"For me a brain tumor and its treatments are not a pause in the adventure of life, but instead a part of the adventure of life." Mary has survived big hair, a brain tumor, coming out, distressed bowel syndrome, hallucinations, radiation, and a car wreck. Here Mary takes us from public transportation horrors to the joys of sharing life with you. Though you probably won't want to have a brain tumor; you will wish that you could see the world through Mary's eyes. Sister Jen
Monday, May 25, 2015
Yesterday, our little church celebrated a fifteen-year sister relationship with Guarjila, a rural community in El Salvador. As part of the celebration, Tom, who has been the leader in sustaining this relationship over the years, organized those of us who went on the first delegation to share our reflections from the time, April 16, 2000, and now, 15 years later. I tend to have a lot to say (I'm sure you're not surprised), so I only shared my current reflection, but I'll share both with you now. On the airport home from that first delegation, I wrote:
the eleven of us from Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington, climbed out of the van, Vicky and I commented on the absurdity of what we were
doing: "Hi.We're from North America.We want to be your friends."As an idea, the concept of establishing a
relationship had seemed so right, but as we arrived, it seemed bizarre and
hour later, however, as we sat with community members in their concrete block church, the
graciousness of the people in the directiva and the church leaders made it
clear that not only was relationship possible but also that it was important
for those of us in the USA, North America, as well as for the people of
The Salvadorans began to tell
their stories of displacement in Honduran refugee camps after years of struggle,
murder, torture, poverty and then the story of their return as a community to
build a town that would be a testament to their belief in the value of every
person; the commitment to basic needs of shelter, food, water, health, and education
for all people; the power of faith and of love.
told them about the money we had raised to come ($15,000) and about our
questions concerning this expenditure:should we have sent the money and stayed home?Emphatically, they said "No.What is important is our mutual relationship,
our love, our increased understanding."
was skeptical, but as the week went on I came to believe them. So much of what they have suffered has been
caused by or exacerbated by the government to which I pay my taxes.To take responsibility for that pain I must
know them as people.To take
responsibility means not only to recognize that these people are not some sort
of demons, which I suspect anyone who would take such a trip would understand
already, but to recognize that I must hold my own government responsible as if
it were murdering my own sisters and brothers.Which they are.
while the people of Guarjila could separate the government of the US from the
people, I can not.
"Hi.We're fromNorth America.Now I
realize.We are your family."
it seems to me, is the point of this travel.And it is
a point with broad ramifications, not only for the people of Guarjila or El
Salvador, or Central America or Latin America, but for the homeless and
tortured and desperate on the streets of Seattle, too.
-- Mary Edwards
April 16, 2000
For the fifteenth anniversary reflection, I wrote:
El Salvador’s dusty roads with nothing in my hands to do or to offer, with only
broken Spanish and an open and curious (and nervous) heart, changed my life.
the people of Guarjila, I learned how tasty pupusas are; I learned that one can
be overwhelmed by too many tamales; I learned that friendships across borders,
like friendships in the neighborhood, begin with listening; I learned what my
own country had done in the name of right (and in the spirit of fear); and I
learned that I would live my life for justice, that I would learn from the
poor, that my life’s work would be about hope.
After that trip, I returned to the U.S. and began working in schools served people living in poverty. In my last teaching years, I helped start a small school called Global Connections that served students living in poverty, many of them refugees from the world's civil wars, including significant numbers of students from Somalia and Mexico and Central America.
I am so grateful that I did this work before my brain tumors, when I could still work in schools.
memories are like slides from an old Kodachrome:
Lupe, front teeth missing, running through the season’s first rains to catch
mangos and deliver them to Ann and me.
Graham, sitting on a boulder with Martin in the middle of Rio Sumpul, the two
talking for hours though Graham didn’t speak Spanish and Martin didn’t speak
children shouting, “Clarita!” from the hillsides, appearing in visible bodies
at last, running to jump in teenage Clare’s arms, who sometimes looked over the shoulder of a young hugger to mouth, "I have no idea who this child is."
year-old Mary addressing the Radio Sumpul youth as the group struggled with an
ethical issue, telling them that they needed to consult the United Nations
document on The Rights of the Child. Holy cow.
