Saturday, October 29, 2011
Wait. What? Service is a duty that we as human beings, social creatures, are supposed to perform? Get out of here! I want my Facebook! I worked hard in this capitalistic society. I ain’t giving nothing away to nobody that ain’t earned it. I don’t care if it’s my time, my prayers, or money. I sure as hell ain’t giving freebies away.
Immanuel Kant strings his metaphysics through Christianity’s New Testament teachings. “This virtue is greater when the benefactor’s means are limited and he is strong enough quietly to take on himself the hardship he spares the other; then he is really to be considered morally rich.” This clearly originates from Mark’s Gospel of the widow’s offering. From this mixture of metaphysics and theology, Western society is heavily predisposed towards a distanced relationship with others. Nevertheless, whether it is through daily interactions, service, or familial relationships. We have duties. To others.
Today. We have Jesus as God on earth doing the impossible; loving one another as I have loved you, turning the other cheek. Saints are those individuals that aim for that inverted, unworldly perfection.
Language is a powerful, manipulative tool in both the philosophical and theological arenas. Language has created this everlasting Schism over good works as means for salvation, which is to suggest the profundity of the Saints is dulled. Still, somewhere along the way, we become caught up that we all can’t be Saints. Similarly, works as the pinnacle aspect to our very being, our purpose or goal in life, is somehow bogged down by this Schism. What we get today is some watered-down version of what coincidentally happens to be the Corporal Works of Mercy; done out of the sake of our…for our…
Our what? Our Christian-human nature? No. Christians cannot even agree on whether the implicit biblical language that stresses our human nature is to serve others through works or to be some sort of result from that very nature.
But wait. Oh, there happens to be this other half of the world called the East. And what is that one Jewel of three called in Buddhism? Dharma is it? Transliterated as duty? And there happens to be six qualities of it too! The first being: Svakkhato. “The Dharma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely.” (Thanks Wikipedia!) Is this to say there is no gray area in what’s to be done in the Buddhist tradition? There’s no astonishment in duty being part of our nature when it’s esteemed as the Universal Law.
Yet, I could sit here and draw parallels between Buddhism’s interpretation of dharma as well as Hinduism’s; the Tao Te Ching, Christianity’s Beatitudes-all of which are interchangeable for what is to be seen as life’s duty (or a guide for it.) It’s no mere coincidence that world religions share similarities on the emphasis of duty. What’s irksome, though, is philosophy’s-particularly Western philosophy as seen through Kant’s metaphysics-assertion to rationalize our duty when all along it’s within the very essence of our being. Not to take philosophy out of its historical context, as it seems to be so often in order to continue being dubbed meritorious in modern times, but the emotional relationship that the religions listed above (and others) foster existed long before metaphysics enabled the world to empirically understand human nature.
I don’t know why it is incredibly difficult for humans to grasp that our essence implies “relationship” as our distinguishing feature. (Distinguishing us from animals with that rationale we possess and so many philosophers like to draw out as profound.) Where does one human come from? The sexual relationship of two other human beings. And while hermits intentionally deny themselves to partake in that inherent, rudimentary distinguishing feature-that is to say the relationship-mass society lives either in harmony, disharmony, or an amalgamation of both. I heard that morality is the balance of the relationships shared in a community. Morals are the pillars that uphold society. This is to say morals are a measurement of the gravity of relationships (e.g., a stronger communal support for morals implies a more united community.) From our relationships derive our world; we either choose to establish and nurture our relationships or to cripple and damage them.
Therefore, morality, the same found within world religions, implicates we have a duty to others. We can call this service, we can call it love. Language of today suggests that what we now deem as charity, this mindless, almost worthless giving of financial aid, is of lesser value. (Lesser when compared to social justice enacted through service.) Language of yesterday suggests that charity comes from the Latin word caritas, and as any Christian might get giddy over, caritas derives from Greek’s agape. What we know about agape in the Christian sense is that it’s defined as love of fellow man.
