Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sign of the Times

I have a friend who has been in the construction trade for decades.  He has headed up projects constructing entire subdivisions, as well as road and bridge construction.  He is now nearing retirement and for whatever reasons the company to whom he has given his life is now treating him badly before he exits.  He has been demoted from his multi-faceted responsibilities and lately they have him working as a “flagger.”  I should say, standing around and being bored out of his freakin’ mind as a flagger.  No offense to any flaggers, but a chimpanzee—on an off day—could perform the job.  (If you can earn that kind of income--read further-- doing what you do, more power to you.)
I didn’t realize this but apparently the state regards “flagging” so difficult that certification is required.  Flagging 101.  “Class, we will devote the entire morning to the intricacies of turning the sign.  Write this down:  turn it to the side that says GO when traffic can resume; turn it to the side that says STOP when you want traffic to, uh, stop.  Now, in groups of two’s practice this maneuver with each other until you can do so without notes.”
He feels humiliated that he may very well finish his career in this capacity.  Maybe that’s the whole purpose of the company doing this.  One of my favorite sites for sarcasm——offers this “demotivator:” 

I think that’s their attitude--dead wrong, but thoroughly convinced.

It gets absurdly funny.  He tells me that a flagger will start out at  around $28 an hour, some of them working 14-16 hours a day, time and a half on Sat., and double-time on Sun.  Here’s the “welcome to America” moment.  At some of the bridge or RR crossing construction sites flaggers are standing at attention with their signs for 8-16 hours but, get this--the road is completely barricaded, closed to all traffic.  There are no “flagees,” only a solitary flagger.  I think this is absolutely brilliant.  Only in America

Maybe there’s a metaphor here.  Am I “flagging” a non-existent crowd?  Do I get on any one of my personal soapboxes and provide answers to questions people aren’t asking?    Am I intersecting with the traffic of humanity around me or am I off in my own little world waving irrelevant signs?  Am I on roads no one is traveling, not because I'm so advanced but because I'm clueless?  

And why am I waving an abrasive sign in someone's face, anyway?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Disdained in Life, Discarded in Death

He was a loner, but likeable.  John was a very intelligent homeless man who stayed in one of the local shelters at night, and fended for himself during the day.  His yellow-tinted glasses gave color to his weary eyes.

I first met him a year or so ago.  Our church operated out of a small storefront and served breakfast to the homeless early each Sunday morning.  We would pack 60, sometime 70, homeless men and women into our narrow quarters.  John was anxious around crowds.  He would arrive late, and linger outside.  He seldom asked for a meal, but always asked for coffee.  I struck up conversation with him, and it became a near-weekly ritual.  I looked forward to seeing him.

He would miss a week or two but always managed to reappear. During this time I left for 3 months to work with the poor in Honduras.   Upon returning,I didn't see John for a couple weeks and asked a street person who was a buddy of John's.  He told me John had died months ago.  I was shocked.

Nobody on our "team" had heard anything.  The grapevine of the homeless network was quiet; John was aloof enough that his brothers of the street apparently either didn't know or didn't care.

How does someone die without anyone noticing?  How does a man created in imago Dei--the image of God--die and get discarded like a cigarette butt tossed out the window?  How can you become so lost, so invisible that no one notices you dying?

I don't know.  I do know this:  I miss John.  John, I wish I had known your health had been significantly deteriorating.  Maybe I could have been there with you so you wouldn't have died alone.  Maybe some family member broke out of their comfort zone and re-established contact with you and held your hand and uttered comforting words and provided loving presence as you died.  Maybe.  I hope so.

