After taking the month of July off from blogging, it hasn’t been easy to make a comeback. Life occasionally gets sassy with me and, although I am one to sass right back, it does sometimes get a bit overwhelming. This isn’t necessarily bad, just enough to shake me out of my stupor and force me to grow in ways I hadn’t really prepared for.
I went on a two week vacation at the beginning of last month that took me through Barcelona, Lisbon, and London. I won’t write specifically about my travels –although if you must know, the trip was incredible. However, there are two experiences that I must mention, because they are intricately tied to a third I lived after returning to NYC.
First Experience – Location: park bench somewhere in Barcelona. I sat down to pray three Rosaries, as I do the first Saturday of every month in honor of Our Lady of Fátima. A man sat next to me and introduced himself as Alí. He began a polite conversation, during which I learned he owned a Turkish restaurant that was no longer thriving due to the crisis. Before leaving, he mentioned that he’d never seen a young person praying in public, only old people. I just smiled at him and thought, “how sad.” Then, as he got up to walk away, he looked me square in the eye and asked me to please pray for him. A Muslim asked a Catholic to pray for him. How beautiful.
Second Experience – Location: Lisbon bus station. A coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other, I rushed by a young man in a wheel chair who was begging for money. He had no legs, but his face was joyful, and he gifted everyone that walked past him with a smile, even if they didn’t so much as glance at him. I got on the escalator thinking, “I wish I could give him something, but my hands are tied up.” A few moments later, I realized how silly and selfish this was of me. Since when did I make such weak excuses for not helping someone in need? Putting the coffee and the croissant down on a bench, I fished out a two euro coin, turned around, and went back down to him. He met me with a huge smile and a “God bless you” in Portuguese. Seeing him up close made me realize he couldn’t have been more than 24 years old – my brother’s age. And for a moment, while we were smiling back at each other, I did feel as if he were my own brother of flesh and blood. It was then and there that I suddenly understood the true meaning of the expression “we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.”
I have not been able to forget either of them. Back in NYC, I left the office a few days after returning and noticed a young girl sitting on the street with a “broke – please help” sign in front of her. Again, I walked by, this time a bit frustrated, because she did not look distraught, rather, she seemed quite healthy and able. I immediately judged her and thought, “Why are you just sitting there instead of looking for a job?”, but my judgement lasted me only about a block and a half, after which I had to turn back around. This time, I met her with five dollars. She smiled and thanked me. I asked her if she didn’t mind me asking why she was on the street. With a confident “No problem!” she began telling me her story:
Third Experience – Location: NYC sidewalk, Midtown. At the age of 15, she found out her parents had planned an arranged marriage for her, and to a 35-year-old, no less. Her mother is one of three wives, and she has 21 brothers and sisters, some of whom she has never met. After finishing school, she ran away from home, completely set on starting a new life and never going back. She hasn’t spoken to her father in years.
By this point in her story, I was sitting beside her on the sidewalk, completely dumbfounded. You see, if you’re expecting to read that this girl is from the Middle East, I will have to ask you to kindly re-adjust your preconceived notions. She is from a small town in Utah, United States. Her name is Joanne. I stayed with her for some time, chatting and laughing about life and its difficulties – although I clearly had no say in the matter. When I left, I didn’t know exactly what or how to feel, but I knew I didn’t want the “weight of the world” to pull me down, as it usually does in the face of cruelties. So, I decided I would do the only thing I could handle then and there: pray.
Maybe the world does find it unusual that a young woman should pray, yet it is the one thing that gives me the most strength and reassurance. There are so many problems we will never be able to solve, so many things that escape our own small, human abilities, especially on a global scale. But each one of us can do little things each day to improve not only ourselves, but the situations and people around us. Change your attitude, and your perception of the world will naturally change.
Prayer, even though I enjoy it, is mostly a struggle between my ego and my humility. It forces me to take my thoughts far from myself and instead focus them on someone else. This is difficult to accomplish, but I try my best to resort to these simple moments of silence and thoughtfulness when I feel overwhelmed. Praying reminds me of how small I am, yet how much love surrounds me. Once these two feelings sink in, I allow them to take over, and inevitably, I become a slightly better human being. At the end of the day, I believe this is what matters most.
I haven’t stoped praying for the three of them, and now I’ve also started including a few thoughts on all those whom I’ve encountered throughout my life in a situation of need. Our society is extremely unfair, but an important realization of the last ten years is that it is not my fault. Yet, it is in my power to do something about it, no matter how small. You’d be surprised how quickly a simple smile and a “have a nice day” can change a person’s attitude. If we help each other in these ways, then I am convinced that, little by little, the world will actually become a more amicable place.
Photo: Belén Alemán