I don’t know if changing the oil in a car is worth getting up at 3:30 in the morning, but… why not?
Today was a community outing for the Poor Handmaid sisters of Soa Joao. Their driver must take his truck to a 7:45 AM scheduled maintenance, at the car dealership in Teresina. Teresina is the nearest major city to Sao Joao (three hours away) which is why there was a 3:30 AM wake up scheduled. The required maintenance gave the sisters an opportunity to get away for the day.
…And apparently to indulge me with kindness.
“Would you like to have this?” Sr. Joyce says with a smile and her strong Indian accent.
“No… I don’t have any room in my bags.”
“We will send. Our sisters are coming two weeks. They will take for you.”
I try to deflect the ceaseless shower of kindness saying, “We’ll see… Let’s just keep looking for now.”
I can’t seem to take a simple step around these sisters without it being noticed as opportunity for repeated hospitality. If I drink a Fanta Laranja (oragnge) one time, then every time we sit down to drink something, the nuns order me a Fanta Laranja. If I order a mineral water “con gas” (sparkling water), then somehow an extra bottle of water shows up in the park later on that afternoon. One of the sisters carried an extra one, just in case I got thirsty.
I pull Sr. Mary Anne aside, “You know, I can pay for these things. You don’t have to get this stuff for me.”
“But we want to. Our community doesn’t get many visitors. All our family and friends live overseas, and can’t come to visit us that often, so we’re just excited to have someone with whom we can share what we have.”
“Well… thank you then… for the hammock… and the wooden carved crucifix…. and lunch… and the figurines… and the…”
The day reminded me of my childhood. Since my mother had spent hopeless years trying to raise my brothers and sister, she wasn’t going to put off any longer connecting with her own sisters just because of me. I was frequently packed up, and brought along on all day shopping trips with my aunts to the large commercial strip of Fairview Heights.
I learned a great number of things from these shopping trips.
The first was patience.
A seven year old boy needs to learn patience if he wants to retain the kind admiration of his aunts, especially since they have the noted ability to kill two hours in a fabric store without trial of conscience. Maybe that is why I still find buttons so interesting.
But I also learned the more important value of connecting with those you love. Those shopping trips were periods of time when my mother and her sisters had the time to connect. Shopping was just an excuse. The real activity was listening to one another’s stories, supporting one another, and occasionally entertaining their serendipitous seven year old tag-along.
Today was a similar experience for me. The car maintenance in Terisina was merely an excuse to go out as a community. To entertain the needs of my pilgrimage, the trip allowed me to visit Catholic parishes in a different diocese. Teresina is an urban landscape in which I was able to visit the parishes of Sao Benedito, Our Lady of Lourdes, and also stop for some time of Eucharistic Adoration at Our Lady of Sorrows with the strangely androgynous Franciscans who staff the parish. (I seriously could not make out if they were men or women.)
But the community time with the Poor Handmaid sisters of Sao Joao was more than an excuse to entertain and/or spoil me. It also gave them the chance to be together at a difficult time, which was important, especially for Sr. Lucilene. She received the unfortunate news today that a previous biopsy came back with uncertain results, therefore requiring more surgery, and an increased likelihood that she may face the reality of cancerous growth in her body. An awkward observer, I was able to witness the strong care and concern that the sisters had for Sr. Lucilene as she grieved her disappointment and fear.
I keep trying to deepen my understanding of what solidarity really means and feel this outing helped me see it a little more clearly. These sisters cannot take on the burden of cancer from Sr. Lucy, but they can stand by her, with her, as she faces her medical struggles. That is a significant part of solidarity.
No. They can’t change the test results. No. They can’t perform the surgery for her. No. They can’t do a lot of things, but they don’t let that keep them from doing what they can do.
I know that I often feel limited in what I can do as a human being. No. I cannot personally find a cure for HIV/AIDS. No. I cannot solve world hunger. No. I cannot do a lot of things, but I should never let that keep me from doing what I can do, standing next to my brothers and sisters as they face the fears and joys that life has to offer.There are lots of things that can lead moments of solidarity. Business, athletic sports, tourism, music, art, shopping, school, religion, pilgrimage… even scheduled car maintenance. What seems less important to me is the excuses that we manufacture to connect in the way my aunts used to do, or the way that the Poor Handmaid sisters did today. There are plenty of excuses that can lead us to relationships of solidarity. The important is not which excuse we employ, but that we use the opportunities available to us in order to connect with one other.