Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on solidarity

Today I drove 7 AU students to the Jersey Shore to do relief work with Habitat for Humanity. These students are amazing, as I said yesterday, and I can't say enough good things about their energy and creativity and commitment to serving others.

We had a somewhat frustrating morning, through nobody's fault. There was a miscommunication about the first site where we were supposed to work. Another group was showing up to work there and there was no way they could use that many volunteers. So we headed to another site, which then had too much structural damage for us to work on--a timely reminder of just how seriously these communities were affected by the climate-change-fueled Hurricane Sandy.

So we ended up at a third site, sanding and ripping up flooring. But it was obvious right away that there was more of us than there was work to do.

But even as we were getting all this sorted out, the homeowner, Esther, showed up. And she was so just so happy to see us, and so grateful we were there, even though--as one of the students pointed out--we were strangers in her home, even though it would be possible to feel not grateful but violated or humiliated.

Esther had her son with her, and she said she hadn't brought him by to see the house before but wanted him to see it now that it had walls. And it was heartbreaking.

But you could tell that she was glad that there were people there. That it mattered that she, and the community of Union Beach--a sign in a window read "UBStrong"--were being remembered. She and her son had just come from a march aimed at raising awareness of the ongoing hurt of Union Beach and surrounding towns.

A smaller group of us moved to the house of a woman named Margarita, where we painted a basement. And she, too, was incredibly grateful, in seeming disproportion to the work that we were actually able to do. She told one of the students that she had given money to one of her sons, whose home had been destroyed, and you could tell she was hurting but glad to be able to help. According to this student, Margarita said, "These are what keep me going," gesturing to the pictures of her family.

We did some good work today. Some necessary work. We made the job of other volunteers and families easier. And I do not underestimate the importance of that. But more importantly, I think that we showed a few people that they are remembered. That they are re-membered, part of a wider community that hurts when they hurt, struggles when they struggle.

We were only on the Shore one day, but for that day we did something important. We stood with people who remember.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on solidarity.

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