Monday, January 30, 2012

Simple, but not easy.

It's easy to get caught up in problems.

I know, firsthand, from nearly twenty-three years on this earth, and especially having spent the last five months in Camden, New Jersey, that it's easy to see what went wrong, or what one does not have, or every problem as a bad problem.

All problems are not bad.

Two Sundays ago, we were blessed with some extra musicians: Kevin, a guitarist, and Janet, a violinist.  They are the son and daughter-in-law of the third grade teacher, who helps out at the 12:10 mass on Sunday.  Kevin and Janet are also fabulous musicians, each in their own right.  However, rehearsal time was minimal, by which I mean that all four of our musicians were together to practice for about 15 minutes.  We didn't have time to practice all of the songs.

But we had four fabulous musicians (counting Betsy and Isidro), and I couldn't see past all of the chaos to be grateful for it in the moment.

It's all about perspective.

This year, for me, has been an entire shift in perspective that is still in process, without an end in sight.  The idea is simple: I must change what I focus on so that I can be positive in the moment and toward the future.  In practice, this is not easy.  It completely goes against my fruitless attempts at perfection, or even the adjusted levels of "acceptable" that I continue to revise.

It's about finding joy in the little moments, like tonight at rehearsal.  Betsy had accidentally hit Isidro in the face on Sunday with the head of her guitar, and remarking on that, Isidro said that if it had been any worse, "it would have been a gory scene."  I laughed, because I was so taken aback by such a funny and wonderfully made sentence.

I am reminded of Thomas Merton, who got me this far: "In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything."

I have also been recently reflecting on the parable of the widow with the two coins.  She gives much less than other givers, but she gives all that she has, and that means so much more.

Today, Estela Reyes gave us a bag with several books either in Spanish or both English and Spanish.  She is the single mother of four beautiful children, and the Reyes family was one of the first that I was able to meet here in Camden.  I teach her son, Jose, piano (insofar as one can do that sort of thing with only minimal piano ability), and Jose, Maria and Jesus are all in the school choir.  Estela is one of the people who motivates me most to learn Spanish, because I would love to be able to carry on conversations with her in full sentences.  Right now, I speak in broken Spanish, and in her broken English she replies.  And so, she gave us these books, knowing my, and my communities, efforts toward learning the language.  She was so proud to show them to me, and I was so humbled to be able to accept them from her.

It doesn't seem like much, but it's HUGE.

Last night, I had dinner with Vinny, a man who lives down the street from us.  About four or five years ago, he had a stroke that left the left side of his body paralyzed and has relegated him to a wheelchair.  He has gained some function back, but he can only use his one hand, and he can't bend his arm.  Because of the stroke, he cannot work, and he is as strapped as anyone in this city.  Money, for him, is tight.

Last night, Vinny had a friend of his bring him over Popeye's Chicken, and Vinny shared his fried chicken with me.  For someone who occasionally doesn't have enough money to eat anything at all, this is a huge deal for him to have Popeye's.  It was as though all he had was two coins, and he just gave me one of them.

I am guilty of falling into the trap of "I serve the poor" and "I  am such a good person for doing this or that."  It is moments like this that show me who really is poor: me.  I am so chained to all of my things, to my standard of life, and to what end?  Ita Ford, a Maryknoll sister who was martyred in El Salvador, captures what I hope to continue to reflect on far better than I ever could.

“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless? Can I say to my neighbors, ‘I have no solutions to this situation; I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, search with you, be with you.’ Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness as I learn it from the poor ones?”

Can I look at and accept my own poorness as I learn it from the poor ones?

Simple, but not easy.

Peace and all good,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Please don't stop the music...


This post marks a few milestones:

1. It is my first post of the new year!  Happy 2012 everyone!

2. It is my first post in a long time, which is a milestone insofar as I have been able to sit down and get time to write the post.

3. It is the first post where I believe I have figured out how to auto email people that it has been posted.  I don't know if it will work, and if it does work, I don't know if it will take more than ten, but I am excited to see. :-)

4. It is the first post where I think that I have a firm idea of what my job description is, or at least one that will make sense to other people.

So, here's what I have been up to:

Music, music, music.

It's funny, I remember saying at the beginning of the year that I would get up only once for 8 am mass, the time that we were presented as volunteers to the parish.  I have eaten my words; every Sunday I get up at about 6 am, and head over to the church by 7:30 to rehearse the choir.  I am profoundly grateful for my role in working with them; I just wish it was later in the day!

Monday nights, however, are by far my favorite night of the week.  It is then that I have rehearsal with Betsy and Isidro, 14 and 11, respectively.  They are sister and brother, and the cornerstones of the musical accompaniment to the 12:10 mass.  Betsy plays guitar primarily, but she also plays clarinet and alto saxophone.  Isidro plays the clarinet primarily, as well as the piano, and the alto saxophone.  They played all four Christmas masses in my absence, and have contributed immensely to the music.  Their skill and their commitment both amaze and humble me.

 (I should say that, as of right now, the 8 am mass is done completely a capella.  It's not by choice, but we are doing pretty well, all things considered.)

In addition to Sunday mass, I have been helping with the school children's choir, which sings every Friday morning at 8:30 mass (I think God was getting me extra good with that whole 'I don't want to get up early bit.'  He always gets the last laugh.)  It is primarily made up of the third grade, because Mrs. Martins, the third grade teacher, is in charge, but we are growing the number of students in other grades little by little. :-)  The kids have a hard time focusing.  I have a hard time handling that, especially this past month with Mrs. Martins out of town, visiting her family and friends in India.  Luckily, my housemate, Alex, stepped right in to help me keep them under control, or as under control as one can get the children.  I was VERY excited to see Mrs. Martins this past Friday, her first day back.

My proudest moment this year, in my own estimation, however, was last Wednesday.  Here's the background.  Jose is a fourth grader at St. Anthony's, and in December, he asked me to teach him to play "Seek Ye First" on the piano.  Well, I had to oblige, and then somehow got sucked into also agreeing to give him piano lessons.  It evolved further as soon as Jose told his friend, Jakob, about his lessons, and Jakob wanted lessons, too.

Here's the caveat.  I don't know how to play the piano, not well enough to teach someone else to play.  Jakob and Jose didn't care.  So, in my continued efforts to do the most sustainable thing, I decided to teach them together and start with music theory first.  I know plenty about that, and they need to learn to read music anyway if they want to play the piano.

Next caveat: Jakob is a big ball of energy.  Almost uncontrollable.  And so I thought, how can I make this exciting for them?  In a stroke of brilliance, I decided to do music theory on the pavement in the parking lot.  And that's what we did.  We drew our staff and began learning notes.  FACE rhymes with SPACE, and Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.  And fun did they have.  Hopefully this week, some of it will have stuck.

More to come, but for now, please don't stop the music... ;-)

Peace and all good,