Josephine in Seattle telling me that on the night of my brain surgery, the
community had gathered in vigil for me.
words from the directiva in response
to the question, “What do we do now?” The response: “Learn about your own
of joy and of sadness;
and soothing kindness in connections;
and laughter in the dust.
As I shared this reflection, my voice cracked a few times with the losses of these tumors: because of these disabilities, I no longer teach in schools, and I will not visit Guarjila again (though I love hearing from previous students and people from Guarjila will sometimes visit us in Seattle.)
Each member of the first delegation who was present (and some who have moved and were not able to be there) shared our reflections, and Tom closed with his own story. He had been a reluctant visitor that first time, only agreeing after three requests to join the delegation. (His recounts of denial reminded me--and I'm sure him--of Peter denying Christ three times.)
At the end of that first trip, Tom really didn't know what to do with his heart's learnings, so he went on the next delegation, hoping to discern what he was meant to learn on that first delegation.
At the beginning of that second trip, the group visited the tomb of Archbishop Romero (after this Saturday's beatification, the martyred archbishop is now Blessed Oscar Romero). Tom wanted to pray for understanding at Romero's tomb. The group leader was in a hurry to go, but Tom insisted he have time at the tomb. He knew he would need to hear God's word quickly.
As Tom prayed, someone tugged at his sleeve. Believing this was a beggar that he did not have time for, Tom ignored the tug and continued to pray, "God, what was I meant to learn from my trip to Guarjila?" Again, the tug at his sleeve, which again he ignored.
Tom continued to pray: "God, I'm in a hurry here. I need wisdom fast. What was I meant to learn from my trip to Guarjila?" A third time, there was a tug at his sleeve, and this time he turned to see an old woman. He used his little bit of Spanish to tell her that he didn't speak Spanish and couldn't help her.
She persisted and asked him to write her name in the visitors' book at Romero's tomb. She had not learned to write and could not write her own name. Somehow, Tom understood (he likens this to Pentecost, when people of many languages could miraculously understand one another), and the woman spelled her name out as he wrote it in the guest ledger.
So perhaps he was meant to slow down and listen. Perhaps God spoke to him through this old woman. "Slow down. Accompany me. Listen to me."
This lesson has changed Tom's life, as the connections in Guarjila have changed so many of us. And perhaps Tom's lesson is a good lesson for us all:
Slow down. Accompany. Listen. Each of us is a child of God and deserves my attention. I deserve to take the time to pay attention.
As our church's birthright blessing goes:
Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are
unique. In all the world, there is no other exactly like you. In all the
millions of yearsthere has never been another exactly like you. You are a child of
God. And you will be a child of God
forever. No one can take this birthright from you.
May you continue to grow into the fullness of life
that is God’s intent for you. And may you always know that you are loved.
A poem by Ernesto Cardenal,
Adapted by Rev. Kathlyn James
We gave a gift of this blessing to each visitor on the most recent delegation from Guarjila.
de la primogenitura – para Julietta, Maria Jesus, Rosaly, y Armando
¿Sabes lo que eres? Eres una maravilla. Tú eres única. En todo el mundo no ha habido
otra exactamente igual. En todos los millones de años, nunca ha habido otra
persona exactamente igual que ti. Tú eres una hija de Dios. Y serás una hija de
Dios para siempre. Nadie puede quitarte la primogenitura.
siga viviendo siempre en la plenitud de la vida que es la intención de Dios
para ti. Y conozca siempre que eres amada de Dios.
And I want you to know:
Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world, there is no other exactly like you. In all the millions of years there has never been another exactly like you. You are a child of God. And you will be a child of God forever. No one can take this birthright from you.
May you continue to grow into the fullness of life that is God’s intent for you. And may you always know that you are loved.