Kerry Alys Robinson

It is always possible

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I have been caring for my closest friend, a Catholic priest, since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in early January. Helping him absorb the implications of such difficult news, accompanying him to doctor’s appointments and treatment, and ensuring there is humor and hope, encouragement and empathy each day has been deeply meaningful and excruciatingly heartbreaking.

Working with Father Bob Beloin 20 years ago to expand Catholic life on Yale University’s campus gave me a privileged glimpse into the life of the consummate priest. He, the hardest working priest I have ever known, boasts, “I’ve never worked a day in my life,” so fully does he love the priesthood. Yet he has never been off duty. He has always been available to anyone in need of his uncommonly healing pastoral care.  

I learned, while bearing witness to his ministry, that everyone is carrying something. There is true human pain, often invisible, within the minds and hearts and sometimes bodies of everyone you encounter.

For this reason, our friend Bishop Peter Rosazza urges, “Never add to the burden of others or take away their joy.”

During these months of nearly unbearable personal sorrow right in the midst of grace and the beauty of friendship, I have been astonished at the powerful impact of unalloyed kindness. 

There is the example of Ronnie Meder and his teammates from Yale’s Ivy League championship football team, who carried Father Bob in his wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs every day for weeks so that we could get him to treatment while we awaited the installation of a customized lift. These strong, compassionate students were never late and made it seem as though it was Father Bob doing them a favor, assisting with their strengthening and conditioning. 

There is the generosity of exquisite talent by composer Julian Revie, mezzo-soprano Karolina Wojteczko and members of the St. Thomas More Chapel choir, directed by Richard and Evie Gard, who perform 20-minute concerts of sacred music and transportive arias in his living room. 

There is Father Bob’s brother, who left his home and life in Florida to move into the chaplain’s residence to care for him with a magnanimity that is breathtaking. There are the hundreds of people who have prepared meals, sent flowers, written heartwarming letters, brought Communion and prayed daily for healing and comfort and peace.

These days I am on the look-out for signs of grace and God’s mercy. They are everywhere, especially in the seemingly unremarkable acts of charity — a kind word, patience, encouragement, understanding.

I leave Father Bob’s residence, already tears beginning to fill my eyes now safely out of his view. It is unseasonably hot. 

A mother and her young son, saddled with grocery bags, stop to ask if they are walking in the correct direction to their destination many blocks away. I begin to answer and then, mindful of the compelling beauty of the mercy that has been so evident these months, I offer to drive the mother and son to their destination. They hesitate and then accept, grateful for the cool air in the car and the distance it has spared them walking. 

As they take leave, before the little boy gathers up his many bags, he throws his arms around me and says, “Thank you.” But it is they who have given me the blessing.

Everyone carries something and even the greatest pastoral leaders among us can’t truly know the extent and specificity of others’ suffering. Nor can we ever know the difference kindness makes in any given moment. 

I tell Father Bob I am writing about kindness. Lucid and wise, he remarks that you never know the impact of one encouraging word, one kind intervention or one merciful action.

“Be kind whenever possible,” he quotes the Dalai Lama. “It is always possible.”