Monday, August 29, 2016

Learning from Leaving

(left) A prayer one of our oldest students wrote for the first day of class. (right) My co-teacher and two of our students read a book before class begins.

"You're never coming back are you?"
The little disappointed face familiar with the act of leaving and smeared with the peaches we just shared pleaded me to contradict her. It broke my heart, knowing that I probably would never again see these children, who I had grown so fond of during the last week.

"I don't know if I'll be back." I responded honestly but full of regret, "I want to come back next summer, but I can't make that decision for myself." The disappointment stayed on the little girl's face and now I was surrounded by the other children peppering me with all kinds of questions and responses.

"So we'll never see you again?"
"I'm going to miss you!"
"Will you play on the slide with me one last time?"
But it was the unspoken sentiments I could see in their eyes that tugged on my heart the most. "Its ok. We're used to people leaving us and never coming back anyways. Just more of the same."

In June, the Novitiate Community had the opportunity and pleasure to teach catechism classes to children living with their families in migrant camps on the vast farmland outside of Toledo, OH. We were there only for a week, but other groups would continue teaching the children throughout the summer. Before embarking on this adventure, I had never heard of a migrant worker. I didn't know what that meant for their way of life or what needs we could minister to. The week ended up being an education for both the children and myself.

Migrant workers travel the country following the crops. They travel with their whole family and any belongings that fit in the car. The children have very little. The housing at the migrant camps is not much better than a camping cabin. And because the families travel so frequently to different states, the children are familiar with leaving and being left. Uprooting and leaving everything, friends, teachers, home, several times a year can be challenging. But there is some beauty to the simplicity of a migrant child.

These children had wild imaginations that could be sparked by the littlest thing. During our break, I watched my nine-year-old student pick up an empty popsicle tube and fill it with clover and grass blades saying "this is poison and I'm finding the remedy." When we had a lull in the lesson and our class got a little antsy, my co-teacher and I would declare it was time to play a game. Immediately the children yelled out at least a half-dozen games that could be played with just our persons. Their enthusiasm, energy, and ideas were endless. Their simplicity challenged me in how I am living the vow of poverty and the virtue of simplicity. Do I need a shelf full of books to keep me busy or stacks of pictures and nick knacks to remind me of connections I have made and people I have left? Can my memory and imagination be sufficient? What am I attached to? If I had to fit all of my belongings in a car could I, and are the items that cannot fit necessary?

The migrant children I taught were also incredibly flexible and resilient. When we lost our inside teaching space they immediately accepted the outdoor classroom we set up on two sheets. When their families leave for the season, they will pick up all they have and move to the next place, easily making friends and learning to live someplace else. I was amazed at how much the children seemed to be at home with their temporary surroundings and how settled they seemed to be. They haven't been at the camp long this year and were already used to life. From my own experience, I know that it takes me months, even a whole year to feel at home and settled in a new place. For me, the frequent moving and flexibility that comes with the vow of obedience is a challenge. But these children, who have been living a vow of obedience to their parents for their whole lives, are practiced at the art of flexibility. I complain about moving every year and being in constant transition during formation. How can I be more flexible and open to my circumstances?

Seeing the value of simplicity that brings on imagination and flexibility that brings resilience in these little ones, inspires me. I strive for simplicity and flexibility because of their value. I live the vows poverty and obedience because of their value and not because it is required of me.