Sunday, May 1, 2011
ESTA ES SU CASA--MAY 2011
Find me in The Beacon:
http://www.stlbeacon.org/voices/in-the-news/109470-miguel-dulick-on-teacher-strike-in-honduras = APRIL CASA
And while you’re there, check out their excellent coverage of the Good Friday tornado:
ESTA ES SU CASA--MAY 2011
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS
April was the cruelest month--certainly as far as weather is concerned. You had hundreds of tornadoes, while here our “summer” was perfectly still, hot as Hades, dry as a bone, dust inches thick, the air as heavy as an overcoat, the smoky mountains just a blur, a blood-red moon. You could hardly call it “Lent,” which really means spring.
Doña Julia, my 92-year-old neighbor, had the longest Lent. In fact, she began her dying even before Ash Wednesday, when I grabbed my camera to snap her last “glamour” shot as she enjoyed a fresh mango. She had risen briefly from her sickbed, but after this, she never got well. This is not to say that she was not still beautiful, even when she was just a shell of wrinkles, because she kept smiling, she kept talking, even joking, her mind sharp, her attitude patient and uncomplaining.
Every night you’d swear was going to be her last. Indeed, a variable group of anywhere from 10 to 20 folks would gather at the house, inside at her bedside or out in the corridor or street, in quiet vigil. Eventually, a kind of community formed, a society of Friends, a monastery at ease. Coffee and conversation, but mostly, as the Psalmist says, like watchmen waiting for the dawn.
You may remember I had said Padre Sebastian invited me to a group retreat that would meet weekly for several months. Well, his poor feet needed special attention, so he returned to Spain for treatment and returned to Honduras to another, shall we say, flatter, parish. So I thought I’d give the retreat a try by myself. I used a “contemporary reading” of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by Father Dave Fleming, who just recently died after a long illness. He had been my Superior during my years with the Jesuits, so I could hear his wise and guiding voice on every page. The nightly sessions with Doña Julia seemed the perfect time for prayer. I’d go over to the house about 9:00 p.m. First, I would kneel at her little bed, grasp her hand, kiss her forehead, brush her hair, and chat a bit. Then I’d settle in a chair to “meditate,” if I didn’t just fall asleep! One night I got there pretty late, and Juana, Doña Julia’s daughter-in-law (actually, granddaughter-in-law, I guess) looked in my direction and said, “She’s been asking for you.” She said it a couple times before I really believed it. I was blown away. After that, Julia became an inevitable presence in every meditation. She was there as God looked at the world with the desire to save us. She was there at Jesus’ birth, his life in Nazareth, his rounds of preaching, his agony and suffering, everything. I had to believe Dave Fleming would have said, “I wish I’d thought of that!” Doña Julia had become my retreat director.
So a death watch became everyone’s Long Retreat. She actually passed away Wednesday afternoon of Holy Week (April 20), as if to help focus our attention on the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Indeed, with her daily risings from seemingly impossible depths, she had given us a month of Easter Sundays.
That evening, in the middle of the church service, we heard something we had not heard in five months--thunder. A pale flash or two of lightning, and soon a welcome rain blew in. The temperature dropped, the air freshened, and you could breathe again. Still later, at the wake, when it came my turn to speak, I said the rain was Julia’s sign of her salvation. These are not tears, but kisses. The weather stayed cool the rest of the weekend, through Easter.
The hour of Julia’s burial on Holy Thursday afternoon found our loyalties divided. Or maybe divided is not the right word. Shared, is better. Because another family was burying a tiny preemie who had lived just 8 days, one of a set of twins. HIs brother was hanging on with their very young mom at a hospital in San Pedro Sula. So two cars, one crowd, headed to the cemetery in procession. Once there, little Angel Gabriel was buried with the other babies in a special section, a knoll, right at the cemetery entrance, and Julia was taken to her spot farther in. And then began the novenario, nine days of prayer.
Not all delays are so fruitful. The teacher strike finally ended after three long weeks, and the kids got back to class, but just for a week, before the Holy Week “vacation.” The teachers piled on the work, to make up for the lost time, and every day came another quiz or test. When the government announced not only deductions for any teacher who missed work during the strike, but two-year suspensions for teachers who had actively protested in the chaotic marches in Tegucigalpa, I called my best friend Fermin. “Fermin! Are you on the list?” “Miguel, I’m on every list.” I’ve never heard him so sad. “This is the end.” A lot of people just follow like lemmings, but for Fermin it’s a matter of justice. He did say that his supervisor in Yoro had told him they would protect him, because of his, really, lifelong, commitment to the cause. And subsequent “talks” between the unions and the government are “negotiating” the sanctions.
