Saturday, September 22, 2012

To be happy...

I signed up for this year, expecting full well that I would be teaching adults, and I am.

There are, however, several children that come in and out of my life at the Welcome Center, and one in particular, of late.

Manny is five, and he only started Kindergarten on Wednesday, so he's made quite a few appearances at the Welcome Center.  Last week, Sr. Pat and I took Manny to the library, and as we picked him up, he told us that the woman who had been watching Manny and her own son, "They made me angry!"

"Why?" we both inquired.

"Because they made me angry."  Five year old logic, of course.  We told Manny that he was too young to be that angry, and he said, "Okay," in this blind acceptance and gleeful sort of stupor.  He always says "okay" that way.  It sounds like sedated joy, and it makes me laugh every time.

"Why are you laughing at me?"  Manny demanded.

"I'm not laughing at you," I assure him.  "I'm laughing because I want you to laugh, too!"

And it's true.  I want him to be happy.  I said to him, "I want you to be happy all the time," and then I retracted the last bit by saying, "well, most of it."

If we're happy all the time, then we are blind to the realities around us.

If we are constantly satisfied, then we fail to realize the value of the things we have.

If we never have to wait for anything, we can't appreciate the time that has been spent so that we don't have to wait.

It's a constant tightrope dance for me.  I want to have a true picture of reality, and the truer it becomes, the heavier it becomes.  I've heard myself say, over and over, "I want you to tell me, I can handle it."  I have also been on the side that thinks that love is to protect the ones you care about by shading their reality for them.

When I was on my silent retreat in August, Fr. Ned told us that, in this world, there was always suffering, but the difference was that, in Christianity, we are invited to embrace that suffering.  I haven't come to a conclusion about how I feel as far as whether or not God "ordains" the painful pieces of our lives, but I know this: without the cross, there is no redemption.  Without something having gone awry, there is nothing to straighten out.

But Manny's only five.

He's still learning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to be like Jesus.

It's times like these you learn to love again. 
It's times like these you give and give again.
It's times like these you learn to love again.
It's times like these time and time again.
~ Foo Fighters, "Times Like These"

I spent the majority of my afternoon half carefully, half carelessly, placing labels on envelopes for newsletters.  I thought absentmindedly about who would get them, and I paid a measure (but certainly not a full one) of attention to my two charges, Maria, who is learning French, and Nhi, who was working on an assignment about St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  I rushed through those envelopes so that I could run to the library, where a movie and two books were wating for me.

As it turns out, they are still there, because I rushed through reading the directions and made a wrong turn.  When I arrived to the library, it had closed minutes before.  All of that rushing, and if I had only stopped to pay a speck of attention, I would have known that the library was closing.

I returned, tail between my legs, to an empty office.  I had a couple of things to read and send out before returning home.

The doorbell rang, but, even though I had told Nancy that I didn't mind being in the office alone, I hadn't any intention of opening the door and occasioning any potential trouble.

I continued my reading in the hope that the man at the door would give up.  Not very Christ-like, I know. 

At least four times more he rang the doorbell, a plea to be heard.

An extended period of silence lulled me into a false sense of security: maybe he's gone...

But then, the doorbell.  A high pitch, followed by a low pitch.

Whatever this man needed, he would not be ignored, so I opened the door.

"Is Sr. Pat or Sr. Eileen here?"

No, they aren't.  They just took Colleen up to the novitiate.  They won't be back tonight.

But I still don't know this man, so I put up the yellow caution tape.

"They can't speak with you right now; is there something I can help you with?"

"I need them to help me with some papers," I thought I heard.  "Can I come back tomorrow at this time?"

"Can you come in the morning?" I offered, knowing that the sisters would be here, and that if he came tomorrow at this time, he would be interrupting their dinner.

"I work in the morning," he said, "but I can come in the evening."

We settled on an evening time, and I knew that the sisters would be there to greet this man, whose name I learned to be Antonio.

