Monday, September 16, 2013


Here we are: 4 weeks into the program,
3 weeks into Mexico,
and 1 week into living on my own here.

     Although, really, I am not by any means “on my own” in this place.  If I were actually on my own I would not have made it this far; that is for certain.  If it hadn't been for all the people giving me directions, correcting my Spanish, having the patience to endure my pantomiming, double-checking that I understood everything from the staff meeting, and giving me the opportunity to express myself, (not to mention the people sustaining me from home!) I would be completely lost, literally and figuratively.

     My time in Mexico has been characterized with me coming to terms with my profound dependence on other people.  In the States, I am usually a very capable person.  I can navigate my way through a variety of places and situations.  I know how to act at a store, a dinner, or a workplace.  I know the implications of a hug, the connotations of a word, how to make a joke.  Here, everything is new. And I need major help figuring it all out.

     As I've mentioned several times, the ELCA's model of mission is that of Accompaniment: “Walking together in solidarity, characterized by mutuality and interdependence.”

Celebrating Mexico & Central America's independence at
Tochan with some of the people I have depended upon.

     Until we come to terms with our dependence on others, we will never be able to appreciate or intentionally practice “interdependence.”  If we fail to recognize that we are dependent on others for many of the various things that keep us going – from food to family – we will ultimately fall into the trap of thinking of our relationships as a hierarchy, with ourselves at the top.  We will make the mistake of thinking that we are here to save others, that we have all the resources, answers, and validity, that we are independent and that those we accompany are at our loving mercy.

     What I've seen, done, and experienced would in no way be possible without:
My amazing host mothers who feed me, house me, and show me unrestrained love,
Their nephews who gave me an extensive tour of our colonia, complete with tips and tricks,
My co-volunteers at Tochan who explain the shelter's programs and purposes to me (and who occasionally translate key phrases in our meetings),
My fellow YAGMexico participants who check in on me and comparten mi pena,
The men currently at Tochan who cook our meals and break up the boredom of office organization with conversation,
The strangers who offer unsolicited random acts of kindness,
and everyone else who has been a part of my survival and growth.

     They have shown me what Ephesians 4:2 means: "Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love."  Someday my time will come to reciprocate, and I have been learning profound lessons on how to do so.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

In My End is My Beginning

     Today marks the end of all our YAGM orientation – Chicago, and in-country – and the beginning of our actual, non-preparatory lives here in México. As we were talking this morning, the YAGMéxico group discussed how much this day felt like an end, rather than a beginning. We have spent the last three and a half weeks together, growing, learning, and sharing life. We have practiced accompaniment and vulnerability in ways that we never had before, building a solid crew to support each other throughout the challenges and joys of this year. To leave each other and go our separate ways feels like the end of something profound.

     These last few weeks we have also developed connections to local communities that have held us together in our place of vulnerability – being in a new country, culture, and people with the knowledge that they will become integral parts of our lives. We spent one week living with families in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico as we also took language classes to improve our Spanish abilities. Tepoztlán is a beautiful town with entirely cobblestone streets and upwards of 135 fiestas every year. Our family was incredibly welcoming, which often manifested itself by our mom feeding us enough food to feed a small family each. It was an intense week spent with beautiful people.

Sign for the Guadalupanas
     This last week we spent in a convent of Guadalupanas, Catholic nuns who follow the teachings of La Virgen de Guadalupe. They are pretty radical and practice incredible hospitality. Most all of them have masters or doctorates in theology and they talk about La Virgen de Guadalupe and Christianity in the most liberating way. From Hermana Fabiola, who perpetually captivates the table with knowledge of Mexican politics, society, and history, to Hermana Margarita, who always greets us with a heart-melting smile and jumps at every opportunity to practice her few English phrases, the Hermanas have taught us invaluable lessons about life, faith, passion, and hope. I’m only beginning to process the things I’ve learned from the Guadalupanas, and I’ll no doubt continue to draw upon those lessons throughout this year.

     So as we talked this morning about all of the things that are coming to a close, I was reminded of another part of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (this poem will come up often in this blog – be prepared!):

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker, V:190-209)

     As we leave the tight YAGMéxico group and the families and the Guadalupanas, we also go out into our new communities, into new experiences, into new challenges and joys. “In my end is my beginning.” And the people we met, the lessons we’ve learned, the selves we are becoming, are not going to suddenly disappear. We aren’t living “the intense moment/Isolated, with no before and after”, but we will carry those relationships and lessons with us so that there will always be “a lifetime burning in every moment.”

Now the challenge is to “be still and still moving/Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion.”

Challenge accepted.

(This was written on Saturday April 8th, but internet access didn’t allow me to post until now.)