Yesterday my friends and I went to Ranchito and Cihuatlan to deliver dispensas to the needy. In spite of the extreme heat of the day and the fact that it was my time to relax and read my favorite book, I went along, subduing my spiritually rebellious self that nourishes the things my heart struggles to combat: laziness, selfishness, intolerance. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
I’d been talking to my friends about their ‘dispensa ministry’, questioning them about its effectiveness because I believe that establishing relationships should be the goal of the ministry and how to empower people to earn material things through their own labor. But the goal my friends shared was not about fixing them by feeding them but more about restoring them to health and well-being. And this is made possible because they have people skills and an adequate command of the Spanish language. Their unique presence has become the method by which inroads have been made into the lives of these extraordinarily poor Mexicans.
The first family we visited had a father who was dying and a paraplegic who paints with her mouth. Poverty, hardship and misfortune have pressed many a life into heroism: such has happened to her. A broad smile never left her face. It’s as though she has snatched victory from the very jaws of defeat. The second family was happy too in spite of obvious material difficulties. The woman my friends know is paralyzed from the waist down, but there she was, chopping tomatillos for salsa and planning to make tacos for sale, smiling broadly with tooth-gapped joy. A discouraged soul is hopeless, but these women were triumphing over adversity with a power that made them victors. The third family we visited made me realize the immense good that comes from the dispensa ministry. It also made me resolve to strike the phrase “I’m starved” from my vocabulary, and reserve the word for the real thing. Although the bare, earthen floor had been swept clean and everything was in its place, I don’t think there was any food for them to eat. And the man was skeleton-thin.
My friends leave for Canada this week; they’ll be gone for 4 months. I’m not sure I could pick up and do what they do in their place. And that makes me realize how often we come up against something we find distasteful and we evade the issue with an excuse: ‘I’m not quite ready for that right now.’ But one thing I know – a life among our Mexican neighbors demands a re-orientation of our values. To value our neighbor doesn’t put us in the headlines. To visit them is the stuff of service to our neighbor – driving them to an appointment, paying for a prescription or giving them a fish for comida. Just consider the cost of time and the weight of commitment. It was the weights on my grandfather clock that kept it going.
This morning I woke up to a rainstorm. The wind was blowing and the rain fell as if heaven had opened its windows. But there was faint music in my heart. It was a voice singing across the storm, gradually sweetening its melody and deepening its cords, reminding me that the gentle people we visited yesterday all had a unique part in that universal song. I went back to sleep as it rained tenderness, compassion and patience on me.