Spring break. College students have descended upon us from the frozen terrain of Omaha, Cleveland, and Boston! But they haven’t come to bask in the desert sun. Or drink beer while lounging poolside. Not that they’d have much luck finding a body of water in El Paso anyway.
No. They’ve come with a more selfless purpose: to learn about life at the border, to experience and better understand the issues concerning immigration, and to serve.
One group of 10 students from Emerson College in Boston has been staying at our house. It’s been fun to catch them being silly with each other, to hear their laughter and feel their high energy. Part of me hopes to capture a bit of it for myself!
But, as the week has progressed, I’ve captured something else from these young people. Or, actually, recaptured.
It’s the passion and enthusiasm I hear in their voices as they share all they’ve been experiencing. They’ve visited with the families on the colonia, prepared and served dinner for migrant farmworkers, helped us clean rooms at the Nazareth hospitality center, and played with the children. They’ve met with Border Patrol, visited a detention center for youth, and listened to legal experts who’ve explained the complexities and insensible process of our current immigration system. They’ve been filled up with the realities at the border.
Realities that have touched their hearts, made them cry, opened their eyes. And committed them to return home and “do something more.”
One young woman, a junior, told me she’s changing the focus of her career because of this experience.
“In college, we’re taught to measure success by our career and what we earn, but now I’m seeing success in a whole different way,” Katie told me. “It’s about doing something that serves others.
“I don’t know exactly what that will be yet, but it’s going to be something different than I thought. I’m going home with lots of questions.”
Her words echoed my own two years ago. Like Katie, my trip to the border was life-changing. It awakened my heart and a calling that I still carry. It also generated lots of internal questions. Questions I still wrestle with, as I wonder where all this is taking me.
Sometimes I feel no older than a 21-year-old student questioning her major. I grapple with doubts and insecurities. I get impatient. I want answers, damn it! I want to be able to figure it out. Or at least be able to see the next step in front of me.
Those darned questions.
I’m still learning how to live the questions without needing to have the answers. Still learning what it means to be faithful to a call in my heart.
Sometimes it simply means all I can do is show up every day with a prayer to let myself be used for a purpose beyond what I am able to see most of the time. Or ever figure out.
And on my good days I’m able to recognize that the gift is hidden in accepting the questions.
Early last year, a dear friend sent me an excerpt from poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I need to reflect on these words again, and to remind myself: Rather than seek the answers, live the questions. And love where they take you.
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
Rainer Maria Rilke