Social justice. We can similarly use language to trace justice to iustus, which we can break down to ius, meaning law. What I really like about this etymology-dictionary site I am using as a point of reference is that it takes ius a step further to ious. “‘Sacred formula’…that originated in the religious cults.” Here we are presented with several points I would like to emphasize. Some circles, particularly theocracies, enact certain morals as laws. Second, this etymology emphasizes the bridged gap between human nature and morality with religion. It is no mere coincidence that Kant intertwined beneficence with the widow and the coin.
Nonetheless, the misinterpretation of charity of today (I mentioned above,) is incorrectly separated from social justice. The misinterpretation itself is enough grounds to suggest that the truer sense of charity alone holds more value than the misconception of this sort of aimless giving. But the fact that social justice has roots in this concept of sanctity can be further driven by charity’s truer meaning of love of fellow man. Social justice is charity. Charity is social justice. Because human nature, emphasized by morals, is to foster a relationship with others, both charity and social justice combined are to be seen as an intrinsic duty.
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 Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals. Mary Gregor, trans. (New York: Cambridge, 1991.)
 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44.)
 If I might add, I personally find theological language more focalized and straightforward than philosophical jargon. Here’s why. Theology aims to explain nature in a way for believers to understand and follow. Philosophy is a constant dialogue that is questioning nature’s qualities. Both, however, evolve from inner circles of either faith or reason that propel their explanations forward. Theology’s objectivity differs from philosophy’s in that faith enables for a more accepting reception of evolution because it happens more rarely. Philosophy cannot be pinpointed by its believers and subscribers because it is often subject to change.
 Yet, there still are divisions in Buddhism.
 My classmates made this distinction when the words CHARITY and JUSTICE were written on the whiteboard. Charity became this seasonal tithing during the holiday season; lowered to a sense of tangible giving. Justice was therefore elevated to the only giving (of time) of value.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
July 27, 2011
My last night in society ended perfectly after a spectacular day in Denver. Once the phone’s clock hit midnight, my luck came to a sudden end. I woke up abruptly like I had many times on the plane. I couldn’t really tell if I was fully awake or in a daze. But this morning, I remained awake thanks to my horrendous tummy ache. It still was nagging me for three days now.
Yesterday, we actually consumed the toxin-filled water from the Platte River. I was giving Will a demo on how to filter water with the Platypus Gravity Filter. This morning, at the crack of dawn, I realized the filtration had no impact on that filthy, flowing water. I only drank two or three sips because my stomach ached from thirst.
I’m unbelievably picky when it comes to water and its tastes. Typically, I have found taste is affected by temperature. The Platte River was lukewarm. So I gave up trying to drink poisonous water and faced being thirsty. When Will dozed off on this patio in Common Park by the river, I tried a second water fountain that also didn’t work. Pushed by thirst, I compromised my water standards. Yes, I filled the water bottle from a park bathroom sink that stank from the shit smeared all over the stall. The whole quest for water put me in a crappy mood.
Anyways, the river water didn’t have any immediate influence on my stomach pains. So by 1 a.m. the next day, I woke up to the sound of Katy Perry playing in my head. Fireworks and the thought of diarrhea infested my brain to the point where all I could do was doze off for a few minutes and wake up to the same verse in her songs. I hate playing mind games. I try so desperately to convince myself that my stomach’s hurt will exit my body by taking a number two rather than coming back up the top hatch.
By dawn, the pain had made its way low enough for me to be convinced I could rid myself of the pain by taking a number two. (I have a mental line drawn on my tummy that, when pain crosses below it, I wait patiently for my intestines to kick in.) When I had waited long enough for daylight to peep through the curtains, I braved the eight-step trip to the bathroom.
Diarrhea didn’t resolve anything. In fact, it opened up more space in my belly for me to feel the pain lurch around even more. I called it quits after sitting patiently on the toilet for fifteen minutes as Lisa’s cat ponderously stared at me. (The kitten was kept in the bathroom so he would not disturb Will and me as we slept. Poor guy.)
