A few Sundays ago, I attended an event for young adults in the Diocese of El Paso. My housemate, Sr. Janet, is the Director of the Office of Young Adult Ministry, and works tirelessly to provide my age group with faith-feeding and community-building activities. Through her ministry, I have found a group of treasured friends here in El Paso. This Sunday gathering involved outdoor Mass, a cookout, and free live music in a local park. As the hamburgers sizzled on the grill, I slid onto a picnic table bench with some friends. One of them asked me, “What have you been up to lately?”
I thought back over the weekend and shared the first thing that came to mind. Sisters Peggy, Carol, and I had spent Saturday afternoon at a free showing of 8 Murders a Day, the second movie in a documentary trilogy by filmmaker Charlie Minn. It chronicles the horrific violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, since 2008, specifically focusing on 2010, which was the most deadly year yet. Peggy, Carol, and I knew many of the facts about the violence happening right across the border, but it was something to see the progression laid out so clearly. The graphic images of the crimes committed were haunting. A sense of sadness and pain left a hole in my stomach. As I shared with my friends how the movie had affected me, I felt the conversation get really intense really quick, and then pretty soon, there was silence hanging in the air. Not exactly a topic that lends itself to friendly chatter.
Lately, I find myself doing this often. After I brought up the movie, I racked my brain to think of something, anything “normal” and “fun” to talk about. I didn’t come up with much. I remembered that Carol and I had spent Thursday afternoon in Mexico after our usual morning at Proyecto Santo Nino, the Sisters’ clinic for kids with special needs. We walked around downtown and visited churches in Juarez, with Brian, a 13 year old with spinal bifida, Reyna, a 3 year old with Down Syndrome, and Reyna’s parents. It was a beautiful thing to share the day with them, but sobering as well. Brian’s body is contorted, and he walks with difficulty. After lunch, he asked to borrow one of Reyna’s little diapers because he forgot to bring one of his own. When the fun was over, we dropped Bryan off at his tiny little home where he is often left to look after his little siblings because his irresponsible parents neglect them.
I stopped myself before I shared that little light-hearted anecdote. The next images that flooded my mind were the faces of people who had come to Sacred Heart Church on Friday looking for help paying their rent or bills. One woman had cried as she handed me an eviction notice; another swallowed back tears as she told me that her husband had been picked up by Immigration the week before. She’s now alone with her two small children, simply awaiting the news of his deportation.
Wah, wah. Debbie attack.
Thankfully, the group of people I was with that Sunday night probably didn’t mind talking about 8 Murders a Day. They are faith-filled people who inspire me with the way they serve our community and make an effort to be socially aware. Also, living on the border, the topics of violence and poverty are common. We all know people who have been personally affected. Nevertheless, my inner dialogue reminded me just how totally my life is characterized by these relationships with marginalized people. The situations that so readily came to mind reflect all that I carry in my heart as a result of what I do on a daily basis.
I am grateful for that.
My encounters with human suffering have taught me a new language with a new vocabulary. Sometimes, that language is speechlessness. When I do talk, it’s not about the things I used to talk about. In certain circles, I am hard to relate to. I struggle to find things to say, and I think people don’t always know what questions to ask me. Even my own family members or other people who genuinely want to know might not know how to approach the subject. And then, there are people who don’t want to know. A friend reminded me the other day that sometimes people might choose not to ask because thinking about human suffering is hard.
This is not exclusive to religious life. Many young people who come back from international (or domestic) volunteer experiences may find it hard initially to slip back into the life they led and conversations they had before. People who work with underprivileged populations, who teach students from inner-city neighborhoods, who provide health care to people who can’t afford it, etc. – their worldview changes and so does their way of being in the world.
When you make a choice to really open yourself to the action of God; when you take a sincere look at our world; when you come into relationship with people who are suffering and let it affect you - things change. Your heart changes, your thoughts, your prayers, what you put your time and energy into. The stories of the people that you walk with become your stories.
|Bryan and I at the clinic Christmas party, December 2010|
His story is mine.
Conversion and the stories that fuel it are a gift to our world. I cannot hold back from sharing these experiences because I must be authentic. I must share all that I see, hear, taste, touch, and feel so that others, who don’t get to experience it firsthand, will know. I have to risk sharing those “Debbie Downer” moments because they are real, and they are people’s lives. For me, this is a huge part of what becoming a “Sister” means. I recognize that every human being is a part of my family. I accept their burdens and joys as my own. I speak up when the voices of my suffering brothers and sisters are stifled. This is the Truth that I bring and a way that God uses me as an instrument.
Of course, I also bring countless stories of grace and joy. I don’t feel like a “Debbie Downer” every day. But when I do, I will remember to be grateful for the unique life perspective I have gained and for the beautiful people that have shown it to me. It is a privileged position. I look to the example of the Sisters and other friends in my life who speak fearlessly and lovingly what they know to be true.
Seek the Truth in service to others and share what you find. The world needs your voice!