In 2014, Sanjay Gupta and Oprah launched the “Just Say Hello” campaign. They did so after learning that loneliness has been on the rise in our society and that loneliness, more than many other common health problems, can actually be life-threatening. In an interview about the campaign, Oprah said that each one of us has at our core a need to be seen and heard, and just saying hello in there—to a friend, a stranger, a coworker, anyone—can be a more profound gift than we might imagine.
I recently read a moving story of a student who encountered a homeless man at Dunkin Donuts. The student had a dollar in change, so she grabbed the man a cup of coffee and a donut and just sat with him for a bit. He shared about how he had fallen on hard times and about the anger he experienced at his situation, and all she did was listen. When she went back to class, the man pressed a crumpled-up piece of paper into the palm of her hand. It said this:
“i wanted to kill myself today. Because of u i now do not. Thank u, beautiful person.”
We never know how much hope can be offered in a simple “hello in there,” in a cup of coffee and a listening ear, for a person who is deeply lonely.
Of course, this sort of miraculous intervention may not be possible in all or even many cases when someone is suicidal. We all know friends and family of people who have taken their own lives who torture themselves over what they could have done or said differently to prevent their loved one’s suicide, but although we can extend love and care to people in hopes that they will receive it, we cannot control how and if they will accept our “Hello in there” or if it will make any difference to them. That is part of the deep mystery of being broken human beings. We just say hello, not to fix another person or to secure some outcome in his or her life, but because we are made for each other and are called one body in Christ.
Our Scripture for tonight, as short as it is, is one of my favorite Bible verses. It comes after a long treatise on the functions of the body—not just the human body, but the body of Christ. And this verse encapsulates how the different parts of the body operate one with the other—“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.”
There is something at work here that is deeper than the physical connectedness of an actual body; it has to do with pain and with joy, with sorrow and with celebration.
Marina Keegan was a senior at Yale when she wrote her final piece for the school newspaper, called “The Opposite of Loneliness.” In it, she points out that we don’t really have a word for the opposite of loneliness. If we were to make suggestions, we might say that “company” is the opposite of loneliness—but many of us have had the experience of feeling deeply lonely in a room full of people or even in the company of family and friends. We might say that “love” is the opposite of loneliness, or “community,” and that gets closer, but it’s not quite right. What Marina said was that the opposite of loneliness is “this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.”
That’s sort of what the body metaphor is getting at—that we are all tied to one another, that the fate of one is the fate of all, that what happens to one part of the body is experienced by the whole rest of the body.
Some of us might have different reactions to the idea that we are one body. Sometimes it might make us think of the movie High School Musical, where a group of impossibly beautiful teenagers dance around their gym singing “We’re All in This Together.”
And sometimes it might make us think of that group project we had to do in school where that one kid was not doing his fair share of the work and it got everyone else a bad grade, or when that one colleague doesn’t meet her deadline and puts everyone else behind.
Being the body, being in it together, is not always fun. In fact, sometimes it is deeply painful—but part of the reason the body is there is to absorb our individual and collective pain and to offer healing and restoration to the whole.
Last night at Church Council, Jonathan Brake thanked some of our leadership for the support he and his family have received in the wake of the devastating loss of their 11-year-old son, Sam. He shared about his experience being in church for the first time since Sam’s death this past Sunday, and that after worship, many members came to hug him and offer him condolences. Toward the end of the line, one woman came forward and said to him, “I know you’ve had a lot of hugs. But I need to hug you, for me.”
And in sharing that, Jonathan cited our verse from 1 Corinthians—that when one part suffers, all suffer together with it. Though the pain felt by Jonathan, Alisa, Bethany, Katie Grace, and Alison is sharper and deeper than what many of us could imagine, their pain reverberates throughout the whole body. Each part feels it in their own way, whether through empathy or by identifying with an old wound or loss of their own. The bad news is that we all suffer, but the good news is that we do it together.
The Situationist International was a group of social revolutionaries organized in Europe in the late 50s that remained active until the early 70s. My fiancé, Colin, can better explain the finer points of their political theory if you’re interested, but what I’ve grabbed on to are some of the slogans they used in their avant-garde movements. My favorite is, in French, “Cela nous concerne tous”—meaning, “This concerns everyone.”
For me, “This concerns everyone” is a much more direct way of saying, “We’re all in this together.” It tells me that even if I cannot think of any possible way some situation could affect me, I’m wrong. It tells me that if I’m wondering whether something should concern me, it should; if I’m not wondering if something should concern me, I should be. The heroin epidemic in America concerns everyone. The Syrian refugee crisis concerns everyone. The problem of gun violence in Chicago concerns everyone. The controversy over voter ID laws in North Carolina concerns everyone. What happens to you and your family, whether good or bad, concerns everyone.
So, yeah, sometimes “Just Say Hello” isn’t enough—sometimes we have to stand where others are standing and lift where they’re lifting, because what happens to them happens to us. But sometimes a “Hello in there” is all we can do, or even the very best we can do.
I shared last fall about a little boy that our mission team met on a trip to Haiti. He never told us his name or really said much of anything—all he did was ask for chocolate, so we’ve taken to calling him “Chocolat,” the French word he used in his request.
We learned later that he comes from an unimaginably difficult home situation, and on top of that, he is bullied regularly by neighborhood kids. They call him a Creole insult that means “slipper’s noise”—implying that he is less important than the flip-flop of a sandal on the ground. What we were told was that for us to say hello to him, to hold his hand, was to tell him that he mattered. It was to allow him to be seen and heard in a world that did neither for him.
Jesus came to be with us, to offer his body up for our sakes so that we might become one body in him; so that we might know and believe that we are all in this together; so that what concerns one of us might concern all of us; so that we might each be seen and heard and known and loved. And just as we suffer and celebrate with one another, so God suffers and celebrates with us—and it is in doing those things together that we find healing.
Everybody needs somebody—and together, we are all one body. We’re all in this together. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sarah S. Howell