Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Incident At The Bus Station

"But I couldn't see
That the joke was on me"
 - I Started A Joke, by The Bee Gees 


So there I was, at the bus station, waiting for friends to arrive so we could go downtown and visit with women in prostitution as we did about twice a month. At the bus station there are two roads where the buses run, and a platform in the center where people change buses. I was sitting on the platform, watching for my friends, when I saw a blind man crossing the road towards the platform. He walked carefully, his cane moving back and forth in front of him. An elderly gentleman was crossing at the same time. He wore an old but neat brown suit and had a frailness to him. He and the blind man walked parallel to each other, each heading towards the platform, when the elderly gentleman nearly tripped. Instinctively he reached out and grasped the arm of the blind man, steadying himself.

The blind man flipped out. 

He raised his cane and struck at the gentleman, hitting him across his shoulders and head. The two men crumpled to the ground. I jumped to my feet and rushed to the edge of the platform, along with several others who saw the surprising scene. A police officer and a couple of other men reached the two men on the ground just as a bus drove along the road between myself and them. When the bus rumbled past, the police officer was holding onto the arm of the blind man. His cane was bent. The gentleman was walking away with a look of pure confusion and bewilderment. Someone rushed towards him, handing him his thin wire glasses, which had been knocked to the ground. The blind man gestured wildly, speaking to the police officer. Though I couldn’t hear what he said, it seemed clear what had happened: 

The blind man felt a hand grab hold of him and made the snap judgement that he was being robbed, so he reacted with self-defense. Likely, he had been robbed before, taken as an easy target, so he resolved not to let it happen again without a fight. 

The men went their separate ways. The spectators standing near me went back to waiting for their buses, murmuring. It was such a strange and violent scene, unfolding in a moment of misunderstanding. 

Eventually, my friends arrived and we boarded a bus to go downtown. I keep thinking about those two men. It would be so interesting to know what went through their minds during and after the incident. How they told the story to others. I would be so curious to hear it from their perspectives. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Leave A Light On

"Come on, my little ruin, won’t you open up and let us in?
Time has not been kind, but you're still standing here.
Leave a light on in your window, won’t you let me see a sign?
It’s gonna take more than smoke and mirrors now for me this time"

 -  My Little Ruin, by Glen Hansard

September 10th is National Suicide Prevention Day. This year, it was also the day in which a woman I've worked with in Casa Adalia attempted to take her life.

Maybe it grows wearisome to read my essays about suicide prevention. I know I write about it a lot. In all honestly, I feel I have good reason to do so: in my two-and-a-half years in Ecuador, I've encountered four attempted and actual suicides. 

:: Two women I've work with at Casa Adalia (one who tried more than once).
:: The teenage son of fellow mission workers.
:: The man whose suicide attempt (driving 90 miles per hour the wrong lane while over medicated) caused the death of my aunt and cousin. (He then took his life the day before the case went to trial).

When I heard the news about the woman at Casa Adalia, I was angry. I was swearing furious. I realized, quickly, that my anger masked a deep fear and grief, but I held on it, not wanting to feel anything else. I heard the news when *Phil called and asked me to be in charge of the Casa Gabriel boys that day, handling lunch and taking them to play soccer. He had been in the hospital all night  with Debbie and they hoped to get a few hours rest. I was warming up a mug of coffee when he called. Afterwards, I flitted about the kitchen, opening cabinets and taking things in and out of the freezer, trying to decide whether it was best to cook for the boys or take them out for lunch. I decided to make tacos, gathering up ingredients, bursting with productivity and anger.
"She's come so far," I thought. "There are a dozen people who love her and are there for her. Why didn't she reach out for help? Why did she give up?"

I had been to Casa Adalia earlier in the week. As I came in the front door, "Ana" had run upstairs sobbing, locking herself in her room. Truthfully, she is dramatic. She has a big personality which can make her a good leader ... or a bad influence, depending on her choices. That day she was weeping because she had been messaging with her family. The ones who trafficked her to a brothel when she was a young teen. The ones who continuously lied and manipulated to try and get her to return and be a little money-making slave once again. Because it is her family, and she feels obligated to help them if she can, it has taken everything the staff has to keep her safe and out of their entrapment. But we can't stop her from talking to them if she chooses. We can't stop her being emotionally hurt.

