I wonder if Bilbo Baggins ever cried when no one was looking. Maybe during the night when the dwarves he was accompanying on their adventure were asleep and the enormous dark sky covered the landscape, magnifying the reality of what he was undertaking—leaving behind his comfortable home and everything familiar. Yes, I’m still on The Hobbit kick. Guess I relate to Bilbo more than I first realized, especially now that I’m here in El Paso.
Before I left, friends kept telling me how courageous I was, following my heart into the unknown. But there are moments when the uncertainty of what I’m doing takes over and, like Bilbo, I don’t feel very brave. Such moments have been showing up since I arrived in El Paso five days ago. When my plane left Washington Dulles airport at 7:25 a.m. on Wednesday, a light drizzle fell, enveloping us in fog. A perfect metaphor for the uncertainty of what I am doing and where this journey will end. But although foggy, I was unnerved, not anxious or even scared. Instead, I felt as though I was being carried and accompanied by an inexplicable love. Maybe it was the hour of the morning that caused me to be so calm. (My mind was simply too tired to get into its usual mulling over of possible future scenarios.) Or maybe it was all the friends back home who I knew were praying for me that morning.
But, as I sat there and began to pray myself, tears suddenly showed up. I suppose it was hitting me—the enormity of what I am doing and what it really means to “let go and let God.” Like the jet I was traveling in, I felt suspended above the clouds. I couldn’t see in front of me; my view was limited. And yet the expanse of sky visible in the tiny frame of my airplane window expressed the limitless possibilities floating in the universe. For me, taking this step is what it means to live in the mystery. To be willing to trust that the path will unfold and that there is such a thing as “purpose” to our lives here. It ain’t easy. But then nothing risky ever is.
I’ve quickly discovered that I am not alone in taking such risks. Many of the stories I’ve heard of those who have crossed the border here in El Paso remind me they too are living in the mystery. Our stories are different but similar. They too have taken an unknown path, have left everything they know behind—some by choice, others by intimidation or force. They are teaching me what true faith is.
As soon as Sr. Fran—the 75-year-old Franciscan sister with whom I’m staying while volunteering here—picked me up at the airport, we’ve been on the go. For me, she’s like the Energizer bunny running on spiritual batteries. Even though her schedule seems impossible to me, I’m witnessing as I follow in her footsteps how she’s given what she needs in every situation.
The day after I arrived, I found myself in the back seat of a van venturing over the U.S./Mexico border with Sr. Fran and Sr. Maureen to visit Centro Santa Catalina, the women’s cooperative the Sisters formed in Ciudad Juarez. Quite a courageous experience since we were not only bringing donated clothing and baby food into Mexico, but would be returning with various items made by the coop women to sell on the U.S. side. It’s a risk. Any customs agent can decide that the Sisters’ cargo is questionable, pull them aside, and not let them pass. As we approached the border, the Sisters prayed aloud to their patron saints for help and protection. Once on the other side, they gave prayers of thanks. The Sisters do this twice weekly! And I guess I’ll be joining them regularly. I admit that I said my own silent prayers that day.
I have much more to share about the women’s coop and how the work they do gives them a sense of solidarity, as well as much-needed income of about $120 per month to feed their families. About how this center is kept safe by a fence surrounding the property, a maintenance/security guard who stays on the property day in and day out to keep gangs away, and, of course, the Sisters’ constant prayers. Outside its fencing despicable things happen. Sr. Maureen told me how, just the other day, the security guard had found a decapitated body on the ground outside the entrance.
And then there’s the Border Women—a group of religious sisters and women from all backgrounds who meet to keep abreast of border issues and to respond with positive action. When I attended their meeting yesterday, their guest speakers shared the very disturbing and frightening reality of human trafficking—for both sex and forced labor. It’s unbelievable how easily people who are uneducated and fearful can become trapped by those motivated by greed. Human trafficking is much more prevalent in the U.S. than we in the northern states realize.
It’s impossible to share everything I’ve experienced in just these few days. Besides, Sr. Fran is liable to show up at any moment, and then I won’t get this posted. We’re off to the colonias this afternoon and will be gone well into the evening. I’m lucky I got this much written. Sorry I didn’t have time to include pics. Maybe next time.
Just one more thing I want to add. Before I left Virginia, a good friend whom I greatly trust and respect sent me this quote from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey:
“The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.”-
I love that quote because it reminds me why I’m taking what feels like such a drastic step. I know it’s time for something new in my life. I know I have to respond to this call deep within me. And, step by step, I’m discovering that I can live in the unknown. All the while, gaining deeper trust in my inner being and the God within. And I keep reminding myself of the words of 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well. All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”