Friday, November 6, 2015

“The Many Faces of Humility”

“And what does the Lord require of you,
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
- Micah 6:8 -

I have come to believe that the journey through the second half of life is essentially about learning the “Art of Humility”. It’s not that we seek it or welcome it, but come it does, often as an unwelcomed guest. Humility comes in many forms and has many faces: I can’t run as fast, jump as high, or throw as far.
This summer I was at the beach with my grandson, Max, playing football. I told him to go out for a pass, “No farther”, I yelled. Out about 20 yards, I took dead aim at my receiver, and unleashed a ferocious bomb right on target . . . but 15 yards short! In my enthusiasm I had forgotten my two shoulder surgeries as well as the fact that I hadn’t thrown a pass in many years. I was devastated, crushed, embarrassed, humiliated. I used to be a very good athlete, and in my mind, that reality hasn’t dimmed -- until another loss, another reality check. “That was then, this is now.”
Learning to walk humbly seems to be the way of things now that I am in my 70th year. This time of life gives new meaning to the Serenity Prayer line, “Accept the things I cannot change”, and the list keeps getting longer: I don’t think as clear, sleep as well, move as quickly. Asking for, and accepting, help and assistance does not come easily to a man steeped in pride. The realization that “I can’t do all I used to do” and that I often need to reach out to others, is humbling.

Donations --
All this came into play in an important way as I was preparing for my third year in Guyana this summer. I decided to reach out to family and friends, and give them the chance to “join me on my  journey” through their financial support. Now I absolutely hate asking for money (especially from those close to me), but I humbly knew that there was a greater good at play.
The first donation was a $4 one--I call it the “Widow’s Mite” -- small in amount in dollars, but proportionate to the giver’s resources it was gigantic. Then came a $100 gift from an old friend, then another from a relative. The checks kept coming and coming, totally over 40! I was humbled. Big gifts, smaller gifts, donations soon went over the $2,000 mark. I’m still not sure what’s beyond humbled, but I am there. So many thanks to all who gifted the children of Guyana through their generosity!


St. Ann’s Orphanage --
This generosity was quickly put to work by John and me in the purchasing of a brand spanking new fiberglass backboard, hoop and stand for the girls’ outdoor play area. With the enormous help from the folks at Gizmos and Gadgets store in Georgetown, the basketball equipment was delivered, re-assembled and readied for the girls to see.

The looks in their eyes and expressions on their faces when we brought them down to the previously empty play area is so hard to describe with words. (I hope a few pictures will help give you a sense of their reactions). Jo’c and I even shot around, doing pretty well for a couple old geezers. In one of my “hot streaks” shooting, one of the girls came over to me with amazement and innocence in her eyes and said, “Are you Michael Jordan?” Without hesitation I responded, “Why yes I am . . . except for the white thing!” We laughed.

Another day we brought a volleyball net and balls, then Twister games, then jump ropes donated by the YMCA in my hometown. For each new gift, words and looks of appreciation flowed from the girls. All John and I could do was “walk (and play) humbly with them”.

St. John Bosco School  --
For the boys of Bosco, I focused on the school that they run at the orphanage for Kindergarten through 6th Grade. There are about 18 - 20 boys split up by classes in a cramped and hot space in the basement area of the old orphanage. The desks are old, the books are old, the blackboards are old -- to save space, let me just say most everything there is old, worn and tattered.
But the atmosphere was surprisingly upbeat and appealing, not in small measure due to the team of dedicated teachers who have given their lives to the education and moral development of these children. When I asked the Headmistress, Miss Shelda Emanuel, what I might get to help with the school, she listed things like chalk, glue sticks, games, books, etc. When pressed for more, she sheepishly said, “An easel and paper would be very useful . . . but that would cost too much.”
No, not with the generosity of my North American donors! So I went shopping. When I presented Miss Emanuel with all of the things I was able to purchase, the look of surprise and appreciation humbled me. Amazing that so little could mean so much.