So after locking the kitty back in his lair, I tried to fall asleep. Successful until Will’s obnoxious alarm went off, I had my eyes closed for about a complete hour. The alarm somehow restarted and worsened the pain. I mumbled to Will, asking for the garbage can, which was thankfully brought to me in the nick of time.
I dry heaved twice. Nothing came but an upward-yank feeling on my groin with each heave. I changed my position from a shoulder-holding-my-weight stance to a cross-legged yoga position. The Whole Foods paper bag, which served as a garbage can, was fitted between my legs as I heaved a third time. Finally something came up. The lights were off so I couldn’t tell what meal the chunks came from. My eyes were watering by the fourth heave. Subsequently, my nose began to drip; an uncontrollable side effect from putting contacts in daily and having my eyes run with the saline solution. I was ergo, unable to smell the typically nose piercing smell that puke emits.
This untimely fiasco forced me to forfeit my eggs and bacon that we excitedly bought the night before, anticipating our final meal in society. Will, along with Lisa’s dog, Colby, shared my serving as I drank a stomach-soothing tea prescribed by our hostess. It worked. But the reality of the day ahead loomed over me; hiking in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains.
Once in Denver, we were on Lisa’s time. We eventually got to the trailhead after driving through the luxurious city of Boulder. Adorned by Colorado University’s red terracotta, Boulder was quite the launch pad for our adventure. Lisa brought Colby, the best-behaved Border collie I have met. He endured the windy 10,000 foot ascent next to me in the back seat. On any other day, my stomach would have been fine. But shortly after recuperating from this morning’s surprise, the poor thing (my stomach) was viciously attacked by altitude sickness. In addition to stomach mayhem, I became dizzy. But once inside the gates of Indian Peaks Backcountry, we pulled over for a much needed bathroom break.
The ride into the mountains made me feel like I was five years old. You can fight altitude sickness, so I am told, with water. Let me point out that my three piece dilemma that I face while trying to feel better. First off, my stomach was a mess and was not in the mood for any (liquid) medicine to take up space in its region in my body. Second, I played some more mind games and drank a water bottle flavored with a spoonful of pomegranate tea. Third, the combination of the two prior components made me pee for a minute and fifteen seconds straight once we finally got 18 year old Jacky-baby to a latrine. My, oh my how nice that latrine was (especially compared to some of the latrines back home in the Blue Ridge Parkway…)
Lisa offered me some alternative, hands-on remedy for my remaining, but subtle pains. Her practice was an interesting amalgamation of tapping different body parts that possessed high concentrates of energy. Apparently these areas had nerve endings that sent messages, like all other nerves, more effectively to my brain.Lisa happens to be the managing editor for Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal (as well as senior editor, two separate executive editor positions, and associate editor for four other periodicals.) She started tapping my Crown Chakra (which, interestingly enough, in this line of work, she did not refer to it is as such.) Still, she moved from tapping the center of my head to a second point located below my eye, next to where my nose meets the rest of my face; that little crevice there where sleep catches. There were an additional six places, one of which possessed a lot of energy in my instance; the collarbone. I repeated some lines while she tapped: “I fully accept and love my body, even though my tummy hurts me.” Lisa explained that using positive statements surpassed using negative ones (which, she elaborated, were initially used in this line of work before a modern shift to positive optimism.) The tapping of the nerve endings would stop my mind from thinking that my stomach was sick-or, at least, that was my understanding of her practice. On a scale of 1-10, my pain dropped from a six to a two after three separate rounds of tapping. Talk about mind games!
|At the intersection of trails, looking back towards Boulder|
Lisa and Colby came about a quarter to a half mile into the trail with Will and me. The late-July snow forbid her leather, work sandals to go no further. My same hiking tee shirt and zip off pants I used in the Virginia Appalachia fared just as well in this thick, avalanche-prone snow! The temperature must have been the always-perfect-72 degrees with a crisp breeze. Yet, the snow didn’t look like it was going anywhere any time soon.
