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Covid, Isolation and Integration

Hilde, it’s the laugh, a presence, good humor and concern for others. You meet her and you’re marked for life. But during this pandemic that has hindered the entire world for more than a year, isolation plagues many…Hilde included.

First of all, let’s place our article in context. Hilde is single; she lives alone. After having lived for 20 years in Brakel, she moves to Heusdon-Zolder, the other side of the country, at the end of 2019. In her new city, she doesn’t know anyone except for the other participants of the Community project that she is joining. She has a thirst to integrate herself deeply into her new environment, to be of service to people, to reflect Christ to those that she will meet. The moving boxes are finally empty, it’s time to open the door and to respond concretely to God’s call…and then confinement, and a second one, as well as numerous governmental measures that change the game.

“I miss people.”

“It’s been some months since I’ve been able to invite almost no one to my home,” Hilde begins her story. “Everyday, I see people interposed on the computer screen, but that’s not enough: I need real contact. I spend days alone with myself!” Even though the frustrations are present, Hilde refuses to be let down. In March 2020, she offers her services to her closest neighbors, signs up on a volunteer site, and finishes by providing online tutoring for five siblings. When the sanitary measures are lifted at the beginning of summer, Hilde meets some city officials—maybe she could finally be able to integrate? Some options are offered to her but nothing seems to fit her. Suddenly Belgium imposes the second confinement. A difficult blow for Hilde, who thinks she can’t endure it, but who clings to the promises that she reads in God’s word.

“Some options I had never thought of.”

During the second confinement, Hilde receives an invitation to volunteer at a retirement home. An invitation she had already received during the summer, but which she had declined. She already had many contacts with elderly people as she also cares for her aging parents. And maybe it would be more effective to build relationships with younger people where she could discuss her faith. But this time, she accepts, persuaded that this is coming from God. It’s a revelation: “In fact,” she recalls, “being surrounded by people 80-years old and older, is to discover the wealth of their experiences in life. I realize that my presence reduces their sense of isolation, a mutual feeling. And I also share in the daily life of the nursing staff.” Hilde is delighted with her experience, to the point of envisioning pursuing it for the long term, even when Covid will be long behind us.

“Integration and the disappearing fishbowl.”

Integration, the anecdote for isolation? Like a fish that leaves the fishbowl that he has always known in order to venture into the vaste unknown of the ocean, Hilde changed regions to meet people. “In the past, my life and my agenda centered on the needs of believers. One day, I understood that the Lord has called us to integrate into the lives of those around us—and not to wait for them to visit us in our fishbowl.” Leave our fishbowl? Never to return? Hilde’s response is clear: “Perhaps we shouldn’t have a fishbowl at all. Just be fish who swim in the ocean with the other fish, because that’s where God has placed them. Regularly, they get together in a beautiful place in the ocean to swim together and glorify their Creator. The fish that don’t know the Lord can observe them, sometimes from a distance, then they get closer little by little. And this reconciliation will certainly be easier without having to pass by the narrow opening of the fishbowl.” So, no more evangelization? “The Lord will take care of it,” she affirms. “The important thing is to reflect Him wherever we are, even without words. It’s necessary that our presence becomes His presence. By integrating, I meet people where they are and they meet me. We are all on the same level.” Even her way of praying has developed differently. Instead of targeting this person or that subject, Hilde has started the habit of asking the Lord to make her a little more sensitive each day to His voice so that He guides her where she would be useful to Him: “It’s in this way that I found my self a volunteer at the retirement home,” she concludes.

Interview by: Eunice Parodi


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