The title for this blog hit me right between the eyes Sunday morning. I was checking my email for my daily “Inward/Outward” reflection from Church of Our Saviour and there it was. The perfect title. And the reflection’s message of how Jesus took the risk of “beginning again” when his early public ministry didn’t quite go the way he had expected clearly could have been written just for me.
I, too, thought I knew how things would go in my life, but have been “cast out into new lands.” El Paso, Texas, for sure would fit that bill. Just walking around the neighborhood where I’m staying lets me know I’m not in Virginia anymore. The dusty, dry landscape, spindly trees, and expansive blue sky that stretches well into Juarez, Mexico and the sepia-toned mountains beyond are unfamiliar sights for one who’s accustomed to the lush, green, hilly countryside of the Blue Ridge Valley.
Interestingly, the Sisters’ house, Casa Alexia, where I’m staying is also located in “the Valley”—an area of El Paso with a strong Mexican influence. But there’s nothing green here. Except for a few cactus. Streets are lined with single-story stone houses, some painted bright green, blue, yellow, or pink. And most are surrounded by chain link or iron fences, restraining the many dogs my neighbors seem to have. Just about everyone owns a dog. Some have two or three. I’ve learned to brace myself as I walk past fences, anticipating one of them suddenly appearing out of nowhere, jumping up against the fence and barking away as if I’m their worst enemy.
Front lawns are basically composed of dirt, or stones that cover the dirt. Everyone parks their cars and trucks in the front yard—a small plot of land usually cluttered with an assortment of items like old grills, upholstered couches, plastic toys, the occasional supermarket shopping cart, and—in the case of our neighbor down the street—a miniature Statue of Liberty.
Despite this being late January, some homes still display Christmas decorations and lights. I’ve spotted more than one plastic nativity set, half its figures fallen over in the yard. At night, a few houses switch on twinkling multicolored lights. Not sure if this is related to the Mexican culture or the strong impact of their Catholic faith. At any rate, it’s one of the many unusual sights I’ve observed during my stay so far.
Truthfully, I had intended to write about my first week in El Paso days ago. But here I am well into my second week with a multitude of experiences and inspiring people bulging inside my brain all trying to push their way onto the page. It’s strange how whenever I sit down to write, I have trouble forming the words. There’s so much I want to share, I don’t know where to begin. And it’s not as though I have huge blocks of time to write. After all, I’m really here as a volunteer; I go wherever and whenever the Sisters need me. So, each time I sit down to write, I feel as though I am beginning again, having to recollect my thoughts and experiences of the day, and hoping this time I’ll finish a blog post. I’ve been working on this one for several days!
Over the weekend I was given a special gift. An amazing woman named Pat Cane, founder and director of Capacitar (a Spanish name that means “to empower”), came to stay with us at the Sisters’ house for several days. Capacitar is an international program that integrates body, mind, and spirit practices to help heal victims of trauma and violence in more than 40 countries (check out the website at: http://www.capacitar.org/index.html). Pat was here to train a group in Juarez and for the final presentations and graduation of trainers who have completed the program’s four modules in El Paso.
Pat’s story is quite an inspiration. Years ago, faced with a difficult major life change, she questioned herself, her purpose, her direction. She was forced to begin again. And from that place of uncertainty, she chose to devote her life to spreading healing and wellness practices through Capacitar. Now 73 -years old—although her bright face and light-filled eyes make her look 10 years younger—Pat travels the world to implement this program in countries like Rwanda, Nicaragua, Ireland, and South Sudan, teaching and training others to bring healing to refugee camps, detention centers, human rights centers, and many areas impacted by trauma and natural disasters. Using tools such as visualization, Tai Chi, acupressure, and reflexology, those trained in the Capacitar program transform themselves as well as people in their families, surroundings, and in the work of their unique calling.
Through what I can only call a synchronous event, I was invited to attend the two-day trainers’ conference and presentations. I say synchronous because when I heard about Capacitar while here last February, it intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. To be welcomed into this weekend as a participant was totally unexpected. As I listened to educators, counselors, mental health personnel, religious sisters, and community leaders give creative presentations describing the effects of Capacitar in their lives and of those facing stressful situations, from military personnel at Ft. Bliss to undocumented immigrants at detention centers, it was clear I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Some of the stories were heart-wrenching. Like the health care practitioner whose female client had crossed the border into Texas hanging onto one of many freight trains that travels up through Mexico. (Not an uncommon practice, by the way, for Latinas seeking a better life to risk jumping onto a moving freight train.) At some point the woman fell off and her foot was amputated. Now she could no longer fulfill her dream of finding work cleaning houses to support her family whom she’d left behind and for whom she was the sole supporter. Somehow this woman will have to find another way to survive. Like so many people here, she too is beginning again.
Obviously the details of the lives I’m hearing about are much more difficult and challenging than mine. But our stories are intertwined. My questions, my fears, my doubts, my longing—these same concerns and feelings exist in everyone. They’re universal. Each of us has our own wounds that need healing.
For the past several years I’ve done personal work to integrate body, mind, and spirit practices, which is one reason Capacitar resonates so clearly with me. Another is my desire to serve those in need. Putting these together seems like the perfect answer to my question of how to begin something new in this stage of my life. Where and under what circumstances that will happen continues to evolve. But as Capacitar so wisely claims: “healing ourselves, healing our world.”