We departed from Lisa and Colby after a few Alp-like background photographs were snapped. Will and I made our way to the intersection of Mt. Audubon trailhead and our path. Mt. Audubon somehow loomed over us in the northwest even though we started at the parking lot at roughly 10,000 feet. To say the height of these mountains was daunting would be to discredit their awe-inspiring presence; imminent and inescapable.
I fell immediately back into the same dull, divided mindset I had on the Appalachian Trail back home in Virginia. Up until we started a slight descent, I didn’t feel much at all. Because ascents have me looking at my feet, my physical and mental energies were channeled elsewhere. Out of nowhere came a wave full of emotions with the breeze. It touched my body, heart, and soul in one swift gust of God’s breath. I almost cried. Multiple aspects of my surroundings, feelings, future, and family formulated this abrupt mood swing.
To explain, here’s the origin of the effects on my body. I was undergoing a delayed reaction to the altitude. When the fact of the matter of trekking at
10,000 feet hit my
lungs, I felt an inverted high from the lightheadedness. On top of my bodily
reaction was my heart’s. Switching from burning to aching in an instant as any
young heart might, I missed my family. It was only the second day from home, or
technically, the first full day. Even
though I was hiking with my best friend and role model, I felt the distance
between the rocky peak I was walking beneath and the rolling Blue Ridge at
home. For the first time ever, I experienced a realer, more forceful sense of
independence and solitude.
The vast mountains, not hills, stretched high into the clouds forcing me to feel almost abandoned; I could not physically have what my heart yearned, whereas home fenced everyone and everything within a reasonable distance. It’s undoubtedly indicative (as the feeling still weighs my heart even now as I write this) of my departure for college. With that concept identified, the distance grew even farther as its inevitable reality is now only 23 days away. In this quick sense of desperation, I listened to God’s voice in the over-used “Be not afraid, for I am with you” quote. Being this high in the sky, I am almost certain one of the archangels whispered the same words Gabriel whispered to Mary into my soul.
While my Senior Project on the AT was titled “Spirituality in the Mountains,” I must confess that the spirits here are incredibly different from the inhabitants of the Blue Ridge. Appalachia emanates an innate sense of ancient and tribal spirituality. The Rockies, from what I can tell from Day 1, maintain an intimidating, but strikingly beautiful, emotion-stirring animus, prana.
Different sects of Christianity describe a similar, but virtually nonexistent-in-today’s-world term of “fear and awe of the Lord.” And in the Rockies this first night, I immediately thought of some Augustinian, if not Aquinas’ reasoning paraphrased as “the Lord God created the heavens, and the earth, and the race of Man. Because God created us, we are inherently and consequently made with some sort of essence of God.” I have no doubt that I feel God’s presence within His creation of both me and the mountains and to feel that clear unity shared between both of us was primordial.
These first-time-felt feelings left me as we continued descending. My body was running on a cup of tea as we eventually stopped to snack. The photos we’ve taken can say more than the thousands of words I’d struggle to find in order to describe the scenery here. We, or rather I alone, continued to struggle adjusting to the altitude while Will checked the map at the many stops my shallow breathing necessitated throughout the day.
The combination of both his and my wrongs had us thinking we were much further along than we really were. My fault was obvious; out of shape (or just poorly adjusting to the new climate.) His was the repeated checking of the map (which was directly my fault for having us stop frequently.) Still, the frequent map checking is a disease. Sometimes short-term, hikers face it when they start out on a trail for the first time. It’s a very cruel and unusual disease since we could cure it if we just put the map away….
So with both faults being committed incessantly and more frequently as we passed our predestine 12 o’clock finish, we stopped for a two-thirty Ramen lunch. We were caught in a cold drizzle. Very interesting to note: Will said the rains come consecutively at noon every day, but we lucked out and got it two and half hours later. It’s probably five-thirty as I finish writing this after two, if not three hours since we stopped here; two, if not three miles short of the lake Will initially planned for us to stop at for the day. There’s some river passing nearby, and we’re almost in the shadow of a couple mountains. The one huge comfort that consoles me is my book: The Game of Thrones! I look forward to reading it after I get out of this tent to pee! The rains left, came again, and now left us with puffy white clouds. Though, those seem to be leaving. The blue sky fills in the cracks between the puzzle-pieced clouds as the sun begins to set.
