"We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community."- Dorothy Day
To give a bit of background: Our 1229 (what we've nicknamed our YAV house here in Tucson) community has decided to revisit our Covenant and Statement of Purpose as a community, three months into our year together. To better understand where we are each coming from as individuals, we have each taken a night to tell our stories. In sharing these, we each tried to communicate an answer to the following two questions: "What has made you who you are" and "What has been important to you in your life."
What follows is an excerpt from the journaling I did just prior to telling my own story, as I sat in the hammock trying to make a cohesive, linear, bulleted answer to those earlier two questions.
"Trying” as the operative word in that endeavor.
My experience so far here in Tucson and in Mexico has been as an ear and a shoulder. An ear for stories, and a shoulder for those to lean on. Today it is my turn to share- to tell my story, to try and make sense of it all.
In my three months here, I have been continually moved by the different faces of desperation. I am beginning to know that look all to well- the one of simultaneous confusion, hurt, loss, and fear. I see it at here in Tucson, at the Operation Streamline proceedings, on the faces of those 70 people pleading ‘guilty’ in unison. I see it in Mexico, when at Grupos Beta, a federally funded program in Mexico for repatriated migrants, on the faces of those who have just been deported- some after a few days in the US, and some after having spent almost a lifetime here. I see it on the faces of the women we speak to at a women’s shelter in Nogales, while hearing their stories of being lost in the desert, abandoned, violated.
Perhaps these moments move me because I hope that our moment together, our brief embrace, our passing conversation, can serve as a hand extended, helping to pull her upward. A passing sign of hope.
What has made me who I am are the hands that have pulled me up, when I thought I had lost all hope. Emotionally spent, desperate, angry, lost and confused- at seventeen I had no words to express myself, no inkling of how to relate to another, but Chris was there a smile, a hug, and a lifetime of patience. I was broken and falling fast- he was there with arms outstretched to catch me. He had just the right words to say, just the right mix of shoulder for me to cry on and humor to help me laugh again. Those mornings where getting out of bed was a grand feat to be accomplished were made easier knowing that I could call him for an encouraging word or a small affirmation to get me on my way.
More friends outstretched their hands. I was eventually pulled up. It’s not the desperation of that moment that resonates with me now- it’s the strength of the arms pulling me up, patient with me as I tested the waters of how to be myself again.
Five years later, when Chris passed away, I circled through the stages of grief. I crept into myself- stopped answering the phone, laid in bed hours longer, shut myself off from my friends that were trying so desperately to be there for me. There were moments of anger- with myself, with him, with everyone around me. Again there were moments when I wondered if I could smile again.
But, you know what- I did. Just like I learned when Chris extended his hand to me and helped me learn how to smile again five years earlier, friends and family continue to outstretch their hands to me, and help to lift me up.
I am who I am because of the community that supports and surrounds me, because of the community that loves me.