Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Subway's Reminder

The T-station seemed remarkably still while trains were out of ear-shot. Besides a few quiet conversations, the sound that filled the tunnel was the old-timey voice of a scruffy blind man singing- his cane keeping the beat. He sang clearly, and in my opinion, much better than the majority of wanna-be-pop-stars featured on American Idol.
Maybe millions of people pass by
But they all disappear from view
Cuz I only have eyes for you.

I looked around at all the others waiting quietly for the next orange line train. And I knew we were all remembering our own love stores. While not everyone might admit to it, a romantic Ella tune magically takes you to another place. I wondered later what thoughts came to my fellow travelers during those moments… A woman’s broken heart of a recently lost love; A husband’s reminder to get those flowers for his wife on the way home; A teenager’s dream of someone to call her own. Whether this man’s A Cappella love songs brought smile, tear, or wish, we all were swept away. We’ve all experienced, or at least dreamed of some beautiful, unique love. And it’s strange sometimes what gets us to remember.
If it had been a movie, I’d picture this singer on the other side of the closing subway doors, removing his sunglass desguise and winking at us. As if to say, “you’re welcome.”

Monday, September 12, 2011


A family- no matter the distance or the true relationship- is bound so intricately. This week I’ve watched daughter-in-law meet every need for her hospitalized mother-in-law. I’ve sat nearby as older brother cried with his little sister.  I’ve cried alone in what felt like a million miles away from daughter releasing mother to the care of her Creator. I’ve laughed with tears pushed back at non-sensical mumblings with family I know little about. But it is in times such as these when one incredible being brings together people of all walks of life. The love my Grandmother shared with all of these people is what has brought us into such shared moments. You begin to realize that the petty differences we’ve developed over the years only hold so much weight.  Because at the end of the day we’ll touch the same forehead, say the same prayers, and love the same woman that loved us all before we knew how. Just as our Creator first loved us. We forget we are all intricately bound to one another in the family called humanity- all because of love.

Prayers for my Grandmother as she keeps on keepin' on.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Closing of a Sentence

Now, after tearful goodbyes, grueling cleaning sessions, last minute arguments, and memory-sharing sessions, I can officially say: “YAV year complete.” But for whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to actually say that. During our closing retreat, my housemates and I hovered between the necessity for closure, and the reality that this year was merely a piece of the pie – a sentence in the paragraph. While our terms as Young Adult Volunteers have come to a close, I think so much of what’s happened will continue as we each strive for a more peaceful world.
Thanks to each of you for carrying me along this journey. As you can see from reading the few blogs I’ve written, I’ve learned and experienced a lot over the past 12 months. Throughout the past few weeks as things have been winding down I’ve contemplated what my purpose has been here. I’ve spent too much time wondering if I failed completely. And probably also too much time patting myself on the back for a job well done. But I’m not too  sure that’s really the point. As I think back, it has been in the simplest moments that the real affirmation has occurred. And I’d like to leave you with some of those more recent moments now:
-          Bob Winton*, a former shelter participant sitting on the porch of at the transitional housing unit next to my office, pen in hand, interviewing another friend who recently found a permanent place to live… Bob is a participant I met with weekly during his stay at the shelter in March. Since then he has received his social security disability benefits and plans to write a collection of stories based on experiences of homeless individuals and homeless service providers. It was nice to see him smile as he handed me a scrap of paper on which his new phone number was written.
-          Ramon Garcia* pulling out a set of keys to his new apartment as I greeted him at the Primavera drop in center.
-          Stevie, a fellow housemate at 1229 saying “Ya know, I’m proud of us,” as we said our final goodbyes this morning. It’s true- five strangers learned how to form a strong intentional community and lived to share the stories!
-          Watching the monsoon blow through town with my shelter friends. A blessing to see rain, and to still feel at home in a room of 100 men.
-          Our next door neighbor bringing us Tupperware containers full of lunch to be enjoyed on our cleaned out living room floor the day before moving out.
I have been truly blessed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Carrying Rosa

