“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote poet Robert Frost of non-essential boundaries that neighbors maintain to reassure themselves of the lines that keep them safe from one another. His poem, “Mending Wall,” is a reflection on a springtime ritual whose meaning and utility he begs to question even as he admits that winter rituals — hunters’ romps for one — have left gaps.

The poetic narrative takes us on an Emmaus in which each neighbor walks and talks the length of their property line on either side of the wall meant to clarify it, picking up and replacing displaced rocks and stones. Musing at one point what’s the bother, the poet dares ask the question “why.” To which the neighbor responds, in effect, “we’ve always done it that way,” proudly quoting an ancestral aphorism:

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

You may have been told or read somewhere recently that you or I are classified non-essential. If you ask “why” you will (essentially) be told someone said so. What you may think important is not deemed so by someone more important whose business is about deciding such things. Examples abound of the failing, flailing attempts to take control of the uncontrollable as new hierarchies are erected, defined by such privileges as who gets to wear what mask style or none at all.

One may be phased out or phased in, somewhat like a station that is entertained or rejected for long or short spells by the tyrant of the remote controller sharing the popcorn with you on the sofa. Don’t ask why; this, too, shall pass. For he or she does not know why either and will forget when the next button is pressed.

There is a science to all of this, butscience is never settled since new facts are always being discovered. Uncertainty often generates the need to be assured, or reassured, there is an unchangeable order. If anything, the experience of this pandemic can teach us a little humility in the face of what we knew. Or thought we knew.

Much like the weather that everyone talks about, but no one actually does anything about, we cannot find a simple answer to the mystery in which we are living. There is a tragic comedy in comparing and contrasting contradictory statements of those trying to take charge each day, hoping we will forget what they said yesterday and seeking to gain cred by discrediting another seeking cred, based on who said what earlier or later than the other. It is both painful and amusing to behold.

Mother Teresa, it is said, once quipped that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Yes, there is something all too human about the desire, perhaps the need, to put order into our lives, to define what belongs here or there, and who gets to have how much of what. Sometimes that blessed rage for order leads to a felt need — that can morph into a demand — to define who is or is not essential to that order, who belongs to the human race and who does not, at least for now.

Our faith assures us of one thing: you are more than what they tell you. Your value cannot be measured in dollars and cents, in social utility, on your experience and job skills, the country you came from or the date of your birth. God loves each and every one of us and wants all of us to find the path to our heavenly home.

No one is “non-essential” in God’s eyes. Even those who may not share our faith cannot dispute that Jesus spent most of his public ministry in reaching out to those least valued in the society in which he lived — in any society at any time. Anyone who is currently unemployed — and we read that the figure is as high as 20 percent — may be tempted to harbor feelings of inadequacy or uselessness, particularly if he or she is responsible for feeding and clothing a family. It can be terrifying. Do not despair.

On Monday, I had the blessing of spending a rainy morning in the parking lot of our Pastoral Center where employees and volunteers, organized by the staff of Catholic Charities, came together to pack and distribute groceries packed from tons of donations by the Food Bank. The conversations I shared with those who came together to distribute the food and those who lined up in their cars or under their umbrellas to receive the food were heart-warming and soul-enriching.

I was amazed to hear how many of the volunteers were themselves furloughed or had lost their jobs. Somehow, they found it in their hearts to come out to help others who may or may not have been worse off, but there they were celebrating that greatest gift any human being can give, their personal presence. I cannot tell you how moved I was by hearing so many personal testimonies to how the Lord had entered lives in times of incredible crisis.

While the temptation may be understandable to turn inward as so many of us are in lockdown mode, our faith challenges us to move outward, to those most in need of signs of God’s love. Placing that phone call, writing that letter, cooking that soup for the forgotten neighbor has never been more urgent.

Even if one is not in a position to leave the home to do some form of community service, we should not underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. Chances are, in fact, that whether we know it or not, someone is praying for you and me at this very moment. If one is being tempted in some way, consider that there may be a saint in heaven even, perhaps a deceased friend or parent, interceding for us. Hang on to that prayer! Someone thinks you are pretty important.

St Térèse de Lisieux, the Little Flower, famously said, “I want to spend my eternity doing good on earth.” It matters to our brothers and sisters in heaven how we are doing in our daily lives. And while the saints pray for us, we can best thank them by joining with them in prayer for those around us most in need of our intercession. Even one Hail Mary for a person who pops into our mind could be an act of love that changes a life.

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