Jimena called me today. She has more stories: People need help, people need money.
This one is about Floriana, who’s taking care of three of Marisol’s children. Marisol’s 3-year-old boy is in Intensive Care in a Springfield hospital for an infection that spread from his leg throughout his body. He has gone through one surgery and may have to go through another.
Marisol had no time to deliberate when she took him to the Emergency Room with sky-high fever, so Floriana told Marisol not to worry and took the other three children, 2, 5 and 8. Marisol has been raising four children on her own since her husband walked out on her. She’s worked on the farms part-time to make money, but now can’t.
“She’s the one we gave two food cards to, remember?” Jimena said, talking in her usual fast locomotive pace. “Marisol is so worried about what will happen to the three children; she had no time to give Floriana food for them or diapers, not the special milk the 2-year-old needs. I told her not to worry, to take care of the boy in the hospital and we’ll get food for the children.”
“What else?” I asked, my hand reaching up to stroke my forehead.
“She’ll need help with rent for her own home soon and internet because that’s how they do school. $750 plus $33 for internet, and of course the food for the kids.”
“We could handle the food with the food cards,” I say.
“You know, Eve,” Jimena says apologetically, “we also get help from the Community Action group and the Interfaith Council, but they already helped Marisol last February so they can’t do more this year. And you said to call you when there’s a special need.”
That was exactly what I’d asked her to do.
I won’t kid you, I shut my eyes and thought: Why did I do that? It’s endless. Every week it’s something else. For Thanksgiving we’re managing $1,250 in food cards and Jimena the Indefatigable got turkeys from the local Elks Club.
And still the phone call comes in.
Today I told my sister that over the past two weeks the isolation mandated by the coronavirus has gotten to me. I don’t feel depressed, but my discipline and personal initiative have begun to flag. Unlike others, I don’t have many firm schedules to adhere to, I make my own work schedule.
“Lately I don’t feel like working,” I tell her. “My concentration isn’t what it usually is.”
“You work too much,” my sister says.
“No, I also meditate, walk Aussie, study, read, take care of the house. And I work.”
“But you don’t see people. You don’t touch or hug people, and you need that. We all need that. Talking to folks on Zoom is not touching.”
I don’t Zoom with immigrant families, I see them on a city corner as I did last night. They come masked and keep a distance, but they show up. They can’t afford to be safely isolated. They can’t afford reservations about the coming vaccines that I’ve been hearing. (Did they test them enough? How do we know they’re really safe?).
It was freezing and we all wanted to go home. But it was important to be there, to stand under the marquee where it’s less windy, to look at faces not inside Zoom squares but in person. I give Jimena the food cards to give out because I wish to simply be there, listen to their questions in Spanish, watch the eyes.
“The question isn’t what I can do for them, the question is what will happen to me in my being with them.”
Fr. Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries, wrote that in one of his books. Bernie and he were friends.
Someone else said: “God is between two people.”
How do we do that on Zoom? Is God also between two squares, or three or four? On the one hand, God is everywhere. But there’s something raw and rough about meeting other people in the dark, especially from a different culture, hearing a different language, watching them smile at their children, pulling on Aussie with one hand while I raise my collar against the cold with the other. Shaking my head and rolling with laughter with one woman who came in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops.
I’m the white woman who brings food cards and cash that you’ve donated; they pose no danger to me, except for one: What will happen to me in my being with them? Will I get depressed by this everlasting, never-ending need? Even as they get settled for Thanksgiving, winter is ahead, no farm work, much less construction, and restaurants have barely held their own since spring.
Not to mention that more people arrive from south of the border. A young couple approaches, saying they heard we give out cards for food. And are there coupons for turkeys? “You’re not on the list,” Jimena tells them, taking down their names. “Where do you live? Come next week.”
Their gratitude notwithstanding—and they’re so, so grateful—I sometimes feel like a leaf blowing in the wind. Isn’t that how you feel at this time, when mailboxes are filled with petitions for help from so many worthwhile organizations, so many terrific people?
At the same time, I’m dazzled watching Jimena give out food cards and coupons for turkeys (she doesn’t have coupons for all, but for many). So many people give, so many receive. And who can judge whether it’s enough or not? What do we know of the true bounty of life, of the moment-by-moment give-and-take that continues endlessly?
Ours is just to start, just to participate, I think to myself. Don’t worry about finishing or doing everything. Leave something to God, otherwise it’s vanity. And keep on showing up in person on that street corner, as they will. As Jimena will. Leaves blowing in the wind, but who can see the air currents and where they lead?