  Miss Emanuel & Miss Daniels

At the end of their school day, all the teachers and boys pray in unison a prayer that they have memorized, to give thanks for the day and each other. I looked around at these little rascals (who I had usually seen running all over the compound, pushing, hitting, throwing and finding mischief wherever they turned), now standing with their hands folded, eyes shut and rotely reciting their daily prayer. I was pre-occupied with this incongruency of behavior until I heard their voices say the following part of the prayer: “And, oh God, Bless all those less fortunate than ourselves!”
“What? What are you saying?”, the voice in my mind shouted. “Don’t you realize that you ARE the least fortunate! You have no parents, no homes, no creature comforts, limited food and clothes. You have no one to tuck you in at night, no one to read you stories. Your health is continually compromised and your future is bleak -- and you dare stand there and pray for those less fortunate?!?!”
Tears came to my eyes as I watched these little souls “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with their God”. Writing this some 2,500 miles away now, I still tear up and have a palpable feeling of humility beat within me. “And a little child will lead them.”

  Bosco’s new “Transition Home” --
Moses and Ravi are both 18 years old, and have been at the orphanage for many years. They are beyond the age that boys normally stay (16 yrs.), but have been kept there because of mental and physical limitations. They are not capable of living independently, but need to move out of the orphanage, They are too old to be there, yet they are too vulnerable to be out on their own.
So the Sisters of Mercy (who run St. John Bosco) purchased a house for them (and others in the future) that could give the boys the safety and supervision that they need. Again donations I brought were able to help here, by purchasing kitchenware, towels, paper products, cleaning supplies, etc., to help them get jump-started in their new dwelling with some of the basics. I was also able to buy a few games for them after I noticed how barren their rooms were.
One day, Ravi and the supervisor of the home, Gabby, walked me from the orphanage through the neighborhood for a couple blocks to the new home. They were eagerly wanting me to see it. As we approached the house, Ravi got increasingly excited. He fumbled with the locked gate to quickly try and get it open. He then pointed to the front door and beckoned me ahead.
As it opened, he suddenly and automatically removed his well-worn pair of flip-flops before he entered . . . as if we were walking on holy ground. And in that moment I felt we were. Humbled by his deep appreciation for his new home, I entered and followed him from room to room as he showed me that sacred space. I must admit it was hard to be a witness to what Pope Francis was talking about when he said, “Those who live on the outskirts of hope.”



“And the last shall be first . . .”  (Mtt.20: 16) --
And finally a few words about those with whom I spent the most time and feel an endearing connection. First, the 23 first year student nurses who were a joy to be with. They were challenging, studious, playful, compassionate, and exuded a wonderful sense of hospitality to me. My “Relationship 101” classes were engaging and fun, and they taught me so much about the similarities and differences of our respective worlds.
But it was their individual stories that moved me the most. “Stories” are always the turning point for me. To hear where they’ve come from in life, where they live, who’s “there” for them (or not), why did they chose nursing, what do they hope to do with their lives in the future . . . was so revealing and powerful. They “loved to tell their story” as the old hymn goes, and I learned so much about their struggles, sacrifices, hopes and dreams. As I listened, I felt (and continue to feel) humbled by their motivation, perseverance, determination, and courage against formidable odds.


And finally, finally, my “old” (in many ways!) friend of 50 years now, John O’Connor, aka, Jo’c, Rev., Father John . . .  Little could we have fathomed in our college days with the Maryknoll Missionary Fathers in the 1960’s, that our lives would take such divergent, and yet similar paths, leading us to be reunited in mission for the last three years in Guyana.
His knowledge of, commitment to, and passion for, the people of Guyana and their country are deep and strong. His memory for names, history, geography, culture, religions, politics make him a walking (well, limping now) encyclopedia! People from there ask him about their own country! The respect he engenders, despite his sometimes caustic ways, is illustrative of the man of integrity, warmth and concern that he is. I am proud to call him my friend, and happy to still walk humbly at his side reaching out to those in need.

The lessons of Guyana are once again many this year. I continue to be in awe about peoples’ kindness, generosity, compassion, care, and hospitality. I feel a profound sense of humility when I experience them giving from what they barely have.
In that, I learned more deeply about “Blessings” in my own life . . .  that so much of what I have and who I am, is a gift, luck, good fortune, a cosmic break (by whatever name, they are not of my doing!)  --  where I was born, who my parents were, family, health, opportunities for education, employment, travel, and on. True, SOME accomplishments have been by my efforts, but the vast majority have NOT.
And so I returned to my life here in Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA, with its struggles, uncertainties and challenges, feeling a renewed sense of how blessed I am. I will try to live this gratitude better, and more frequently remind myself how I need to continue “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.”

Blessings to you,
Dennis   (aka. Rev. 2, Father Dennis, “M J”)

Thank you my "older" friend.   I have appreciated re-uniting with you and like you am amazed that we have thrived separately and now together...