We made a good decision, cancelling Mass for one weekend. When people work
six days a week, sometimes you just have to change your schedule.
So this past Sunday we scrubbed and scrubbed, walls and window frames and
doors and the ceiling of our friends’ little casita. We rested and had
pizza, and then we painted. We discussed whether the ceiling required two
coats of paint (two hands of paint, in Spanish. Dos manos). And finally we looked around us with satisfaction. “No es perfecto, pero es mejor,” we said. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. White walls, white ceiling, gray furnace box. It does look better.
And all morning long as we scrubbed, and I periodically changed the water in each person’s bucket, asking each time, “Quieras agua con sopa, o agua pura?” nobody, NOBODY told me that I was asking if they wanted soup in the water, not soap!
As we worked, the man we call Capo sang softly to himself. “Alleluia, alleluia...”
And I think it was holy work.
What does it say to your soul if each morning you wake up to squalor? What does that tell you about who you are, what you deserve? And what if you are working long hours, six days a week, standing up all day, and that’s still all you get? I think it’s a little hard to believe that you’re “walking around shining like the sun,” as Thomas Merton said we all are.
I remember seventeen years ago when I was working as a lab technician and trying to buy the house I live in, now. I offered what I could, and got turned down twice. Around the same time, I learned that my co-worker, a post-doc, was earning almost exactly twice what I was. It felt like a message from the world at large: that’s all you’re worth. I remember the socked-in-the-gut feeling: I work so hard, and I can’t even buy a modest city house? My experience was just a tiny taste of what our friends live with, year after year. (and how wonderful it felt, when at last my offer was accepted, and I became a home-owner).
So this cleaning and painting is about a lot of things. It’s about health and dignity and self-worth. It’s about respect, and hope. Doing it together, we begin to see what’s possible. Look, oh look, what love can do. Love and elbow grease.
Thank you to everyone who helped, especially Caroline Kristofferson who gave her Sunday to this work. Thanks to Kevin Slough who donated paint, and Jane Bleeg who gave some rugs, and everyone who sent money. You have made a difference in one tiny corner of the world. Capo said, “How can we pay you back?” Oh, that’s simple, dear friends. Just know in your bones that you are shining like the sun.
Love and light to all,
PS In the course of moving furniture to the middle of the room, a bookshelf got broken. They were using it for a home altar as well as storage of school supplies. It was about three feet high, a three-shelf unit. If anyone has a bookshelf to donate, please let me know!
Oscar Romero Church
A Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620