Jesus: Please Father, let this cup pass from me.
The Father: If you only knew how much it pains me to see you suffer.
Jesus: Then do something, anything. I know you have the power. Don’t you love me?
The Spirit: I wouldn’t do that.
The Father: I’m just going to lift his burden, a little bit.
The Spirit: And accomplish?
The Father: The relief of his agony. They’re killing him.
The Spirit: And by doing so you will take away the suffering of the Son…
The Father: And the laboring pains of the Father.
The Spirit: For us to be. We must be who we are.
Jesus: Into your hands, I commend my spirit. It is finished.
I was supposed to go to Vailankanni last night. India has a famous shrine there to Our Lady of Good Health. It is especially adored by those who survived the Tsunami two years ago, which affected the nearby region. I wanted to see both the shrine and the recovery efforts of the Tsunami. God had other plans.
As a deliberate way to thwart me, God forced the India Supreme Court to make a controversial ruling that several states of India have decided to protest. The states have called for a ban of vehicular traffic and business today. Motorcycles are allowed on the roads, but not cars or trucks. To get to Vailankanni, a car was needed. My travel to Vailankanni was coordinated by Fr. R.K. of the National Biblical, Catechetical, and Liturgical Council. He changed the plans so that I would visit a neighboring village, Thanjavur, still affected by the ban, but less of a need for the use of a car. Unfortunately, the change led to a train ticket that had no guaranteed seat. Without a guaranteed seat, I would have to stay all night on the floor of the train. Ideal for neither my sleeping nor my security. Also, there was no real assurance that the ban wouldn’t extend to the train service coming back to Bangalore, leaving me stuck in Thanjavur with a plane to catch 12 hours later. Noticing my rising fatigue and uncertainty, we made the decision for me not to leave Banaglore.
“You’ll just have to see it when you come back to India.”
“Let me guess, the next time I come back… I’ll have to spend more time.”
“Of course, how did you know I was going to say that?”
“It is what everybody tells me… everywhere I go…”
OK, I really don’t think that God was intending to disrupt MY plans by permitting the Supreme Court to make THEIR decision, but there is providence to all of this, I got some rest today. Tomorrow, in the middle of the night, I begin 40 hours of continuous travel, until I arrive in Rome.
Instead of traveling to the southeast coast, Fr. R.K arranged for me to see a Hindu temple.
“You can’t take that bag in with you.”
“But they are taking those bags with them?”
“Yes, but yours is too big. You’ll have to check it.”
“I’m not checking this bag. The equipment inside is too expensive.”
“You can trust us. This is India.”
I might have been able to trust the man asking for my bag if the following four conditions weren’t in place 1) He hadn’t lied to me five minutes prior about paying 150 rupes to get through a line that he said would take me one hour. It took me five minutes to get through the line. 2) Without being noticed, I could have easily walked along the walkway behind the security area, and grabbed any of the bags that were being kept “secure” by the two “security guards,” 3) there wasn’t a sign every ten feet saying “beware of pickpockets.” and 4) I wasn’t in India… or ANY other country in the world!
Sure! It’s India! I’m at a Hindu temple! It is safe! You can trust us here!
I didn’t make it through Asia without losing any of my possessions by playing the fool with my property, but I have to admit, I’m growing very weary of all the double talk and deceit. I’m also growing tired of the attitude I must portray while traveling. I have to play tough, look out for thieves, wave away six to eight times the barkers who want to sell contraband, or give a taxi ride. I have to distrust anyone who approach me, and walk away from any situation that is deemed even slightly uncomfortable, especially in the urban environments.
Throughout Asia, in the countryside, the poverty is crippling, but the people still have a joy to their being that evades description. In the city, the homeless man sleeps in open trash piles in the sidewalk, where cows eat the refuse left in the trash and defecate, while a man squats down and urinates on the same sidewalk. The children come up to you expecting money, and you have to put on a stern, unflinching game face. They will devour you if you show any compassion. This poverty is different than the poverty in the country. They’ll kick, and bite, and throw you away. This is more than hunger, this is the human soul knotted by avarice and envy. It is ugly, not because of the poverty. It’s ugly because they are poor, and they covet. The average Indian can pass by without a problem, but I’m an American. A smile to a child will earn you a show. They’ll perform for you the theater misery, till you give a coin, and then they’ll run away, their life no better than before.
When I was in the Boy Scouts as a young man, I learned about the unintended malice behind such charity. Late at night, raccoons come to hunt the trash cans by the campsite. They expect to find food in the trash cans. They expect it because last week’s campers didn’t close the trash lids properly, and the raccoons were able to find a late night feast. This week, if they don’t find food in the trashcans, they’ll start searching wherever they smell the food, the kitchen area, or even your tent. Then when you leave camp, and they don’t know where to find the food anymore, they die from hunger, forgetting how to find food in their natural habitat. The only solution is to put the trash away properly from the beginning, so the raccoons can’t find it.
