Showing Up for Others

Marlena Fiol
3 min readJan 31, 2022

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My father in Paraguay, South America, the year I was born — 1951

I have grandchildren who’ll likely be on the planet long after I’m gone. Frankly, their future frightens me.

We live in a world filled with overwhelming poverty, growing income disparity, increasing hatred and violence, and both human and environmental abuse.

History tells us that neither totalitarian control nor our capitalistic system is likely to solve the problems all around us.

Where can we look for new answers to these old challenges?

Do you ever think about how you might reduce the suffering for those who’ll come along after you? Or reduce your own suffering right here and now?

Maybe we think that our leaders will someday stop fighting with each other and solve these problems for us.

Maybe providing occasional charitable gifts over the holidays allows us to feel that we’re doing our part.

No doubt, greater contributions will be required from many of us if we are to reduce the enormous suffering we see in our world. But most of us know — that’s just not enough.

In my search for examples of what showing up to make a difference might look like, I’ve spent years researching and writing about an extraordinary couple, Dr. John and Clara Schmidt, medical pioneers who dedicated their lives to the well-being of the poor and underserved in Paraguay, South America.

Based on public records, private documents, and numerous interviews about their 60 years of service, Dr. John and Clara are the protagonists of our recent book, CALLED. Their commitment to show up for others time and time again gives me hope, and I trust it’ll do the same for you.

Let me share a review of CALLED we received from Edgar Stoesz, the former chairman of the American Leprosy Missions.

“Dr. John and Clara Schmidt accepted the challenge of treating people with leprosy in Paraguay, an often-forgotten land of intrigue. When they were asked to undertake this daunting task, conventional practice was to provide victims of this dreaded disease with palliative care in an isolated colony. There was no known cure. Dr. Schmidt chose instead to pioneer a new and more humane treatment premised on home care surrounded by family. Before there was time to prove the merits of this innovation, he encountered such strong resistance from North American sponsors that it threatened to shut down his work. In the end, John and Clara’s revolutionary model became the standard for leprosy treatment around the world.”

Now that’s showing up for others!

At the deepest level, this inspires me to open my own heart and become more engaged in work that seeks justice and mercy for people in need.

At a practical level, though, I’m reminded of Thomas Merton’s quote: “To commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of modern times.”

So where does that leave us? How do we know when to step back and when to show up?

Here’s how I answer that question for myself:

I must choose those issues that touch me most deeply and that’s where I cannot step back — that’s where I need to show up and make a difference.

What’s your answer?

You and I don’t want to be the people who fail to show up when we are really and truly called to make a difference.

If you enjoyed this and would like to see more, please visit me at marlenafiol.com.

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