I don’t usually quote messages I receive in response to my blog posts. I appreciate all of them and prefer to keep them private. This time I’d like to make an exception.
Yesterday I wrote about Hilaria, a deaf undocumented mother of three. She came often for food cards and was always funny and lighthearted. Many fathers and mothers who come are focused on what they need and thank us, but Hilaria enjoyed hanging around a little longer, reading lips intently and then making a joke.
She developed brain lesions and had to stop working, waiting for the lesions to diminish in size, and there was talk of brain surgery in the future. Last week she became completely blind and went into panic. A brain specialist said she now really needed the surgery, only there are no hospital beds due to the pandemic. He gave her strong medications that relieved the blindness somewhat, inconsistently, to what extent is still not clear to me.
This evening I brought the first rental check to Jimena and we agreed that she would arrange for me to visit Hilaria soon, if possible. She also told me the good news that surgery for Hilaria has been scheduled in Boston for the end of February.
Many readers responded to my request for money to make sure Jimena keeps her apartment for herself and three sons. One of them, who sounds like a lovely human being, also donated, but wrote the following:
“I’m so angry at the ‘gods’ after reading the true hardships that Hilaria is burdened with! It’s stories like this that are forcing me to question whether or not there actually IS any kind of cohesive energy or goodness or a system of karma in this world. Our whole existence today is a shitshow. I hate to live without a supporting belief, but I can’t support a seeming fairy tale when proof to the contrary is flying in my face every day.”
I have nothing to say about supporting beliefs, cohesive energy or system of karma, though I do feel that everything that we are and do is a function of cause-and-effect. In that connection, a teacher emailed me a quote by a 20th century Japanese woman Zen practitioner, Satomi Myodo, who wrote: “When I realized that, unlike other faiths in which one prays for benefits or miracles, in Buddhism one neither hates hell nor hopes for heaven, but rather lives courageously and eternally in the world of karma, I felt keenly that only here was true liberation to be found.”
I don’t quote this to promote Buddhism, only because I was moved by the courage she talked of. I’ve been so lucky to know people who lived courageously like that their entire lives.
What I really want to say is this: I am constantly amazed by the acts of generosity that surround Hilaria, her family, and community. You and I are not the only ones supporting her. Her boys, including her young 8-year-old, are cared for and fed by neighbors, family, and friends (including Jimena, who does their food shopping at seemingly all hours of the night and weekends).
Hilaria’s sister takes care of her. She receives other funds to cover utilities in her home. The owner of the farm where she worked till she got ill told her to come back whenever she could, there’s work for her always (though not in the thick of winter, when farms are closed).
And unbelievably, there is medical insurance that will cover all the costs of brain surgery in one of the Boston hospitals, considered to be among the best in the country. All this for an undocumented worker. I didn’t ask, but I know that there are people who will drive her back and forth to Boston when the surgery nears, a two-hour drive from here, for tests and pre-op procedures. Most important, she’ll be surrounded by people assuring and reassuring her that her family will be taken care of, she will have her home, and her single job is to fully heal and recover.
How many people can say they have all that?
The farmers who employ undocumented workers here participate in a medical insurance plan for their workers so that if someone becomes ill, their medical needs are covered. I didn’t know this till I got close to this immigrant community. I also know that when ICE raided the farms in the Donald Trump years, farm owners would alert each other to these visits and protect their workers from sudden deportations.
You can see Hilaria as an example of how terribly unfair this world is; you can also see her as an example of call-and-response, the call of a weeping, terrified, disabled woman and the generous response of everyone around her.
The more misery I witness, the more kindness and generosity I witness, too. Not just by people like us, but by the immigrants themselves. Regardless of how marginal and edgy their lives are, they’ll take in relatives and newcomers into already crowded apartments, take care of the children, buy food for each other—and always send money home to families they left behind. It’s amazing how much goodness flows out of their big hearts and much smaller incomes.
I also want to say how supportive our community is here. How all children got computers with which to do schoolwork during Covid, how Comcast offered Wi-Fi for $15.00 a month, how the local community supports Jimena with a grant that pays her salary so that she could translate in the schools and to parents after school, bringing the forms they need to sign and explaining their contents to parents who often are not just illiterate in English, but are also illiterate in Spanish. She works from 7:30 am in the schools with immigrant children and their parents, and four evenings a week till 9:00 pm helping children with special hardships to succeed in school.
Churches and temples provide emergency funds, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, as does the Interfaith Council of this county, of which I was once a member.
In short, there are many, many things I can’t do anything about—and I don’t need to. Others will come in, others will provide. I don’t have the money to singlehandedly provide for these families, but I discovered that if I could write about them and ask, together we make a big, big difference in the lives of many.
I used to want to save the world. I think that came to me through my mother, who saved people’s lives in the Holocaust. I wanted to be like her. The luckiest thing is that I don’t live during a Holocaust. And one notch below that is the understanding I had late in life that it’s not my job to save anybody, my job is much smaller, and that is to serve. Take my small place in the gigantic waves of giving and receiving crashing around and through me all the time, let that energy burst forth, sometimes nourishing, sometimes destroying, beyond any ideas I may have of goodness or badness, of insufficiency or what is enough.
Do small acts of kindness and trust them to spread wide, because everything spreads wide. What I’m sure of is that when we help Hilaria, all beings benefit.
If you still wish to help Hilaria, please make sure to press the link Donate to Immigrant Families so that your gift goes to where it’s intended.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.