Before he left, he offered me the bag in his hand, for the sisters.  "It's going to go bad," he said.  It was some sort of cake.

As I closed the door, I was humbled by his persistence, his care, and his gratitude.

The story that has followed me, of late, is that of the Canaanite woman (Gospel of Matthew).  At this point in the Gospel, Jesus has been traveling and he has been trying so hard to stay out of the limelight for just a little while.  His notoriety cannot be quenched, however, and he is approached by an outsider, this Canaanite woman, with a request to heal her daughter.

Jesus replies to her that it is not fair to take the children's bread and feed it to the dogs.  Jesus hung with the outcasts, for sure, but this woman, a Canaanite, was outside of those "outsiders."

 "...even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master's table," she counters.  I might not be in your circle, but I matter, she implies.

Jesus praises her faith, and heals her daughter. 

All I could do was stand there, both awed and dumbfounded, and tell Antonio to come back tomorrow. 

Lesson learned still learning.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Home is a verb.

Last night, I dreamt of the wonderful faces of St. Anthony's School, a place where magic continues to happen every day.  I know this to be true because there were a number of magic wands that poked and prodded at me all year until, finally, my toughened exterior broke open.

It is little more than magic and grace that presents to you the me that is now in Philadelphia.

For years, God has been trying to get me to Philadelphia.  Most of my life, actually.  It started when I was in grade school, and my mother was offered a transfer to Philadelphia with her company, which she turned down to stay in East Greenbush.  It continued with my mother's prodding to "go to Siena," which I promptly dismissed, since Siena was too close to home.  At Le Moyne, I was swirled into the wonder of the St. Francis Inn, which led me to FVM, and ultimately, to Camden.

And Camden was just enough to get me here.

If I watch carefully out the window of the elevated train, I can see bits of the Camden skyline during my commute to and from the Welcome Center.  While it's not St. Anthony of Padua Parish and School, it still reminds me of a place that I have learned to forever call home.

About a year and a half ago, I crafted a blessing that included the following:  "May you remember that home is not an address, but a place in your heart for the family you are given and the family you choose."

The other day, though, reflecting on home, I remembered something that completely snow-globed my understanding of the word:  home is a verb.  

Definition number twenty on for the word home: to go or return home.  And number twenty-two: to navigate toward a point by means of coordinates other than those given by altitude.  

I home is not just a cool piece of technology that will charge your iPod and wake you up in the morning.  It means that I am moving toward a point, toward my home.  Which, by my own definition, is a place in my heart.  

Perhaps the definition is a tad redundant, but the meaning is what matters.  

The part that naturally becomes frustrating is that the coordinates I am getting are not taking me right there.  I must, necessarily, travel to points other than home, because (and pardon how cliche I am going to sound, please) the journey is what will allow me to experience home when I finally arrive, and it will also be the arrival.  

Rosa, one of my co-workers at the Welcome Center, told me yesterday that they feel as though I have been here for five months, even though it's only been about two or three work weeks.  It is as if the spot existed for me this whole time and they were just waiting for me to come and fill it.  

Classes start on Monday morning, and, well, here I am. 

Just in time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Standing out in a crowd...

I have been living in Kensington now for three weeks.  I continue to confront the reality that whether I live here for three months, three years, or three lifetimes, I will always be an outsider.

My safety net is too strong.

I am a Caucasian female who was born in the suburbs and got an education that many of the people I encounter on a daily basis never even had the option to choose or reject.  The color of my skin and the knowledge in my brain cannot be taken away from me.  There is power in that that I am only beginning to understand.

I am currently part of a volunteer program that supports me financially and spiritually, and while our director claims that we live below the "official" poverty line, I will never be living in economic poverty the way that I see it played out by my "dear neighbors."

I will always have enough nutritious food to eat.  For me, it will not be a question of where my next meal comes from, but when will I go to the store, and what will I buy when I get there.  Knowing that I will be supported in this way allows me to use the knowledge that I have accumulated to buy food that will nourish me, and not merely fill me up.