Another voice for justice, though half Fermin’s age, is the poet Carlos Ordóñez. Just before the strike ended, when the violence had subsided, Chemo and I made a quick trip to Tegus to see Carlos, who is working on an advanced degree in literature in Spain, with side trips to Brazil, where he works on documentary films with his fiancee Ursula. He was in Honduras just for 10 days, so we had to act fast, since we had not seen him in over two years. He’s been a published poet since the age of 16, and Chemo, amazingly enough, just loves the movie Carlos and Ursula made about a legendary Brazilian poet (who died just after the filming), so I very much wanted to encourage Chemo’s cultural enrichment, you know. We used the excuse of Carlos’ recent birthday to invite him to lunch. He was so gracious, and he obviously read my mind (I’m his biggest fan!) when I kept asking him about his latest book that supposedly was scheduled for publication a year ago. “I brought you a copy.” Still unpublished, it was a bound Kinko’s copy, but very elegant. Consisting of 30 prose-poems, it seems a masterpiece. Any attempt of mine to translate anything for you is whimsical, at best, Carlos invents a lot of his vocabulary (you can see little roots of familiar words peeking out), and even ordinary words lose their moorings in so dreamlike a vision. Yet the themes, as I say, are justice, truth, and peace. When I asked him how he followed the news of Honduras abroad, he said, “I just read the newspapers online--and believe the opposite!”
After lunch, Chemo wanted to show Carlos the dodg’em cars. But we discovered, in another corner of the arcade, another fascinating “game,” the self-service Guitar Hero gig. Chemo was a rock god, for fifty cents a tune.
During Holy Week, when there are so many homecomings, I sought out the mother of Manuelito (“Lito” to his friends) to ask for any news. Last I knew, he was still in the U.S., having successfully made it across the border some years ago after eight tries. “He’s back!”
she told me, deported actually, living with his wife and two girls in nearby Sabana del Blanco. So I went to find him.
This re-connect was inspired by my friend Seth Felman, who emailed me out of the blue a couple months ago after we had been out of touch basically since he graduated from high school 30 years ago. We became buddies--along with his family--when I was substituting at Wydown Junior High in Clayton. Then I joined the Jesuits, and we lost touch. But I was so thrilled to find Seth again that when I heard that Lito was back “in town,” I was not about to let the opportunity pass. Turns out Lito spent part of his time in St. Louis, where he admired, among other things, the Gateway Arch--which he called "the rainbow”--without realizing you could go inside it up to the top. In fact, he loved everything about America, and I told him, I’m sorry we kicked you out; you’re exactly the kind of person who belongs in our country. He had even begun the paperwork to attain citizenship, but, no good, good-bye, get out. As much as he longs for “the good life.” and had had his lovely house built with the money he sent down here, we all agreed that he should stay now, since every day brings more news of migrants slaughtered like pigs at the Mexican border by gangs, and his pretty wife is very pregnant with their third child. I asked, “When’s it due?” She says, “Well, today, actually.” But, as of this writing, the little bugger is staying put.
Another reconnection is proceeding apace. Olvin, who got shot in the left elbow last December, has winced and yelped his way through physical therapy and can flex his arm again. His goal is to get strong enough to get a job, he hopes, at one of the big sweatshops in San Pedro Sula. My advice was, “Just don’t tell them.”
They say it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good, and so it seems your tsunami of killer tornadoes stirred up just enough breeze here to send more rain and some nice, cool weather. But I’m sure our own disasters are right around the corner.
Speaking of disasters, I thought I had a sense of humor until I saw the hats at the Royal Wedding. Who was the mad hatter, Tina Fey? Looked like insects caught in their hair. But I have to say all the little tributes to Princess Diana kept things in perspective.
I mean Diana’s heart for the poor.
Eric Greitens, a Parkway North grad, has been steadily building a reputation for a very big heart for the poor. You have to check out the link below to his book “The Heart and the Fist,” and even then you can hardly believe all that he has done, and all he hopes to do. He has even offered to send a member of his associates down here to help Las Vegas. He graciously asked me to help spread the word about the book, but his own accomplishments speak for themselves.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Carlos Ordóñez’ poem “La Fiebre,” The Fever, straight from the heart (with the best I can do, translating it):
Hace frío en el pañuelo de sal
que una madre empapa en el cálix de la esperanza.
Hace frío en la orfandad
de una mano carcomida por el fuego de la penuria.
Hace frío en ese sueño
de profundo carnesí del que ningún inmortal volvió.
(It gets cold where a mother dips a rag of salt in a chalice of hope.
It’s cold when an orphaned hand is shredded by the fires of misery.
It’s cold in that blood-red dream where no spirit has found its way back.)