Ana is home from the hospital. I haven't talked to her yet, though I've envisioned that conversation many times. In the first vision, anger continues to course through me. I want her to see and feel it. I want her to know that what she did wasn't just sad or frightening, it was hurtful on an extreme level. It was so utterly foolish - to throw away everything - that I want to shake her. It was a betrayal. I know; her pain and darkness and confusion must have overwhelmed her. I know; maybe she thought that by taking herself out of the equation, everyone else would be better off. Thankfully, she felt regret and a change of heart very quickly after taking the pills, which was how Debbie and others were able to get her to the hospital in time. My fear, which is coming out sideways as anger, is that she'll try again and there won't be time for a change of mind, or to save her.

I'm processing through everything with trusted friends. Praying for Ana and that she remembers all the hope and healing if she again feels despair. Praying that she won't try again. Praying the other girls and staff can handle and process Ana's attempt in a healthy way. Anger feels more powerful than sorrow in a powerless situation. Towards the end of a long day, I pushed back tears, preferring to swear than cry. As much as I may post about suicide prevention and have open conversations, there will still be those who try and do. No anger or any other emotion can stop it.

So let us continue to have open conversations with real emotions. Let us not be crushed by the things we've experienced, again and again, but spurred on to action. Let us not be still, let us not be silent.

*Phil is the director of Casa Gabriel, the home for boys living on the streets, and his wife Debbie is the director of Casa Adalia, the home for girls rescued from human trafficking.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thank You

"in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you"
 - Thanks, by WS Merwin

Today, I was thanked for saying thank you.
"It means a lot," a friend told me. 

The thanks had been in a simple email; it probably took me five minutes to write. It's not something I always remember to do. I can definitely be bad about writing someone back after they've written me, or having things on my mental to-do list which just don't get checked off. I just know that when I receive a little note which says those simple words - thank you - it can mean so much. An acknowledgement, not just of someone as a person, but of their worth.

Thank you for your help.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Thank you for your insight.
Thank you for doing that. 
Thank you for being there.
Thank you. Just thank you.

I'm a believer in paying things forward. Give, while allowing yourself to be poured into as well, and keep on giving. The pouring into may be things as simple as going out to appreciate nature, or playing music on repeat which renews your soul, or having a conversation with a friend who will listen and understand over trying to fix things. The giving may be as easy as being the listening friend to someone else, or paying someone a meaningful compliment, or bringing them a meal or gift, or saying thank you.

My pastor showed a video once where a guy sits on his bed, sighs, and prays, "I'm really struggling. I don't know what to be thankful for." He goes to sleep. When he wakes up the next morning, he wiggles his toes under the sheets, and words appear saying, "I can move. I can walk." As the man gets up and goes about his day, more words highlight all the daily blessings of his life: Good food, A fulfilling job, A Home, A Car, Family, Friends, Interests, Clothes, Entertainment, Freedom, and so on. By the time the man once again sits down on his bed at the end of the day, the viewer feels sure that the man will smile, having been reminded - even blown away - of how thankful he should be for such a good life. Instead, the man sighs in just the same way, saying with the frustration of a broken record, "I don't know what to be thankful for."

There's a gorgeous poem by WS Merwin called "Thanks" which I have read dozens of times. Each time, it takes my breath away. Unlike the man in the video who doesn't know what to be thankful for, in this poem, thanks comes bursting out of people in ordinary, even terrible, situations.

"back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you"

The verses build with an urgency which makes me want to run outside and shout, Thank you, thank you ("dark though it is").

So, let us.
Let us say thank you, for all the everyday blessings in our lives, detecting them diligently and growing agog with the wonder of their rediscovery. Let us say thank you, purely, as we did when we were children and surely had a moment of awe for simply being alive. Let us pass forth thanks before complaint, making it a contagious, beloved habit.

Thank you for the reminder to say thank you. Thank for for grace when I am ungrateful, unobservant, and self-centered. Thank you for a lifetime of chances to say ... thank you.