I lied. It’s actually 6:40! Gotta pee!
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 Now back among resources, I was able to do some “lite research” to figure out what I was trying to say. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church I found the same idea I was trying to convey in several areas. Firstly, “‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27.) Man occupies a unique place in creation: he is “in the image of God”; in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; he is created “male and female”; God established him in his friendship.” (CCC, 355.) Secondly, “But this “intimate and vital bond of man to God” (Gaudium et Spes, 19, 1.) can be forgotten…”(CCC, 29.) That bond is described as such: “From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator.” (GS 19, 1.)
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tonight I will be on Hawkward Silence Radio.
The show starts at 10 pm eastern time and can be listened to offline.
My interviewers will be taking calls! So please feel free to call in, but
know that the calls are NOT screened.
You can tune in HERE
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Thursday, October 13, 2011
*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano
There’s just something about Africa that scares me. I’ve been fortunate enough to literally go to the other side of the world in Okinawa, Japan. Let me tell you that when we were not in Tokyo, the world was foreign to say the least. Our Western culture shares its similarities and differences with the Far East and I enjoyed my visit with family stationed there; I had the chance to see a little more than the average tourist! That was a trip in my past. One that I have in my future is to serve in some impoverished, third-world country in South America. I am drawn to my Catholic brothers and sisters that predominantly populate some of the nations below the equator.
But there remains this strong fear and maybe some awe for Africa. Whatever limited knowledge I can conjure up to rattle off for a class derived from an earlier class that briefly touched on Africa. Media has its scopes on Egypt and Libya, Yemen at times, and whatever interactions northern countries have with Europe. But I feel like in the instances of Egypt and Libya, their appearances in our limited news coverage only revolve around the “revolution of the Middle East” and its spread to the northern countries of Africa. (Even though Libya’s violence stems from a different root-bear with me!) Yemen; I heard about it in an Outside article which christened it the most dangerous tourist destination for Americans. And since my interest with European current events is spread thin from Greece to France with economic hardships, I occasionally hear about immigration problems from North Africa.
I also would like to add that my fear of Africa probably derives from yes, my ignorance above, as well as my European history classes and reading The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. If I can sum up European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries: they done screwed the African nations over big time. Maybe I feel some sort of regret? Not that I had any direct affiliation 150 years ago, but I suppose that is a factor. It could also be the disservice of certain history courses that revolved around Europe, the Americas, and Asia. (So that would be my fault; I chose the classes.) I read The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm in middle school. In essence, the plot revolved around a futuristic Zimbabwe. Within this Brave New World setting existed a tribe. And now that I have mentioned Brave New World, the same sort of abstraction-from-society theme lies in Huxley’s pages as well (and probably predates Farmer.) Yet, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm painted a picture in my late childhood. There was a heavy contrast between polar opposites in the financial spectrum. And now, any media coverage on Africa fits this preceding mental image of Africa I have had ever since I was thirteen.
I still have this fear; maybe even more so after attending Front Line’s Invisible Children presentation. After the last seminar I attended on child violence in Philadelphia, it has begun to grind my gears. Though I have not taken some heroic proactive stance on the issue, I was drawn to tonight’s topic, now shifted to scary Africa. As I mentioned above, through the eyes of slanted media (in addition to my lacking motivation to look for a fuller variety of sources,) I have recently seen Africa in struggle and turmoil. By attending tonight, I felt like I was witnessing a car crash; I just could not look away. Yes, I was toying with my fear and facing it by showing up to a proactive meeting. But I also thought it was an opportunity to let a darker human form of fascination. Why would I be drawn to this horrendous reality of children enslaved to murder under warlords? And to clarify, when I say drawn, I mean like a moth to the light-not to be confused with some sort of sadistic-masochist attraction.
