Friday, November 23, 2007

The Grace of Change

Since October 27th a lot has changed here in Chile.

For one thing, three of my community members have returned to the states; they completed two full years of service in Chile and I could not be happier for them to be back at home with their family and friends. Without the three of them, I would be lost in Chile. I would be stuck in my house, without anything to do or anyone to visit. Without Caitlin, I would never have met Lucia and Sara. Without Ryan, I would not have met Michelle and Jenny. Without Roy I would not have met Paula and Madga. It has been a huge transition relearning community, since now community consists of Michelle and me (and our new kitten, Nacho), but we are making it work. We have card nights with friends, dinners with nuns and even a few beach trips for fun. Change number one.

When the three of them left, Brother Donald also returned to the states for a hip-replacement. The hip-replacement went well and he is now recovering in Columba Hall at the Notre Dame campus. When he left, he left behind the soup kitchen (the meals-on-wheels program). His program feeds almost 50 elderly and bed-ridden people of the parish. He sends a wholesome meal four days a week, complete with soup, salad, bread and last but not least, the main meal. Most of these elderly people are unable to prepare food for themselves, are sick, in bed and appreciative of what Brother Donald is able to do for them. Before he (Brother Donald) left, I volunteered to help in the kitchen, to replace Caitlin on Tuesdays and to be available to do whatever was needed to ensure that these people had food until the end of the year. With that being said, I was given the keys to the parish, kitchen and safe and was told, have at it and thank you.

As soon as he left, problems began to pop up. As the one who was left in charge of paying the bills, making the shopping lists, and being available four days a week, the brunt of the problems began to take a toll on me. I began to hate going to work, began to leave early when I should have stayed to wash the dishes, and began to lose sight of who I was making food for. It took one final problem for me to realize exactly who I was helping.

As Meals-On-Wheels suggests, we have wheels to deliver the food. A couple from the parish, Paula and Jaime, spend about two hours a day, running around Peñalolén, ensuring each and every person receives their lunch. When Brother Donald left, he thought we would have enough money through the end of November, but through various donations and a few budget cuts, we are hoping to make it through December 21st. Since Paula thought that the program was ending earlier, she made other arrangements for work. She informed me that she was available until December 6th, but after a small argument with Padre Pedro, she just didn’t show up. So, Tuesday there I was, without wheels. Padre Pedro borrowed some wheels, we loaded up lunch and off we went. Four and a half hours later, I gained my will to work again.

Until you see the smiling faces of the people you serve lunch for, each person only has a number. It was as if we were serving lunch to a large state university; each student only has a number and the professors could care less about their name. I knew that certain numbers were elderly couples and certain numbers sometimes took care of their grandson, but I did not know much more beyond that. On Tuesday, I learned names, faces, houses (or in many cases, rooms rented) and the needs of these people. We arrived with lunch hours late and Lucia, Jorge, Maria, Lidia, Juan and José could not have been happier.

I have known since I started working in the kitchen in March that I was helping people. I knew that I was making a difference. I knew that the tears cried cutting onions was worth the hassle, but I did not know for whom I was crying for. I am crying for the woman who rents a small dilapidated room behind a castle of a house. I am crying for the woman who is bed-ridden and can’t move. I am crying for the elderly couple who takes care of their grandson who is mentally handicapped. I cry for a blind woman whose daughter neglects her. I cry for a woman with diabetes who looks forward to her lunch everyday. I cry for them all.

Thanksgiving was yesterday and once again I am humbled. I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family who is willing to share me with Chile. I am thankful for my friends who support me. I am thankful for my community members, both past and present who challenge me to be a better person. But mostly I am thankful for cutting onions and crying for those who need it most.