This past week, the addiction issues at the house came to a head again, and sadly we had to ask two people to leave. We will truly miss them; we already do. But facing the truth and its consequences are part of living responsibly as a community together. We hope with all our hearts that these friends will be back someday.
Also, this week, my son Joe came home briefly and brought home with him two other difficult stories I want to share with you. One was a chance meeting with some migrant workers at a bus stop in Atlanta a few weeks ago. The bus was terribly late, and there were a number of folks stuck waiting at the station who did not speak English and were baffled about what to do after four hours of waiting. They had left jobs in one place to find work in another (the plight of migrant workers), but if they didn’t arrive on time they would lose those jobs. Joe translated their concerns to the desk clerk, who was “not helpful.” The clerk said he had no idea about the bus (although he had announced every hour for the last four that the bus would arrive in approximately 20 minutes) and said he could not refund their money.
Joe spent the wee hours of that morning talking with two of the workers, a young couple from Oaxaca, Mexico. He said his own powerlessness within the Greyhound system really made him feel for the precariousness of their situation – new to the country, not speaking the language, desperately looking for work, having no idea what to do or to whom to turn . . . yet still more hopeful of finding work here than in their home country. While Joe felt abused by the bus situation too, he had resources they didn’t; they had emptied their pockets buying the tickets. In the end, they wound up staying in Atlanta – and they are still looking for work. Joe arranged to meet with them at the same bus stop on his way home this weekend so he could give them the English language book they had requested. They plan to stay in touch.
Another story he shared was an interview he had with a former Viet Nam vet. It was part of a history class project, and he was excited to be able to interview Scott Camil, a well-known Gainesville veteran. He asked Scott to share with him not just the stuff he could get off the internet, but what it was like to be a young man in Viet Nam. The little Joe had time to share with us over breakfast just tore at our hearts. You can know the story of Viet Nam or any war – its statistics and strategies, its motives and historical impact. But there is nothing like looking into the eyes of a person who has borne some of the brunt of it. The death and destruction he witnessed and participated in at such a young age – and the struggles and persecution he faced when he told the truth of his experience – had a tremendous and ongoing effect on his life. Today, he is still struggling to make some sense out of it – and to somehow redeem his own participation in it by telling the truth every chance he gets.
What do we do with these stories? They are part of who we are as a community and as a country, but they are so painful. Joe said he could understand why Scott might fall completely into despair after having experienced what he did. But Scott found the heart to come to terms with it and to face down the painful truth by telling it. And the two Oaxacan immigrants, struggling to get by in a strange system where their labor is needed but not respected have the heart to befriend a college student passing through the same bus station. As for the addiction issues… I still don’t know where to find heart in it. I do believe it is good, though, to face such a sad issue straight up, good to offer help whether taken or not, good even to suffer the consequences we all make ourselves vulnerable to when we face a difficult truth.
As Christians, we profess to believe that walking with people in their struggles is a way we can follow Jesus in the here and now. Jesus put himself in places where the difficult facts of human existence were apparent. He shone a light on hard and ugly truths people would rather not have seen. Dorothy Day often quoted Dostoevsky: “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” That truth is glaring on Good Friday when we contemplate a love that brought Jesus to the cross. But we remember at Easter that truth and goodness – God – prevailed. May God be with all of us this Easter season and may we all – such a struggling lot – be somehow transformed into Easter people, brimming with life and hope.
Veteran’s Day came and went this week with the usual mix of letters to the editor. But this year, the hawks seem muted and the sorrow heavier as we approach the end of the fifth year of the war in Iraq – the deadliest year so far.
For folks who are in middle-age (like me), we can clearly define the generations we’ve known by their wars. Our grandfathers fought in WWII, our fathers in Korea, our older brothers in Vietnam, our spouses in Desert Storm, and now our children in Iraq. One of the boys my sons played flag football with died there this year.
I have struggled to find a way to “celebrate” Veteran’s Day with some integrity. How does one celebrate the love, self-sacrifice and courage required of young people willing to give their lives for something greater than themselves – “freedom” as the story goes. And at the same time, recognize the endless procession of this craziness whereby adults (us) continue to do this to our sons and daughters? We make the mistakes again and again; our greed and self-service, our short-sightedness and apathy keep leading us to where we finally tell the time-worn, Big Lie. We bless the troops and send our sons and daughters off to give their lives for (this time) cheap oil, our unsustainable lifestyle, and revenge – because we can, because it thrills us to be high and mighty, because… God only knows why we keep doing it over and over again through generations.
I read a short piece in Utne Reader this week by Patrick Hicks, a professor at Augustana College in South Dakota. Somehow it captured both things – the love we have for our “troops” and the gut-wrenching sorrow we have to have for what we’re doing to them. Again. Read it here. This is the poem he refers to. It’s Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen – a British soldier who died at 25 during the final days of the First World War, “the war to end all wars.”