Monday, May 01, 2006

But Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?

At our school, the junior religion class is Social Justice; this year the junior retreat has been shifted to one run by Crossroads Ministry. It's an overnight inner-city immersion experience with the intent (hopefully) of broadening their horizons a little bit. One of the biggest things that I got out of the experience was a reminder that I need to get back into this stuff again. Service has always been a big thing for me, and I've had two really huge experiences that have made me (re)connect with the extreme significance direct service has for me (which I'll write about later). This wasn't as huge, but still ... I need to get back into this again. It also clinched for me that I need to keep my Social Justice class, if even just the one section – convince these kids that they need to get out there as well! As frustrating as it can be sometimes, I have to at least try.

Just to share a couple of the things that struck me …

We made blankets. Just the simple two-layer fleece things that you cut and tie the edges together. Nice, easy, idiot-proof. One side had the pattern; the other side was signed by each of us with some quote we had chosen from wandering the CrossRoads house. (I, of course, used the Rule of Benedict – And above all, never lose hope in God's mercy.) We made 12 blankets that were to be donated to The Healing Place for Women when we visited there the next day. Such a simple basic thing that took no time and minimal cost, and yet would provide psychological warmth and comfort to someone in real need. It reminded me of the Linus Project, which provides security blankets for kids – I thought it was the coolest idea when I first heard about it, but it's been absent from my mind in the five years since. Something for me to do, to give, perhaps?

We went for a long walk, kind of a pilgrimage through the city, stopping at various points to draw a cross on the ground, have a reading, and remember that this is all holy ground. We stopped first outside Glade House, which began over twenty years ago to serve the needs of those facing AIDS/HIV. Which, if you consider the understanding (or lack thereof) of AIDS in the 1980s .....

We stopped in the food court area of Fourth Street Live for bathroom breaks and a pause for journalling ... and then we left, seemingly to continue our journey. What we hadn't realized was that our stop had been rather intentional; as soon as we stepped out one of the side doors of Fourth Street Live, we found ourselves in an alleyway marked with yet another chalk cross. Dawn (the leader) pointed out that, to be truly accurate, the cross would be on the top of the wall alongside us, for that very wall represented a paradox. On one side of the wall was Fourth Street Live, a place with couches just "inside" the entrance to the outdoors mall .... with flat-screen TVs suspended from the ceiling, again on the outside .... with lots of restaurants that give excessively ample portions of food, more than you could imagine of whatever you choose to eat.

Then there was the other side of the wall. The side of the wall that faced us in the alley. Just to our left were the glass doors into the entertainment complex that is Fourth Street Live. Just behind us to the right were some stairs leading down into the Cathedral Undercroft, where about 150 people arrive every day at lunchtime for some soup and bologna sandwiches. Those who come here to dine may not even have a couch on the inside of their "home"; the only TVs they watch may be on the other side of the window from where they sleep. They too can have ample food to meet their needs, and choice too .... but not at all the same choice you got on the other side of the wall.

It's not all bad, though. Occasionally the two worlds blend, merge into one. Apparently during the first year of Fourth Street Live, the folks who were supposed to bring the Christmas dinner for the Cathedral Lunch Kitchen (see page 4) somehow didn't come through. The owner of the Hard Rock Cafe next door told them: "Don't even open your doors." They called in their waitstaff, invited the folks in and had them eat off the menu. They didn't just send food over; they gave them a real night out. From the looks of the newsletter, it seems Hard Rock continues to assist by way of staff and freezer space.

We had a woman come speak to us Tuesday night, about her previous work as a public defender and now as a lawyer with Child Protective Services. Hearing her speak reminded me about one of those times when I was hit by the need to reach beyond myself. I was helping with a service project in Pontiac, Michigan, during the summer before my junior year in college, and had been completely taken in by Yvonne. She was an adorable kid, with sandy-brown curls, wide eyes, and an infectious smile. One morning, in response to the standard question of how she was doing, she said very matter-of-factly: "Oh, my mom got mad, punched out the windshield of the car; car was covered in blood. I got hurt too, but I'm not supposed to talk about it." Her manner of speaking made you think she was merely recounting her cereal of choice that morning. The same kid who, another day on the bus, was telling me how she's not sure what she thinks of police officers, since she saw them take her dad away in handcuffs. And yet she was the sweetest, most loving, most precious little 5-year-old I've ever encountered. It was heartbreaking. It's her fault that I am where I am today. I had been a chemical engineering major, looking to go into biochem/biomedical engineering and work with pharmaceuticals/drug transport and artificial organs ... but with Yvonne and all the other broken innocence I was facing, my mantra for the project became: I can't spend the rest of my life locked up in some factory somewhere making shampoo. I've gotta be doing something to help these kids. And thus I did my drastic Chemical Engineering --> Music Therapy switch halfway through junior year.

I often lose sight of that drive, to do something .... but when it resurfaces – BAM! The other time I was hit hard was doing an Appalachia Service Project the summer I was in the midst of my initial crush with this community; I was hit so hard that I almost didn't come for the Benedictine Life Week the following week, Ferdinand seemed so disconnected from the "real" issues of the world.

I almost wonder if I've lost that drive. Eating a bologna sandwich with Don Wednesday afternoon .... riding inner-city public transportation with the kids .... stopping outside the nondescript prison .... hearing the stories of two women my age and their journey back from alcohol and meth .... standing on the very spot where Thomas Merton had his Walnut Street epiphany .... and, while I had the thought that I need to keep my Social Justice class so I can keep trying to open these kids eyes, and while I had the thought of making blankets for homeless kids, and while I had the thought of coming back down to the soup kitchen to spend time with the people .... it didn't burn in me the way it did in Pontiac, or in Appalachia.

And I think that's what upsets me most. That I'm not upset. Have I really lost my edge? My drive? My need to reach beyond?

I need to get back into this. I need to engage once more.

I need to not lose the big picture of what really matters. I can talk at the kids all day long about it, but I better have something to back it up.

I need to reconnect with that part of me that lives for others.

May I not remain unchanged.go to main page


Anonymous Lorna said...

honest post Steph.and a good one. It's easy to lose the edge not because you don't care, but becuase caring hurts too much. We cannot do it all (much as we want to) and have to get the focus from God - one person at at a time, one by one by one. Ignore the crowds, minister to individuals. Take time to focus on the one you are giving soup to on the line, not the the whole line that comes after and the soon-empty soup bowl.

it's not easy as I'm sure the convent life teaches you :)

but it is a blessing not least to ourselves.

I loved the idea of the blanket - as you say simple but effective :) and most of all made and given with love.

5/02/2006 1:29 AM  

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