[This post is the final installment of three.]
I left, with my head full of doubts.
And here I am, remembering
everything that I once was.I crossed four countries in five days
Running at a trot, eating a little,
speaking little and crying softly.
Gloria is a twenty-something volunteer at Casa del Refugiado. During the group reflection that opens each day of work at the shelter, she plays a music video of the above song, Me Fui: Himno de los Migrantes. Like Gloria herself, the music is lively and the singers mirror her own enthusiasm and idealism. In the discussion that follows the playing of the song, she tells of how she finds ever-surprising insights in the overlapping of her story and the stories of the immigrants.
When asked for an example, Gloria mentions a mother with a newborn at the shelter last December. Now, each time she looks at a Nativity scene, she sees that mother rocking the baby to sleep in a laundry hamper. Paraphrasing the song, Gloria says, “When my head fills with doubts about life, I find myself here, remembering…. speaking little, crying softly.”
On the way to Mass at Mt. Carmel Mission, I am greeted by the face of Our Lady of Guadalupe peering from a large mural painted on a gas station wall. Poised at an angle above the gas pumps, her blue veil and gentle smile warms the morning air.
As always happens when I behold this image of Our Lady, the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego echo in my soul, “I am your mother. Am I not your mother?”
Throughout Mass that morning, my eyes keep wandering to the statue of Mary within the reredos of the altar. From there, my eyes trace the geometry of the ancient rafters, erected in 1682. I am carried away in revery as I contemplate the centuries of prayers and praises offered in this holy place.
Chatting with a parishioner after Mass, I learn that the church, located near the Rio Grande, would occasionally find itself located in Mexico when flood waters altered the course of the river. The story reminds me of the experience of Fransciso Cantu, a writer and former border patrol agent. In The Line Becomes a River, he describes swimming the Rio Grande on a Sunday afternoon. At one point during his outing, he finds himself resting on a sandbar, confused as to which country he is in.
Driving back to the shelter, I think of the border wall, wishing there were a line of churches instead, chapels with stucco walls the color of earth, their wooden doors swung open in welcome. And inside those doors, floating on waves of incense, murmurs of Hail, Mary and Dios Te Salve Maria. And, for all with ears to hear, a quiet whisper: “I am your mother. Am I not your mother?”
On my last night at the shelter, I am assigned dormitory duty, meaning that I will be on hand in the event of an emergency. It also means that I will sleep in the dispensary and distribute non-prescription medicine if needed.
Upon retiring, I hear a knock on the door. It is a mother with a baby in her arms requesting an additional blanket for her child. As I grab a comforter, I notice a baby stroller that someone donated parked in the back of the room. I ask if she would like to have it. She smiles and nods, her eyes as bright as Christmas lights.
I follow the mother back to her cot where she sits with the child wrapped in the folds of the blanket. Before I return to the dispensary, she asks for my blessing.
Kneeling, I utter the words of a prayer in Spanish, staring at her bare feet on the cement floor. All about me, I sense the shelter being transformed into a stable. I pause before making the Sign of the Cross, trying to decide whether, at that moment, I am a shepherd or a king.