Love in #ElPaSOStrong

El Paso Strong Love

Davis was the first to check on me. Thousands of miles away, yet he knew what was unfolding in El Paso before I did. And he wanted to make sure I stayed away.

Incredulous, I quickly checked the news. It was worse than I had feared.

But the hate that brought that young man all the way from Dallas to inflict so much pain and fear in our beautiful community was overpowered tonight by the love of El Paso.

Tonight our community came together – it looked like thousands of us – at Ponder Park just behind the Cielo Vista Mall where this hate-filled act took place. We came to pray together at an interfaith vigil. To share our pain, our grief. To support one another. To show the nation, and the world, who we are. And what it means to be #ElPasoStrong.

There was music. There were beautiful prayers and heartfelt messages offered by leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, B’nai B’rith, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths. I could feel the healing and the power in the words. I knew Love’s presence was among us and within us.

El Paso Strong crowd Aug 2019
Some of the families gathered for the 2-hour long event

There’s so much love and warmth in this city. I think that’s what I felt right from the beginning when I first came here. And that’s why I have felt so connected to this community.

I had been planning to write my next post about my trip to Alaska, what I experienced there, the insights I received. But that will have to wait for another time.

Because tonight, this is what I want to write about more than anything. The unbelievable example of love this community has shown.

For one another. For the stranger. For the immigrant. For the suffering.

Yes, the love in El Paso is so strong. So very strong.

El Paso Strong

In one very powerful exercise, a female speaker asked us to turn to someone next to us that we didn’t know and ask them if they were alright.

I turned to a stranger. “Are you alright?”  I asked sincerely.

Her eyes moistened, as she said, “I’ll get through it.”

Immediately I felt my own tears.

And then she asked me the same question, and I agreed. Yes, we will get through it. And I’m glad I’m here.

Then the speaker said if we noticed that person got teary eyed, give them a hug. And so this stranger and I hugged. Our hearts mutually hurting for this place we love. And simultaneously beginning to heal.

At one point during the event, we heard car engines revving as they drove around the park. I heard shouts but could only make out the word “Alabama.” Strange and unnerving. People turned to see what was happening. Faces concerned, apprehensive.

This is what such an act of terror can do. Put people on edge. Make a once very safe community not feel so safe. Create a reason to have a large police presence at a gathering that not so long ago wouldn’t have required any police.

I know that this past year things have changed in terms of threats being wielded at El Paso and at the hospitality centers where I volunteer. Knowing the hate that’s been growing unchecked, I take these threats seriously and have been concerned. But I continue to do what I do, where I do it, because of this love.

As Bishop Seitz said, prayer heals.

El Paso Strong Mexican_American flags
A participant at the prayer vigil displays both the Mexican and U.S. flags

Our community’s love is much more powerful than hate.

We know how to love our neighbors, no matter what side of the Rio Grande they live on.

And love is stronger than death.

Most importantly, El Paso will always love. No matter what is wielded at us. That’s what we know how to do.

Maybe some people at the top could learn from this community’s example.

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All Lives Matter to Me

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It’s the early morning hours. The day before the memorial service for the Dallas police officers.

I awaken in a hotel room just outside the city. Photos of the five officers and two African-American young men who were killed appear in my mind. And tear at my heart.

I think of their families. The ones who’ve loved them and are left behind to grieve.

My heart breaks for the pain we cause each other, for the violence we resort to so easily to resolve our differences, to make our voices heard.

There is another choice.

But it’s harder. Because it involves letting go of our own agenda.

It means putting aside our pride and our judgments. And our preconceived notions about who is “right” and who is “wrong.”

It means being willing to see and listen to the other person.

And letting Christ’s love guide our steps.

That option seems so far away. Especially in the midst of the ongoing onslaught of hate-filled insults, of angry words and demeaning lies raging over social media and throughout this political campaign.

So I do the only thing I can do. I offer prayer. And ask where God is in this.

A familiar question pops up.

“Have you been with me all this time and still do not know me?”

It’s a question Jesus asked of his disciples along their journey together.

And this is the response that comes.

I am African-American. I am Mexican American. I am Native American. I am Muslim. I am Christian. I am Buddhist.

I am the police officer who risks his life every time he protects yours.

I am the youth calling for peaceful protests after his father is killed.

I am the man with knotted hair standing at the stoplight with his cardboard sign asking for help.

I am the undocumented little Guatemalan girl languishing with her mother in a Texas family detention center.

I am the young mother in Bolivia who abandoned her baby because she could not feed yet another child.

I am the 10-year-old boy stolen from his family and forced to become a soldier.

I am the Syrian who fled his home with his young son after their lives were threatened.

I am the family in sub-Saharan Africa unable to eat tonight because there is no food.

I am in you. I am in the neighbor next to you. And in the neighbor across the ocean whom you have yet to meet.

All lives matter to me. Because I am all life.

I am compassion. I am understanding. I am love without borders.

I am peace in a world that does not know peace because it does not know me.

I wait for you in the stillness. In the silence. There you will see me.

And know me for the first time.Mother-Teresa-Peace