited community members – who at the time were ostracized by many in society – to talk with her about what happened and, more importantly, why it happened.

She held their hands as they described their pain. She listened as they talked about their fear and disbelief tied to a demon that was ravaging their community. Patients and their lovers drew parallels for Sister Karen between these feelings and how it felt as they walked through the doors of St Vincent’s to seek care.

Sister Karen’s – different, genuine, expansive – response started St Vincent’s on a path that years later established it as the standard-of-care for treating AIDS patients and their families.

Instead of anchoring on an image of a defaced Christ, Sister Karen’s response helped St Vincent’s create another new image: one that held the hand of the sick;  staged an infinite variety of birthday parties and last meals; and even created a new annual Holiday tradition, a visit from Drag Santa.

St. Vincent’s is gone now. Bull-dozed to make way for the neighborhood’s progress. But the response of Sister Karen lives on in the hearts and minds of those whom St Vincent’s touched.

The choices we have in front of us daily may not seem so highly-charged. But make no mistake, they all can be as influential. Our responses matter. Our willingness to bring who we are to the choice of how to respond has an unimaginable power.

This season I encourage you to bring your awareness to how you respond and to recognize the innumerable choices you face everyday related to responding. Without such reflection, we all risk leaving untapped the enormous potential that is resident within each of us.

I wish for you and those you love great peace and moments of joy this Holiday Season. Thank you for walking next to me as I continue to explore transition and as I embrace its invaluable gifts.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy Holiday Season,

Linda R.

linda@WomenAndTransition.com

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If you have a few minutes more, here are a few holiday posts from the Novofemina archive:

Choices and Teddy Bears, December 20, 2017

Leading with Gratitude, December 21, 2011

A Gift for You This Holiday Season, December 12, 2013

Simple Gifts…, December 24, 2015

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Copyright © 2019 Linda Rossetti & NovoFemina.com. All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

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