Wednesday, March 12, 2014

To Every Thing There is a Season

Ecclesiastes said it best:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

… A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Guatemala is a country which suffered through horrific times in a Civil War that lasted for decades. Our journey to our little mountain village of 289 families was not about reconciliation and planting seeds, love and peace – and yet it was.

From our first moment of being met by the son of Patanatic’s leadership family until our last moments in Antigua we were challenged to find a life of purpose in our every moment. Our exceptional student team was exemplary in their discharge of duties in the clinic, in their embrace of every person, young and old, whom they encountered. They loved each person, they brought peace to their hearts and they allowed these Mayan villagers to plant seeds within them to bring back to Xavier. Our medical team was charged with the responsibility of providing healing for the community – those between “A time to be born, and a time to die.” But they also were privileged to raise up the next generation of health care providers, disciples who could function in giving life and healing in “a time of war, and a time of peace.”

But our last hour in Guatemala also provided me with an opportunity to pluck up what had been planted in Guatemala to be carried back to our Xavier campus.

Four years ago when we first came to Guatemala everything was new and everything was so very foreign. Slowly we immersed ourselves in the culture, savored the experiences and spiritual dimensions and learned to listen and experience with our heads, our hands and our hearts. Three years ago I noticed a tourism poster that featured a photo of an Alfombra. I had no idea what it was. As I explored its meaning I knew we needed to transport this Central American Catholic observance to welcome the Easter season on our campus. For three years, with the Department of Art and Kitty Uetz’s leadership, we have created colored wood chip “oriental” style rugs outside Bellarmine chapel. Hundreds of students stop by on their way to classes, kneel down on the pavement and add a handful of colored wood chips to the artistic spiritual celebration.

As we were taking our leave from Antigua this year we stopped into the cathedral to show the students the ornate church in the central square. At one end of the church a multi-generational group was just beginning to lay colored sawdust within a simple wooden form beneath a full size replica of Jesus. I immediately recognized the Alfombra at its earliest creation. Through our translator I approached the family and asked for their story. Jorge translated my request and was generous in his introduction of our Team Xavier to a young man and his father. The young man shook my hand in thankfulness for our week of service. The Gonzales family has been creating Alfombras in this church for 27 years. It is their family tradition and gift for the Easter season. The elder Mr. Gonzales stood on the side giving gentle direction to his son, nephew and grandchildren. Our translator continued to introduce me and referenced my papal audiences with Pope John Paul II. The elder Gonzales stepped forward to shake my hand more forcefully and to tell me that he had been responsible for stringing the lights when the Holy Father had visited Guatemala in 1983. In this season and at this moment a Jewish American was meeting a Catholic Guatemalan and now had the Holy Father in common. Then our translator told the Gonzales family of how we had carried the idea of an Alfombra from Guatemala and had constructed one each year outside our Bellarmine Chapel on campus. I asked Mr. Gonzales if I might take back a small bag of hiscolored sawdust to add as a center point of our Xavier Alfombra this year. Quickly a plastic bag was produced and a handful of burnt orange sawdust was sealed inside. Mr. Gonzales reached for my hand a third time. This time he was not eager to break our handshake. For 27 years he had instructed his children and grandchildren to plant seeds and to carry on the family’s legacy – now the Gonzales’ seeds would be planted in the United States. The medical purpose of our mission at this special season had found a little piece of heaven to bring home to Xavier.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:”

Rabbi Abie Ingber
March 12, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Lasting and Memorable Blessing

Waking up this morning was so unlike the last seven. My bed was comfortable and clean. My shower was long and hot. I had many choices of clean clothes to wear. With my little dog nestled at my side, I could reflect on how fortunate I am to live with an abundance of everything: food, shelter, comfort. Each year, when I return from this trip, I am so aware of all my blessings.

But as grateful as I feel, I also can’t escape a certain sadness that accompanies my gratitude. The beautiful children that I played with, their parents that we treated, and the elderly that we cared for – are blessed with so few material comforts. Their opportunities are limited and their lives are hard. And yet, even so, they live with no scarcity of joy and happiness. They are deeply connected to each other and experience no shortage of gratitude for what they have. I go on this trip to help them. And they, in turn, teach me so much.

And the entire experience is made even more precious by my colleagues, my co-workers, my friends. My lifelong friend, Rabbi Abie, makes it all happen. The compassion and kindness of Drs. Lauri and Richard are so deeply felt in their examining rooms. And my good friend Nurse Cathy can make anyone laugh and feel good. And Stephanie, Rabbi Abie’s assistant, performed the miracle of keeping the schedules moving every single day. And, of course, Andrew, whose ever-present camera preserved so many memories of this wonderful week.

But the greatest sense of hope comes from the twelve delicious Xavier students who worked so hard every day, and so beautifully together, with such great compassion toward everyone they touched. I always tell the students that I worry, at the beginning of the trip, that I will never remember all their names. But by the end of the week, I know that I will never forget any one of them.

What a week of lasting and memorable blessings.

Bonnie Herscher
March 10, 2014