Two and a half months ago, the members of ATD Fourth World Poland said goodbye to two volunteers, Pierre and Fabienne, who have been with us for eight years. They have helped us to build a vibrant network, planted new ideas, brought pride and dignity to many people. But there came the moment when they had to leave. There were other places they were needed, other people to meet and inspire.
You can imagine how difficult it is to say goodbye to someone who has been your mentor, companion and friend. Yet despite how difficult it was, we took the time to experience the moment of transition. There was a time to cry, to make speeches, to take photos, to have parties, to write down addresses, to remind ourselves that we will be needing support. Fabienne and Pierre had welcomed us into their life by telling us each day with their attitude and actions: “You are needed, worthy and I will be by your side”. But as they were leaving they kept saying to us: “I may be leaving, but you will always be a person who has made my life better and I believe you will now make the lives of other better”.
This message echoes in my heart, as my presence with people who are living in poverty is sometimes more like a roller coaster than a steady flowing river. There are days when I am more present and engaged. Sometimes I am scared, discouraged and I withdraw. I try to find the strength to stay, but now I think that if there moments I have to leave, I want to leave in a way that is full of care for the other.
ATD volunteers have taught me that to bring profound change to the cycle of exclusion and isolation, we need to change the relationships in our communities. I think that part of that is changing the way we say goodbye, so that despite the pain it carries, it can be an experience of profound connection.