I will always have a roof over my head, heat in my house, and clothes to wear.  I am fortunate enough to have a washer and dryer in my basement AND a washer and dryer that I can use at work, both free of charge.

I have a transit pass that allows me to take the elevated train to and from work every day.  I am able to ride to work in the safety of mass transit.  Since the pass is for unlimited travel, I am also able to leave Kensington, at no additional cost, and find solace in the comfort of a small park or bookshop.

I will always be an outsider because I will always have an out.

I have many people in my life who care about my well being and about the path that I have chosen.  Those people support me as I make the conscious choice to live this way, even though I might have gotten a job that paid much more, or I might have gone to school, ultimately for the same end result.

Some of those same people would support me if threads in my net began tearing.  Many people here in Kensington don't always have the means to do so for the people that they love, no matter how much they want hold each other up in that same way.

This is the SSJ Mission Corps pledge: give us one year of your life, and we will give you a better understanding of yourself, your neighbor and God.  I came into this year regarding it the way I regarded the promise made by my Jesuit education (that I would be made a woman for others): skeptically.

Here I am, living the truth and reality of both.  I am a woman, for others, who is learning by experience the value of what it means to be in relationship with my neighbor in a direct way.  And I am trying to find God in all of it.

Slowly, but surely.

This race was never to the swift.

Peace and all good,

Saturday, September 1, 2012

This is *reality* Greg!

Readers, beware!  The title is meant to be a humorous foray into a heavier subject.  To get the joke, you have to know only two bits of context.  The first is that my father's nickname is Greg (which in no way resembles his actual name, but that's another story for another time).  The second is that the line is from E.T., near the end, when Elliot is getting one of his older brother's friends to help bring back E.T.

Elliot: He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship.
Greg: Well, can't he just beam up?
Elliot: This is *reality*, Greg!

How does that relate to my day, you're probably wondering.  I hope you are at least wondering that now.

Well, my father and my mother both came to Kensington today with the remainder of the things I was not able to bring on the train when I moved down here.

They told me that when they arrived, before I was able to swoop down and collect them from outside, that they had seen two men shooting up down the street.  I would imagine it was heroin, but honestly, I don't know anything about drugs.  It's the only one I am sure involves a syringe.  At any rate, they were doing well, all things considered, but I could tell that any one of a few thoughts were running through their mind.

- This place is more dangerous than the place we left her last time.

- (My father)  I left the city so that my kids wouldn't live in such a desolate place.

- We're going to take her home, now.

- Rachel must be out of her mind.  How can she be calm right now, when we are trying to be calm and (so obviously) struggling to do so?

Alas, what I want to say to my father is: This is *reality* Greg!

I don't know how to communicate effectively my environment to people who haven't seen it without scaring them, or making them think I am disillusioned in any way, or making them think I have missed some fundamental part of the human experience by being here.  This blog is helping me navigate those waters, but it is far from the whole answer to how I will pass on what I have been a part of here.

Today, I want to emphasize one particular point:

Kensington is part of the human experience.

Every day on my way to work, I walk past dozens of people.  Real people, some of whom are addicted to illegal substances, some who are homeless, some who are single parents struggling to get by.  Soon, I may be sharing my morning commute on the elevated train with students running late to school because they are the parent figure in their house, and sharing my evening commute with nurses who have spent the day caring for the sick and struggling.  Each of the people I encounter is participating in the human experience.

Why then, is my father's human experience so radically different from the two men down the street, shooting up?  I respond with a line from a sign that was on our back porch area last year in Camden, from Mother Teresa.  "God does not create poverty.  We do, because we do not share."

There are so many layers to reality.  Kensington is only one of many of mine.  I invite you to consider which realities are yours.  How does living your human experience affect another's human experience, someone who you will never know?

Peace and all good,