Let me try to explain myself. Once I heard in Tony, a documentary on an individual’s life in northern Uganda, the term night commuters, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Because of the apparent civil war in Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan government that has been waged for the past two decades, children that are caught in the crossfire of inhumane violence (yes, there is a difference between humane and inhumane violence-I found that out tonight,) go into cities or larger populations to sleep. They go from their homes to avoid violence and enslavement every night.
As any 21st century documentary might have, Tony depicted the truest of colors its namesake’s home. I can only say thank you to Front Line for not drawing out the horror inflicted by Joseph Convey’s LRA. What little coverage they used was enough. For me it was. But it obviously was not for Invisible Children. The documentary-style of Tony allowed for one of its producers and founders of Invisible Children, Laren Poole, to speak directly to the audience. In this address, he said something along the lines of: “Now you’ll hear from someone Uganda…” I did not actually think he meant it.
Geoffrey Ochem is twenty-four. His village was raided by the LRA when he was sixteen. He was pressed into service when he and two of his friends, Simon and Peter, witnessed the murder of a child soldier who was used as an example. Two months later, Geoffrey escaped from being rope-bound to ten other captive-soldiers in a firefight with Ugandan government forces. Tonight, six years later, he still does not know where Simon and Peter are. By the way, Geoffrey’s personality was shy in certain ways as well as firm. His English was choppy at times, but when he knew what he wanted to say, his point came across clearly; Uganda, his home, is ravished by irrepressible sectarian violence. What hit me hard was that he was seemingly more nervous about being in front of college students than emotional over his recollection of his past. His sincere laughs ended his answers to our questions adding a bit of light-heartedness to the grim reality put before us. That was most notable in my book; how he stood there, completely opening his heart to retell a few atrocities.
So, where’s the hope? Does this mean my fear of Africa is justified or increased? I’d say so. But wait, that was Invisible Children’s goal, wasn’t it? Maybe not to induce fear, but somewhere near it. Geoffrey finished courses at his university and is graduating with a B.A. in teaching. He plans on teaching secondary history and economics. For one, his story is the epitome of Invisible Children’s objective: promote education. Another underlying theme throughout Tony that was reiterated indirectly by Geoffrey’s own words is the harm American arrogance can cause. In Tony, Jolly Okot, the initial Ugandan contact for the Laren Poole and founders, stressed the incrimination caused by free stuff from America. Geoffrey, when asked by the audience what his initial impression of the States was, answered, “I did not plan on coming to the U.S.”
What I took away from both points was American resources and America itself is not this readily-made solution that is capable of being specifically cut for Uganda’s violence. Even when a bill proposed by Invisible Children’s Laren Poole reached and passed in Congress last year to capture/stop Joseph Convey, the fact that his violence is spreading past Uganda points to the limitation to America’s readiness to throw Uganda a bone after bureaucracy had its say.
As a final point of reflection, I think my fear increased. The reality of the violence in Uganda was brought to my doorstep. A member of Invisible Children, Nate, was murdered in the terrorist attack in Kampala during last year’s World Cup. Some proactive groups have videos that play off emotions to gain financial and vocal support. But I have never come away from a presentation more fearful than I had initially walked in with; thanks Invisible Children.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
|AH HELL NO|
I feel like the last entries on my experiences at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries have been abstract. At least, after today’s experience, I can now say that all my past reflections revolve around emotions. My emotions shared through my relationships with members at MNM appeared to be pinnacle of my experience in this ‘gig’ called service learning. Up until today, I thought I had reached this experience-this end of the line, you cannot go any further ideal. I felt comfortable and accepted in my new environment, I thought I was making somewhat of an impact on the people I was around, and I was likewise impacted by my experiences at service.
In writing, I feel like using the ultimate phrase “I thought I had seen everything” puts a cap on what you can follow up with your next essay. Hence, I hate to use it when I am writing several periodic essays, like service learning; unless, however, I can see the end of writing on that one topic (which I cannot with service learning.) I am making an exception today with that self-made rule.