And so it is here. To survive this urban jungle of poverty, you have to put on the face of unconcern. You have to ignore the children begging at your feet. They clamor at your taxi saying “Uncle. Uncle.” over and over again, for 5 minutes non-stop, unless I’m lucky enough that the traffic guard pushes the cars onward. The smallest recognition of their plight, or hint of disquiet, only amplifies their plea. Had I twenty minutes, and they were willing to actually talk, we would discuss the advantages of going to school. But how do you convince them that school is important when their parents beat them if they don’t go to the streets to beg? That is of course, if these unfortunates are lucky enough to have parents. It is more than just poverty, it is humanity gone painfully wrong.
“You have to pay for your face.” Sister told me tonight at dinner.
I hate that fact! It absolutely tortures me. I want to show the world that we are family, that we could be unified if we just gave a damn. I’m tired of going out on the streets and acting like I don’t care, just to survive my journey. I’m tired of walking away from cabs because they try to overcharge me, just because they know I’m an American. I am a walking target for the downtrodden of this country to prey on.
Come on people! My country has oppressed dozens of countries more than yours, and those same countries have turned around and treated me much better than you do. Trust you with by bag? Hah! You can’t even guarantee that the trains will run tomorrow because apparently, in India, when you don’t agree with one another, the only appeal to heaven that you have, is to close down the roads. I mean, I know that you’ve been at the butt end of a religious system, whose leaders oppressed you, and forced you into castes, but I’m Catholic, were used to corrupt religious leaders oppressing us. We even like it! It helps us suffer more so we can earn a better place in heaven. I know that England looted your country and left you without an economy, without a political system, without resources, and a bummer of a self-esteem problem, but I’m American, we should be happy that we have something in common. We didn’t like the British either. Get over it.
So I didn’t leave my bag, and they wouldn’t let me go into the Hindu Temple. I took a few photos of the temple from far away which, if you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view by clicking here. Instead, I fought, and walked away from, three cabs who wanted to cheat me. They wanted me to pay 60 rupees for a fare that cost 20. (Reality check – that is $1.50 vs. $.50 for a 3 mile drive) Finally finding a cab driver who would use the meter, I went to St. Peter’s Seminary.
At the seminary, I discovered one of the fascinating problems India faces. Did you know that there are 1,652 languages in this country? Twenty four of them are spoken by a million people or more. The government recognizes and utilizes fourteen languages and the Bible has been translated into one hundred and eighty of the in Indian languages. No wonder I have a hard time getting a cab.
“You did the right thing, you know.” said Fr. Sebastian, the rector of the seminary, as we had a cup of tea. I know I did, but mostly I’m disappointed in my mission. I want to come to a place like India, and celebrate our differences in peacefulness and joy. I want us to be united.
And we are united, but we are also different. It is unfair for me to assume that I will be treated as an Indian. My hosts treat me exceptionally well, the Catholic communities who take the time to get to know me and know why I am here, but in public, not so. In public I get frustrated by half spoken English, under pronounced, with wry smiles that think I’m rich. I honestly had an easier time back in South Korea when no one spoke English, at all.
As broad of a picture that I would like to create of a world where multi-cultural pluralism is going to be wonderful, I have had to come to some hard realizations. First, it is going to be frustrating to achieve. Secondly, when we do achieve it, and we must, we are still going to be frustrated.
I’m an American, tall and white. No matter how much I learn about meditation or Hindi thought, no matter how much a come to appreciate enculturation, and no matter how much I painfully acquire yoga, I’m still an American, tall and white. I can’t get away from who I am, and part of that is a frustration with things done differently than I would like them to be done. I can’t wash away who I am, and become a blank slate to be rewritten. I can’t erase the past thirty two years of my life and suddenly become “Asian.” I don’t think I’m supposed to. I don’t think that is what is intended by mutual respect of differences.
We each have roles to play in life, and sometimes those roles are tough. Sometimes we have to admit, even painfully, that we are very different and that it is very difficult to deal with one another. Sometimes we are at an impasse, and it isn’t that we simply “Agree to disagree.” We just DISAGREE. Disagreeing isn’t giving up. I’m not advocating for violence. I’m simply seeing in my own experience, what I am sure the Father felt when he saw the Son suffering. They were in disagreement about what to do. I’m sure the Father wanted to take it all away. He could have. He had the power. But if he did, the Son couldn’t be the Son, and the Father couldn’t be the Father. They had different roles to play. I’m sure that Jesus wasn’t happy with the Father, scripture tells us that, but what made the intimate relationship of love so powerful in the Godhead, is that they loved each other, despite their differences (creator, human, and spirit), despite their disagreements (not wanting to die vs. not interfering), and despite the separate roles they each one of them had to play.
May we all have the courage to be the best of who we are, even through the suffering, the pain of disagreement, and difference.
After all, it was death that gave us resurrection.