As many of you know, I recently completed the migrant trail – a week long journey from Sasabe, Mexico to Tucson, AZ- around 75 miles. I walked with 47 others, ranging in age from 18 to 72. We walked the distance that many, many migrants travel to reach the US. But many do not make it- the fearful policies we have implemented have caused thousands to die in the desert of Southern Arizona. So, we walked- not to “put ourselves in their shoes” or simulate their experiences at all. We walked though to remember, to honor, and to bring attention to this atrocious situation.
Along the way we all carried crosses with names of individuals who have died along their way. I carried Rosa Maria Arriga – Castillo. She died in 2002 at the age of 22.  
These are some reflections from my journey:
She was the same age as I am now- a life cut too short. I wondered what her life was like. She probably already had children of her own.  She had to leave her children behind, because things weren’t good enough wherever she came from. Maybe there was violence- actually no- certainly there was violence-because poverty alone is violent. These policies create violence. But whatever it was- it drew her out- northbound to find something worth hoping for. But the journey brought no land of milk and honey. During the times along the way when I felt like I couldn’t keep walking, I grasped the cross with her name painted on it. The tension of my hand around the cross somehow brought me strength. How ironic. Her strength to leave her family, to try harder - this strength that was pulled away from her in this desert was pressed into my hand- into my being.
We walked the last .7 miles to Kennedy Park in silence. As we reached the park we were welcomed with cheers and clapping from friends, family members, and fellow activists. I watched children run to be reunited with their mothers, friends exchange welcoming hugs, a wounded traveler carried to the finish. The tears began to flow. It was impossible to ignore the extreme contrast of our welcoming compared to the way that others have to enter our country. Their friends and family are back at home or waiting at a distance. There are few supporters- they don’t arrive from their treacherous journey into the arms of people of communities- instead they hide in fear. They are not comfortable after a painful, terrifying crossing- but ridiculed, judges, and threatened.
After a press conference and a foot washing ceremony, we were told to return our crosses- to place them at the base of a nearby tree. I was so sad to give Rosa’s cross back- but there was a strange peace with me as well. I knew I needed to let her go- to let her rest with the others. I carried her on a journey she, in her bodily self couldn’t complete. But she was with me through the long walk. And we made it together. It was like she was telling me I needed to carry on - to keep fighting for those who are still walking, those who will depart, and those who will be left behind. But mostly to keep fighting so that others like her won’t continue to die in this desert. That mothers may live to provide for their babies without risking their lives to do so. And so every day, when they see those children, they can be welcomed, as we were, with a hug and a smile.
Asi Sea.
Let it be.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Switching Places

Out of infinite longings rise
finite deeds like weak fountains,
falling back just in time and trembling.
And yet, what otherwise remains silent,
our happy energies—show themselves
in these dancing tears.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

You know those moments when all you can do is cry? It comes almost instantaneously- you don’t even have a chance to think about it. It feels like everything inside of you swells up- and all that’s swollen decides to seep out through your eyeballs. And these are the tears that usually stream- they don’t gather, drip, or slip back inside. And sometimes, if it’s just perfect, you can feel each individual strand as it falls from your lid, traces along the side of your cheek and free falls from chin to chest. It is when the tears come like this, with no forceful desire for emotion, that I feel most human.
 Daniel’s * eyes are often wet as he tells me of his latest health concern, loneliness of the death of a family member, or anxieties of living in a room with 99 other men. But his willingness to trust me has built a bond unlike many I’ve experience with other participants.
Wednesday night, Daniel wasn’t on my list of 10-12 men to meet with. But earlier in the evening he asked me if I could talk to him before I left, so at about 10 ‘til 9 I called him into my office. He had a simple request, but it meant making a small exception – one I decided I was willing to make. But my assessment was intercepted. Apparently, there was not a good enough reason for this exception to be made. And as I walked back to Daniel in my office – the moment came. I started to swell – and my tearful humanity came forward, completely unannounced.
 I said to him, my voice quivering, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
He looked a little caught off guard. He reached out and touched my arm and said, “It will be ok, we’ll figure it out.” He came up with another solution for himself as I tried to gather myself.
Suddenly we switched roles. He became the comforter- the social worker. He was, for whatever reason, suddenly telling ME that it would be OK.
And-even though I was still so mad, I thought, “what a human moment” - a real relationship. And that is why I hate the social worker- client relationship so much. Because things like this aren’t supposed to happen. But perhaps it’s worth breaking the rules just a bit to experience such a strangely beautiful, human moment.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Curbside Case-Management