I thought I had seen everything at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Easing into my routine, I found pleasure from the growth of my relationships. For anyone who might see MNM or any type of time-with-others service as secondary to physical labor, you really have not had the pleasure of piecing puzzles together. I was really enjoying this Zen-like trance I could enter into when I was around Ms. Shirley as she told me about the rights and wrongs of society. Today she went on about this newspaper article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that I read to her. A seventy-two year old man shot his forty-two year old neighbor when the police did not arrive after he phoned in his complaint. Ms. Shirley did not like that one bit; consequently, I listened to all the wrongs the world experiences. Her least favorite crime was apparently robbery as she repeatedly mentioned how jewelry shops happen to be robbed when people need money.
But something happened today that I was not expecting. I was just starting to settle into my newly formed comfort bubble. It was massage day. I admit that the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Oh great, I really could use one for my sore shoulders,” as I imagined a massage-circle form; everyone was included. Nope. I could not have been any more wrong. As service learners, we somehow became part time masseuses. Gloves did not serve as a recompense for this odd, seemingly out of place activity.
My mind split over what happened next. Half of me thought this was incredibly weird, for lack of a better term, to just randomly start giving someone I knew for less than a month a massage. Massages are intimate. And after a certain age, when one reaches some level of maturity, you do not randomly line up for massages as teens do at summer camps and sleep overs. So I felt a little out of place for two reasons when it was sprung on us to get gloves and cocoa butter; the immediate intimacy and my precedent about massages.
My second, more grounded half thought that this was the epitome of service learning. Intimacy. My mind drifted to the cleansing of feet in Catholic tradition from John 13’s Gospel. “After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 5.) In the recent past, when I volunteered at Camp Holiday Trails back home in Virginia, I could easily draw biblical parallels to my service. Now, for some reason, I find it border-line hokey to draw out those parallels. Maybe it is the result of too many comparative religion courses that have opened my eyes to see that Christianity is not the sole mission-oriented faith. It could also be the consequence of returning to a heavily Catholic-dominated student population that helps facilitate the above misconception I have/had; I feel like I play devil’s advocate too often when I hear the Bible being thrown around like some textbook reference everyone knows.
Yet, as I rubbed the lotion into Ms. Gladys’ gnarled hands, I connected to something more than skin deep. I could see actual pain in her hands. And while the concepts of emotions and relationships are not tangible, (yet, both their objects are,) I found that physicality permeated the remaining distance between me as “servicer” and my “service.” The emotions create, nourish, and hinder the relationship which is then escalated to an incredibly intimate level. Even in the simplest act of a hand massage. Just to pull some non-Christian connections into this deeper form of service; I think of yoga’s notion within the word yoga: its literal definition is “yoking.” I see that two sets of emotions are yoked together through physical touch to form a deeper relationship. Similarly, isn’t the term islam transliterated as submission? Maybe it is a stretch to connect that with humility-both of which I needed in order to massage Ms. Gladys. Confucianism: deep respect for elders.
I do not know how, since I had gloves on, the scent of cocoa butter lingers as I type this. I admit again that I am still shaken up from the forced portion of me having to suddenly perform physical service. Nevertheless, it was a learning experience that I am continuing to think about each time I catch a waft of lotion.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Another Tuesday morning seemed to roll around. My schedule seems to be working itself out; I did not wake up incredibly fatigued as I have been the past early Tuesday mornings. In fact, I gave myself enough time to enjoy my Lucky Charms this morning without scarfing it down in my timed three minutes and fourteen seconds. It dawned on me that it was cloudy, yet again, and by the time we reached Mercy Neighborhood Ministries (MNM), the sun had peeped out. More residents of the immediate area were outside, maybe as a result of the beautiful weather. I could not tell. The drive was more enjoyable this go-around; the scenery was livelier in autumn and the community in north Philadelphia appeared to be appreciating it as much as I was.
The gang was finishing breakfast as we rolled up at nine o’clock. The receptionist greeted us as friendly as ever, and collectively, my service partners and I replied in a cheery manner. The familiarity of routine calmed any nerves that I previously had in my new environment. To say that I was comfortable alongside Paul, the grumpy trickster of the crowd, would be an understatement. I could sense when he wanted to call me out for looking at him. But I would not give him the satisfaction of making a wise-crack because I would look away before we would make eye contact.
