One thing I have always struggled with in writing, songwriting, really creative projects of any kind is finishing. I don’t know what it is, but putting closure, finale, is painful. I put it off. I often don’t know where to start ‘the end’, which loose ends to tie up first, how to arrange it, how to say ‘done’. Such is the case with this post – the final installment of Under Rosarito Skies.
Perhaps the best place to start is the final day on site at the home build. The beauty of a week at Project Mexico is that there is, very much, a completion of a task. It’s amazing to see a new home standing where there was only an empty slab at the beginning of the week. But even with the completion of the project there is no doubt that the connection, among the team that worked and prayed and played together during the week, and between the team and the family whose home was built will continue. The important thing is, this is a mutual connection. Yes, the generosity of donors, the hard work of the staff and Project Mexico to organize such a thing (they build 20-25 houses a season!), and the willing workers from all over the states who come to form a building team make it possible for a family without a stable, solid home to have one. But we also were given much. We were welcomed in with generous hospitality to someone’s neighborhood, yard, home. We were blessed with an experience outside of our own, an experience that, at least in my case, changed me forever.
I also got another gift. A panda and a duck.
Before I go on, my wife, Maria, a much better writer than I am, shared her thoughts on the latest additions to our home at her blog. You should read it: http://splinterandbone.blogspot.com/2015/07/a-panda-bear-priest-and-mercy.html
As I mentioned in previous posts, my knee injury kept me from most of the construction work, so I played with neighborhood kids. I got along especially with Kimberly and Kati, the daughters of Sophia, whose house we but. The girls brought me gifts during the week. Candy from the corner store, coloring book pictures, and flowers wrapped in the plastic baseball bases we brought (clever re-purposing!). On the final day, I worked on practicing my Spanish for the house blessing we would do later. I read through the prayers, trying not to make the mistakes I had heard about from other priests – “pensado is very close to pescado – be careful not to mess that up – otherwise, you are asking God to forgive us of our fish, instead of our sins.” As I read through quietly, Kati came to sit down next to me. She at first looked up, astonished, perhaps confused, asking if I in fact did know how to speak Spanish and if so why I hadn’t all week. I tried to explain that I could read it but wasn’t very good at speaking it in conversation. It was okay. She asked me to read the prayers over and over again, while she colored. The site director came by and listened for a while, and then told Kati the story of St. Katherine the Great. Kati listened with great attention to the story of the saint that had her name, the story of a woman of surpassing brilliance, beauty, and courage, who loved Christ so much she eventually was martyred for her faith.
Kati told me to wait where I was while she went to get something. She returned with the now famous stuffed panda. Later on the panda was joined by a companion, a stuffed duck in a car seat. I tried to convince Kati to keep the toys, that she was very kind, but she didn’t need to give away her favorite dolls. I even tried to leave them on her chair when we were finally ready to leave the site for the last time, after the house blessing. Kati was having none of it. She followed us out to the truck and made me take them. I was determined to bring these gifts with me anytime I spoke about Project Mexico. Our Church School has taken them on as ‘mascots’ and are going to send letters and gifts back to Kati and Kimberly.
A very common Spanish word that most of us gringos even know is “Adios”. It means goodbye, farewell. But at its root is something closer to “Go with God” or “To God”. It is a farewell that carries with it the eternal blessing and hope that our temporary separations, whether across borders, or even across the final border from life to death, are bound together still in the Grace of God. That panda is a reminder of this. As are the words that Sophia spoke at the house blessing: “We hope that this will not be the end of our family’s relationship with you all.” Since then, some in our group have received messages from Sophia, talking about how the house decoration and life is going. I believe charity work in the name of Christ has to be like this. It is not an unequal arrangement, not a mission of pity, but an entrance into Mystery, a stepping out in faith into the place where Christ enters in, in the places He said He would be found. And what this does is bind people together, people groups together, more closely. It is a great medicine in tearing down preconceived notions, prejudice, fear or indifference towards the ‘other’. It is a place where miracles happen.
So, as promised, I’ll conclude with the miraculous story of the chihuahua. I don’t know how it fits in with the trajectory of this post, or of this series. But, its good for me to let go of trying to nail the ‘perfect’ conclusion and just tell a story. Consider it like a hidden ‘bonus track’ on a record.
When we first arrived on site, the neighborhood chihuahuas revolted. They would run and bark and bark anytime we would walk onto the property. As the week went on they ‘attacked’ less, but were still suspicious. By the end of the week, several had made friends with us. In our training we are told to be very cautious of neighborhood dogs. There is no guarantee that they have proper vaccinations, etc. Some of them look pretty rough. The worst was one particular little dog. This sad little guy had one eye that was clearly messed up, a big scar on his head (from a fight with a cat), and was covered in what at first we thought were skin tumors, but turned out to be ticks. “You know those are ticks, right?” my son said to a girl on our team that had decided to hold the pathetic pup ‘at her own risk’. “What?!” she said, dropping the dog to the ground. Some folks in our group got the dog a vet appointment and tick treatment. Why care about this particular dog, that seemed to have so many problems? Well, besides just showing kindness to a lowly creature, this dog was a miracle dog. As the story goes, on the day of the fire that leveled Sophia’s house, her uncle, a firefighter showed up in time to put part of the fire out. In the midst of his work, he saw the chihuahua, lying motionless. He carried the dog out, and performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on the tick infested, scarred, one eyed franken-pup. The little dog came back to life. He lived to bark another day, to be a playful companion for Kim and Kati, and to be a reminder of miracles and Grace, even in the most unlikely places.