I made quick friends with David* at the Primavera Men’s Shelter. I talked with him for a long time during his first case management appointment in January. He had been in and out of our shelter before, but had spent most of his adult life on the streets of Tucson. He had been an alcoholic for so many years but was determined that this time would be different. Although shorter than I am, David preferred to refer to me as “little one” over Meredith. I would often see him on my way in to the shelter and we would waver furiously from the street saying “hey little one, I’ll see you at home!”           
It was 4 53 pm on a Wednesday- I was a bit late getting to the shelter. As I was biking down 6th Ave, I heard, from the other side of the street “Heeyy, Little One!” I immediately knew who it was and pulled over my bike. I hadn’t seen him since he didn’t show up to the shelter a few weeks earlier. He (sort of) looked to make sure no cars were coming and ran across the street to me. He soon launched into all the things that had been happening to him lately. He’d been wearing the same clothes for two weeks (some of his stuff had been stolen), he smelled like alcohol and urine. He looked really sad- it isn’t like him to be sad.
He said the shelter had felt like a prison- so he snapped. He didn’t want to go back at that point and now (because he didn’t show up that one time) he can’t go back. He said he has no one. He had been kicked out by his mother and his brother. He said no one understands what it’s like to be on the streets. He said he’d been sleeping behind DES. How ironic is that? DES- The Department of Economic Security.
About 15 minutes later, he said something that twisted my gut, jabbed my heart, and filled my eyes with tears:
 “ If I had a house, I’d open the door to anyone- I’d open my room. I’d open the fridge. And say, ‘this is for you’.” 
Then he just looked at me with glazed eyes, and I thought “Of course. Of course you would. And, so would Jesus. But not me. Nope, I was going to keep going. I was late for work at the shelter.” Before I left he thanked me and tried to smile, saying “I just needed someone to talk to.” So I cried the rest of my way to the shelter. I wanted to turn around and say, come into my home. But so many excuses ran through my mind. No, you are a professional. No, he’s an alcoholic. No, you have a house full of roommates. No.
But would Jesus make excuses?
*Change of name for confidentiality purposes.

Friday, February 11, 2011


While in Ethiopia, my travel buddy Marybeth and I would try to list at least five things we were thankful for before going to sleep under our mosquito nets (and then we'd pray they wouldn't cave in on us). I've been trying to pick up this practice again, and it has really brought an attitude of gratitude back into my life here. I thought I would share some of these thanksgivings with you...

- for a new friend who keeps me sane, and yet keeps me insane enough to keep asking questions so things may one day change
- for beautiful Tucson sunsets
- for farmers markets
- for the old couple swing dancing at the bar last night
- for 3 am cookies
- for gchat
- for so much laughter at dinner and joy being brought back into our wonderful community at 1229
- for piano music in the mail!
- for my new nickname at the shelter: "salad girl"
- for the new hole in our ceiling that "really opens up our living room" (thanks Ali)
- for the physiology lessons during case-management appointments
- for a lost shoe found 3 weeks later (outside, on the street, by Stevie)
- for figuring out why I'm so bad at pool (in the middle of the night while not being able to sleep)
- for glimpses of Jesus in the most unexpected places and people to remind me that God is here and worth living for again.

And I'm thankful for each of you and all your support, too!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Holy Ground

"For this is Holy Ground..." She took off her shoes, for this is holy ground.
Tonight we went to the memorial at UMC. There were some path type things among all the candles, flowers, posters, etc so that you could walk along and reflect/pray/think. I walked along the pavement part to see what was along the edge and as I approached the grassy section's pathway, I noticed my housemate's shoes on the outside portion. She left her shoes- she took them off. This roommate of mine- never ceases to amaze me. The way she uses her words and her actions so thoughtfully. The unique connection she can find with a moment or a place that is so obviously connected to her spirit. She moved through the labrynth of memorial with such intentionality. in her bare feet- her feet so connected with that holy ground that connects us all. This beautiful soul who reaches out to hug me and tell me "it's ok." Because she knows- she knows it will be. Because she remembers that no matter what, this space is still holy and this space is still connecting us. I watch her think, close her eyes and pray, fall to her knees in painful tears, accept a hug, and give a hug. And I know it's all going to be okay. Thank you, dear friend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bound Together

Last Saturday at a nearby grocery store a man came to a neighborhood meeting where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents. He came with a gun. He fired, it killed, it wounded. And the world watched as the results unfolded.
A friend and I waited in line for six hours to be able to get into the arena where President Obama was to speak at the memorial service. It was a powerful experience and I was honored to be a part of it. Even so, it was a hot day in Tucson, and we were not allowed to have food or drinks with us. Towards the end of the president’s speech, my stomach began to growl, and my eyes began to droop. I was looking at President Obama, right in front of me, and I couldn’t help but think, even for just a split second- I need this to finish up because I need food, and a bed
And once again, I am reminded of our humanity. Even the president of our country needs to satisfy those same basic needs that my body was reminding me of during his address. We all do. That night we honored heroes- the doctors, first response persons, citizens who went out on a limb to save another. It is amazing to be reminded of what we are capable- our capacity for good; and, at the same time, our capacity for evil. I am a human being- just like the man searching for a job staying at the shelter, just like the high-heeled woman who stands in line at Starbucks every morning, just like Daniel Hernandez- the young intern who saved the life of Gabrielle Giffords, just like Mr. Obama, and dare I say, just like Jered Loughner.
We all came into the world in the same way- through an original bond from mother and father.  And I believe that there is love in those bonds, for without an original love, there would be nothing to call “broken.” I challenge you to seek out that commonality in each person you encounter. Perhaps we can then work together to restore that original love that has torn in too many places. Peace be with you all!
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” – Desmond Tutu