I am weary.
Lately I feel overwhelmed. Like I’m trying to manage the unmanageable.
That’s understandable when I’ve got 140 people, or more, at the Nazareth center and only two volunteers to help me.
Rarely do I feel in control of what’s going on around me. I veer from one hot priority to another.
Before, my fellow volunteers and I called it “organized chaos.” Now, I organize nothing. I’m never able to successfully complete a task before being pulled away to something else and then often forgetting what I’d put aside. We have so many needs, I’m always neglecting something.
Over the past several weeks, the number of immigrant families requesting asylum at the El Paso border has spiked. These days ICE processes and releases anywhere from 500-700 people a day to our community’s hospitality shelters!
And it doesn’t appear that will slow down. Nothing positive’s being done to address the root causes. Money is not being spent in these countries to counter the lies smugglers are spreading.
Yet, what’s amazing to me is that our community has continued to step up. Every time I marvel at the number we’ve assisted, we’re asked to do more.
And we do.
Somehow another church opens its space. The bishop makes an appeal and more volunteers show up. A local grocer makes another delivery of fresh fruit.
Someone drops off more bottled water or packages of new underwear.
But it’s a drop in the bucket.
Still, we keep going. Even when it’s hard.
As Kim, my friend who volunteers at two of the hotels that receive families daily, reminds me, “I do it because I know, this is not about me.”
We all know there’s a bigger picture here.
And we keep responding because, for us, the alternative is unacceptable.
To drop these very vulnerable people onto the streets with no resources, no money, no food, no idea of how to get to where they’re going – that’s not something we can or want to do.
Yet, this “work” challenges me. It challenges me to love even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I’m exhausted. And even when, in my limited mind, I deem someone “not worthy.”
There are those who will tear at your heart. And those who will try your patience.
Even worse, there are many who prey on immigrants. Like the smugglers in their countries who are egging them on, charging $7,000 to $8,000 per family now, with fake promises of visas and work once they get here. And like some folks in our country who are making money and taking advantage of the situation.
Greed has a way of showing up in the most vulnerable of places.
Wiped out and weary, I’ve turned to Dorothy Day. Her writings help me. It certainly wasn’t easy for her to serve the desperately poor and homeless, day in and day out. Live in squalor conditions with them. At times endure their ungratefulness or attempts to take advantage.
Dorothy struggled too. The work was endless. At the end of the day, much was left undone. Especially difficult was that she daily recognized the enormity of the suffering around her.
But Dorothy was grounded in God and in her spiritual practices. Her connection to the love of Christ sustained her.
“It is no use saying that we are born 2,000 years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts….And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.” (“A Room for Christ,” December 1945)
Dorothy not only believed this, she lived it. She challenges me to love, even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I feel inadequate.
And to remember why I’m asked to do so.
In a 1964 issue of The Catholic Worker, she asked herself, “What are we accomplishing for them anyway, or for the world or for the common good?”
What is it I think I am doing anyway, giving my energy and time to these immigrants, most of whom will be deported, the majority of whom will not be relieved of their suffering in this lifetime?
She wrote in her essay To Love Is to Suffer, “If we share in the suffering of the world, then some will not have to endure so heavy an affliction.”
There’s my answer. My fellow volunteers and I are doing the small things we can do.
We are giving these people back their dignity. At least for a while.
We are keeping vulnerable people from being deposited onto the streets.
We are offering kindness and compassion. Even when we’re exhausted. Even when it’s hard.
“If we could only learn that the only important thing is to love…to keep on loving, and showing that love, and expressing that love, over and over, whether we feel it or not….It is a hard, hard doctrine.”
I hear you, Dorothy. It’s a hard, hard practice. Only by grounding myself in God can this make any sense.