My best friend Allene says that she likes to tell people about me. She tells them about things I’ve done that she thought were brave, like being a single Mom, or going to El Salvador or becoming a priest. Then comes the punch line: “And she’s afraid of BUGS!”
In my visits out in the migrant community these days, that is probably my greatest everyday challenge. Not just because I’m scared of bugs (and I am. Flying insects can turn me into a quivering jelly!) but because nobody else is. “Close the door!” I’ll say. “Bugs are coming in!” and everybody looks at me like that’s the silliest thing they’ve ever heard. Of course there are bugs. They’re part of the world. You live with them. I squashed a flying insect last night and Capo said, “Pobre animale.” Poor animal.
Some cultural differences are fun, or freeing. Like the Mexican attitude toward bodily fluids and sounds. They’re neither funny nor embarrassing. Like insects, they’re just part of life. Early on in my relationship with this community I found that any time I asked to use the bathroom, somebody would tell me to wait, run off to their room, come back and matter-of-factly hand me a roll of toilet paper. No embarrassment, it’s just what one obviously needs in there.
If you’ve ever lived in another country, you may know the feeling of culture shock. It’s like being under water and not knowing which way is up. Traveling back and forth to Elba, sometimes I feel like I’m a missionary who gets to go home each day. Slowly I’m learning. Learning Spanish, for one thing, but also learning what’s helpful and what’s not. Things, for instance. There is a reason for the lack of things in their lives. I asked someone if he wanted to have a dresser, instead of keeping all his clothes in plastic bags. He explained that at any moment the farmer could tell them they have to move. They need not to own bulky, heavy things, and what they do own needs to fit in a car.
Right now the community is in a very lean time. They are now in their third week of hardly working, because the fields have been too wet to plant. People earned less than $90 last week, and so far, this week is the same. But nobody, so far, is looking for help. One simply eats plain food, like eggs and beans. One keeps sharing what one has. They’ve been through this before and they know how to do it.
I am feeling a pull to be there more. The idea of a house (a Catholic Worker type house! With a space for worship and a resource room for sharing information and a place to store furniture people might donate, and… whatever it turns out to be) – if that idea is meant to be, it will unfold in time. But soon, this month, I intend to start spending my Thursdays out there. Like the pull I felt last year to start celebrating Mass out there, it will unfold as God dreams. I will write and work on advocacy stuff like contacting lawyers, and hopefully connect with people who are home during the day. I can do some cooking and maybe have a communal dinner, and celebrate Mass in the evening. We’ll see.
I just have to get used to the bugs.
Love and light to all
PS People have asked about the young man I mentioned in last week’s bulletin, who was crossing the desert. We do not yet know how he is doing, because with the low incomes there is no money to buy phone cards to call Mexico. Please keep him in your prayers. Here’s another story, though: last Sunday we were praying for a teenage girl, the granddaughter of someone in the nursing home who had run away from home. We’ve been praying for her and for all runaways. I’m happy to tell you she is back at home. Pray, pray, pray: lift each other in prayer and become part of that sacred stream of loving energy. Like Jesus said, stay connected to the vine and Wowie! Look at the fruit.
“When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.”
- John Wesley
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive 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