Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come

One of my goals this year has been to learn Spanish, and one of the first ways that I did that was by learning the "Padre nuestro,"  the "Our Father."

It was the first thing that I memorized in Spanish, and I practiced it faithfully for a while, and then I got distracted, with my work, with the Hail Mary, with community living, with things going on outside of Camden.

Recently, when I have said the "Padre nuestro" at the May Rosaries, or at Spanish mass, I tend to forget, "venga a nosotros tu reino."  Which means, "thy Kingdom come."

The Kingdom is coming.

It is quite fitting that that line is the one I often omit, accidentally, of course, because it's a difficult one to live, here in Camden.

The Kingdom is coming.

What I envision as the Kingdom, what you envision as the Kingdom, is nothing compared to the Kingdom that is coming.  It won't be built of stone, or cement, or wood, or steel.  It will be built of real people, connected by real love.  We're building it now, here in Camden, and other people in other places all over the world are working to build the Kingdom, simply by loving and caring for each other.  And it could be finished right now, under two conditions: that all people realize that we are called simply to love and to be responsible to one another, and then to actually do that.

It's easy to despair here, where so much is run down, littered, graffiti-ed.  It's easy to despair when there is so much violence and drug use.  It's easy to despair when there is so little money, and everything is only getting more expensive.  But the Kingdom is coming.

When I interviewed for my second year with Katie Sullivan, she drove me home, and as we traveled down River Road, I squealed and told her to make the first left that she could.  I wanted to take her a different way to my house, via Harrison Street.

Harrison Street, at the beginning of the year, had potholes feet wide and several inches deep, from heavy trucks constantly making use of it.

About six weeks ago, it finally got paved.  It went from being the one of the worst streets in Camden to being one of the best.

This year has become about finding my hope, about seeing the abundant good amid the chaos.  It continues to bend me into shape, so that I am better able to love all those around me.

Thy Kingdom come.

Peace and all good,

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm just sitting out here watching airplanes...

The first bit of this is a story (spoiler alert!) that will appear in an upcoming FVMemo, the publication of my volunteer program.  I think, though, that most of you readers don't receive the FVMemo, so I don't anticipate too much chaos.  There is an epilogue, however, that does not appear in the FVMemo, and I have added that for the benefit of you readers.  Part one:

The elementary soccer league is in full swing at St, Anthony's, and last week [really last month], I brought the kids down to soccer after choir practice.
"You have to tell the coach why we're late," Emani demanded.  
I approached the coach to explain that I was bringing the choir members to soccer.  He began telling me that one of the other St. Anthony's kids, Raymond, was not welcome back at soccer.  Raymond had punched a kid in the face, one from another local elementary school.  
"I'm not in charge of the kids, I'm just bringing them down from choir," I politely told him.  
He wasn't entirely appeased by my words, but he went back to coaching, and I went over to fulfill my role as comforter to both children, who had been forced to sit out.  
I squatted next to the boy, who'd been "victim", and I greeted him.  
"I'm Miss Rachel, what's your name?"  Nothing.
"What grade are you in?"  Nada.
"What school do you go to?"  At this point, although the boy himself was not answering, others around, including Raymond, were piping in, and I discovered that he was a first grader at Sharp Elementary.  
"Would you like a piece of paper to draw on?"  It was as though I wasn't there.
"Okay, well, I will be over here if you want to talk."  And I walked away, a bit deflated, but certainly with the intent of trying again.  I listened to Raymond's story, which dripped of self defense and poor judgment, and I explained to him that hitting someone is not okay, and that if he ever had a problem, he should tell the coach or one of the other adults.  
I passed by the boy, who uttered his first sentence to me, "Can I have a piece of paper to make an airplane?"
"What's your name?"  
"Nighal," he said.  I began to have a conversation with an obviously grumpy boy.
"I'll give you the paper, Nighal, but only if you smile for me first."
"I don't smile.  I'm mean."  He said it so matter of factly.  This was the first child I had met in all of Camden who'd ever refused to be happy.  So I did what I knew how to do: I made the paper airplane and began throwing it, playing keep away from Nighal.  
Somewhere along the line, God made his presence known, and Nighal let out a small, closed-mouth grin.  Eventually, I gave him the airplane.  When he left that afternoon, he was truly smiling.
Yesterday, I brought the choir members down to soccer again, and Nighal was not there.  Raymond was there, however; he'd been given a second chance.  
Camden is a constant lesson in forgiveness and love.
I pray that Nighal continues to find reasons to smile.

The epilogue, two weeks later:

I was walking home before Friary dinner from soccer, and I ran into Nighal unexpectedly as he was entering his home.  

"Hi, Nighal!"

"My birthday was on Friday!"  A smile.  

"Happy Birthday, Nighal!"  

That was all, and that may be what it ever will be between Nighal and me, but I hope (and pray) that he knows someone is out there, caring about him.  

This year, I have had the chance to know many wonderful people, both briefly, and also very deeply.  I am grateful for all of them.  

Peace and all good,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Notre Dame Football Tickets

Hello world!

I know it's been a while, and first I would like to say that I just discovered that people emailed me back from the blogs that have been emailed to them.  I did not realized, and I am so sorry if anyone felt ignored when I did not email them back.  That was certainly not my intention.  The posts go out with the email associated with this account, which, until now, was not forwarded to the email account that I check.

Anyway, I have a wonderful story.  The moral of it is cliche - stick to your instincts, and things will work out for you in the end.  The story goes something like this:

My Uncle Ric has teased me about having gone off to do a volunteer year, especially after he found out that I had considered doing the Alliance for Catholic Education Masters in Teaching Program at Notre Dame.  He couldn't understand why I would come to Camden instead of go to Notre Dame.  More to the point, he wanted football tickets.

"What can you get me from a soup kitchen in Kensington?  I want football tickets!"
*N.B. At the time of this comment, I had only seen the ministry at the Inn, and I did not know that I would be coming to Camden.

Fast forward to my volunteer year.  Fr. Jud, pastor of St. Anthony's, is a Notre Dame alum and very involved with the local alumni association.  They had a Notre Dame service day this past fall, and again one this past Saturday.  Steve, the husband of the cook at the Friary, is himself a Notre Dame alum, and was raffling off football t-shirts at the end of the service day.

When you ask for other people, I'm told, you are more likely to get it, but even still, my ticket was not pulled.  After the raffle, I pulled Steve aside and asked him what I could do to get one of those shirts.  I explained the story about my Uncle, and Steve gave me a shirt.  For free.  My day had been made.

"I can get him football tickets, too, but he would have to pay for those..."

I couldn't believe my ears.

I called my Uncle, left him a message, and he called me right back.  "What's wrong?  You never call."

I told him about my day, and how, if he wanted, I could secure him tickets to the game of his choice.  He was pleased, but certainly not as excited as I was.

"What would make me happier is if you told me that you were going to be there in school, too."

Not quite, Uncle Ric...

I came to Camden, and in the end, my Uncle will still get Notre Dame football tickets.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Peace and all good,