Even as delectable as Paul sounds, he has an angry, disgruntled side. I personally find this characteristic of his to be a reality check; he is not an incompetent senior citizen whose senile persona leaves him with nothing to do but smile and crack jokes. If anything, Paul acts like an arrogant sixteen year old. He knows he is good company, yet he plays hard to get. Because he acts more unpredictably than not, I am consequently drawn to his rollercoaster-like attitude.
The same is to be said for Ms. Caroline and Ms. Shirley; both women lack this lackadaisical trait that so many residents at a nursing home had that I volunteered during the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program. My take on why there are many engaged, energetic members of the MNM is that they choose to attend the programs offered. There are no residents at MNM; everyone chooses to come. I also believe that one of life’s lessons is that one earns their keep from their hard work; you only get what you put in. Since the MNM members have led demanding, urban lifestyles, I think they understand that they would be wasting their own time if they did not participate in any of the day’s activities. Ergo, they are all working hard on their puzzles, praying in the prayer circle, and engaging one another in the most pleasant tones.
This past Tuesday, Ms. Barbara, the coordinator, was not present. Ms. KayKay was taking over for the time being. It was movie day. I was curious to see what we would end up watching, hoping that it was not going to be a black and white film with some actor I would not recognize. As I sat next to Ms. Caroline in the cafeteria, after she informed about the recall on cantaloupe that I was oblivious to, (thank you university for that tip,) she started listing the movies she brought. Within the list, there was nothing but thrillers and action packed movies; Diehard 2 seemed to be the most moderate. Oh, and there was of course Titanic, but when Paul overheard that was an option, he booed. Shocked at the movie choice of an elderly woman, I decided whatever the members chose would be completely fine with me!
Mr. Brooks was picked. The back of the movie box claimed that it was one of Kevin Costner’s finest films. It also gave a brief description of a plot in which a psychopathic killer cuts loose and enjoys killing for the excitement. “Hmmm,” was all that I could think. In the past, when I volunteered at summer camps for children, you obviously would not show an R-rated movie to a young audience. Subconsciously, I assumed the same rule would be applied in this instance with an older audience. But precedent depicted that this was not the first time the MNM members watched an action packed, potentially gory movie.
What I found throughout the twisting plot, the character development of Kevin Costner’s psychopathic killer, and the odd, dark sarcasm that repeatedly showed up as an underlying theme was that different things make different people happy. In the instance of most eighteen year olds, thrillers are enjoyable to watch, especially the ones with many twists and turns. When I realized that I was enjoying the movie, I could not help but wonder if the members on my left and right who were also sitting around the TV were enjoying this great film. They were. Some more than others, like Paul and Ms. Shirley. But to my surprise, as a whole, the group appeared to love the gore and excitement.
I found out that day that MNM truly catered to the likes of many of its members. With smaller numbers than most nursing homes, the group of members are more affiliated with the decision making process in what their daily activities are. I remember Ms. Barbara explaining to me on our service test-run how the members can choose to not participate in any of the activities and that the schedule can change in an instant if the general consensus shows that no one wants to participate in the upcoming activity. I personally think, with some reflection, that the power to still choose gives many of the MNM members happiness. While various activities will always please some participants more than others, I think their ability to make decisions empowers them. What I have found in the members’ comings and goings is the limitation on their decision making; many of them are bussed over to MNM for the day, and then taken back to their homes. As a college student, I find that very confining. Yet, when they choose to come to MNM, they are offered an array of activities for the day, and I feel deeply obligated to ensure that the activities I help with are the best they can be.
Even if it is a horror film in which only Paul, Mr. Cranky, is left to cackle insanely over the mutilation of various characters on the screen, I found that allowing for him to choose to watch the movie made all the difference. So every time blood splattered on the screen, I heard this maddening laugh in the back of the room, coming from a very entertained individual…