by Louise Sandberg
I am really loving the world of Gregory ”G” Boyle in his book Tattoos on the Heart. I love the way he loves the gang members and their families, how he calls them “my child,” “my son,” “my daughter,” “mijo.” I have shared the same thing with the ladies in the support group I facilitate for mostly immigrants for IVC.
On page 172, he quotes Sr. Elaine Roulette, who works with prisoners and their families. Her answer to “How do you work with the poor?” is “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” This is what I want. This is how I try to live my ministry.
Gregory found himself sitting with friends of Raul, a gang member who has died and whose death “G” has had to announce. They saw Gregory’s pain and cried with him. He had succeeded because he had taken Raul into his heart, so he had lost him as had the others. He wasn’t just the professional giving the news and comforting, he was the friend, more than friend, who also grieved.
In December, I stopped by Maria’s house to get the statue of Mary and Joseph as pilgrims, peregrinos, with the pregnant Mary on the donkey. Maria asked me to sit and speak to her son, Francis, and his betrothed about their wedding. I had watched Francis grow over these 10+ years that his mom had been part of our support group. I had prayed him through a severe depression following a failed romance. Here he sat with his lovely wife-to-be and her 2-year-old by a previous boyfriend, and I could see the love and the joy. I remember saying how beautiful their love looked to me.
On December 16, 2013 I was hit by a car, broke my pelvis and spent Christmas and New Years in the hospital and rehab. Many women and their families became my children and grandchildren, visiting me in the hospital in such numbers that we had to move the party into the visitor’s lounge.
Last week (March 14) I got a call from Maria that her mother, Carmen, had died. Carmen is actually her mother-in-law. Carmen had practically commuted from Mexico, and whenever she had been in town, she made sure she came to our support group. She came with her weathered face and white hair, her deep eyes. She came with her old world wisdom. She mothered Maria, who was so far from home. She spoke no English, so the group, which speaks mostly Spanish, was able to hear her. She was always affectionate, never failed to share her love with quiet mutuality.
When my phone rang early in the morning from Maria, it was unusual. Her son is supposed to get married next Saturday, so I thought it was wedding-related. When I answered, she had trouble talking through her tears. She told me that they were having a novena of the rosary to honor Carmen at 7PM every night until the wedding.
Still healing and without a car from my December accident, I am being driven around. I arrived at Maria’s house and after my ride left, I realized no one was answering. I called Maria on my cell phone and she told me they were at the other Maria’s house, Carmen’s daughter. Maria said her family had walked there. It was only about 5 or 6 or 7 blocks, but I haven’t been walking in the street since my accident. I leaned on my trusty cane and walked. If Carman could commute from Mexico, I can walk those blocks to honor her memory and support her family.
On the way, one of my ladies saw me. Josephina called out my name in a puzzled voice. “Luisa?” She and her husband were returning from the drug store on foot, having gotten medication her son needed. She told me it feels like “un milagro”, a miracle, to see me walking down the street, even with the cane. Her husband headed home with the medicine, and she came back to the house with me to say the rosary.
We arrived at the house and they greeted me. “Luisa!!” We sat together in the tiny crowded “room” that is really a hallway lined with chairs. We discussed my arrival at Maria’s house to find them not there. Maria joked in Spanish, “Like the peregrinos,” Referencing the Christmas 9 day ritual of knocking on the door representing the Inn, to be turned away like the Holy Family.
I saw some candles flickering on a table at the end of the hall. The candles turned out to be lighting a large picture of Carmen, printed from a computer. If one come too close, the picture got fuzzy, too far, it was distorted. At the perfect distance, I was able to gaze lovingly into her eyes and remember so many times that we were together, loving one another.
As I sat in that hallway waiting for the Rosary to start, I felt so comfortable. More comfortable than I sometimes feel with my own family. I had brought the words to the prayers as the Spanish version is not what I have memorized. Maria’s husband asked me for a copy of the words so he could study them. He then started a debate about how many mysteries there actually were. 4? 5? We agreed on 20, 4 sets of 5 mysteries.
We said the rosary some way that I was not familiar with, but the words washed over me. The prayer soothed me. My aching hip got quieter. I started to feel my hunger. The Rosary finished and sandwiches were passed around. Did I want the plain one or the one with the Jalapeno pepper? Ham or turkey? Bottle of water?
We briefly discussed the wedding. They gave me the details. They did not have my invitation with them. For some reason unknown to me, invitations have to be handed, not mailed.
My husband arrived with our chariot, and I left, back to my roomy, luxurious apartment, with plenty of space for my husband and me. It seemed a little empty.
The next day in our support group, Josephina told in Spanish the story of seeing me approaching her in the street the night before. “It was like seeing Jesus Christ walking towards me, carrying his cross, except that her cross was the cane!” As I write this, I feel myself choke up and tears coming to my eyes. For Josephina, who is Jesus to me, I also am Jesus. That is success. To be a community of Jesuses for one another. That is truly “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Louise M. Sandberg is a IVC Spiritual Reflector and Volunteer, as Director of the Mary & Elizabeth Center which reaches out to women in need on Long Island, NY. She is a pediatric home care nurse and facilitates Wildflower groups for women healing from childhood abuse, praying for healing of feelings and memories.