No one should die alone.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another Angle About Our Return Home

We have returned home.  The return trip home was not without a delayed flight, a cancelled flight, the beloved airlines losing ¾ of our checked baggage, and the bus breaking down between Chicago and home.  “Other than that. . . how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

It is quite an adjustment to life back home.  There is so much sensory stimulation here in contrast to rural Honduras.  Noise, movement, traffic, bombardment by TV, schedule deadlines.  I forgot how difficult it is to relax here due to the constant stimulation of all our senses.  Another difference is the pace.  I’ll put it in driving terminology.   Here I feel I’m always in 5th gear—hurry, you’re running late,  ya snooze ya lose.  In Honduras life is done in 2nd or 3rd gear.  As the director of the Mercy International, our mission base, said about a scheduled hike into the mountains, “We would like to leave at 9:00; we will leave when we are ready.”  People tend to take priority over projects.  In Honduras, time is to be enjoyed, not monitored.  As a friend put it,  “You have the watch; we have the time.”   If only I could learn to down-shift. . .  I can already  feel myself tensing up now that we’re back.

I’ll share a realization or two with you.  We take the ordinary for granted.  We assume the routine and the people in our lives are a given.  In going to Honduras we left EVERYTHING and EVERYONE that had been familiar to us.  We were transported to a culture where we knew less than 10 people in the entire country.  We know very little Spanish and the vast majority of Hondurans knew absolutely no English.  We uprooted from our entire support system—family, friends, community of faith—and I wasn’t prepared for the gaping hole that created.  Being home now and being able to call anyone anytime, being able to laugh together and embrace and hold and hug—all that I had taken for granted—I now regard as a gift to be cherished.  The ordinary is a gift.  Cherish it.  On one of our walks through the Honduras countryside Les took a picture that I regarded at the time as a waste of time and camera space.  My thoughts were, it's a stupid cow.  What's the big deal?

 Now I get it.

I also realize how spoiled and fortunate and blessed I am even when life is at its worst.  I knew about the poverty there but living in it for 3 months moved it from my head to my heart.  I’ll give just one example.  One of Mercy International’s missions is to build houses/shelter for the poorest of the poor who reside In the mountains.  These people are the furthest removed from accessing resources, medical care, and supplies.  We took a U. S. team up to a mountain village, requiring a 2 hour fifteen minute drive over an unpaved mountain road and then a 3 hour hike to get to this area. Each evening our team would fire up the Coleman gas stoves and cook dinner.  During every meal the Honduran children are standing around us watching us eat.  We can’t give our food away because we need the carbs/energy for the difficult physical labor we’re engaging in.  So, you learn to eat, in spite of these kids staring at you and your plate of food.  One night, we had food left over—rice, actually.  So we asked the kids if they would like the remaining rice.  It broke my heart as they grabbed rice by the fistful.

 I knew these children don’t have much, but had no idea they were “grab it by the handfuls” hungry.

There is much more to share at another time.  We wanted let you know we’re back and we thank you for your support, your encouragement, your friendship.

We now face a most significant decision—do we return/relocate to Honduras and serve full-time, or do we consider other avenues of serving??  Honestly, we do not have a clear sense of direction at this point.  We have allotted two months in which to make that decision.  Any insight or direction you might offer will be appreciated.  We will appreciate your prayers, as well, regarding this decision.
I’ll end with several reasons we loved the people we served.

Be thankful for what and who you have.

Grace and Peace, Steve and Leslie

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

We're Back in the States Where Technology Makes Life Run Smoothly

Well, we've been back home for over a week.   I apologize for the delay in getting back to my blog.  We're back in spite of the particular airlines we used.  Our morning of departure we got up at 4 a.m. to depart Honduras.  The flight to Miami was without incident or food.  The flight from Miami to Chicago was delayed, which I feared would set in motion a chain reaction of disasters in making our connecting flight from Chicago to home.  I don't know why I was worrying so much; the connecting flight was cancelled completely.  It was a special moment.  By now it's @ 5 p.m. and it's been a long day.  The same particular airline informed us that they lost 3/4 of our checked baggage and had no idea where our cargo might be.  Because our flight was cancelled they offered to toss us on a bus (or was it under the bus?) from Chicago to home, another  4 hours or so.  I asked if they would include a meal while we were waiting for the bus, but they informed me they "couldn't do that."  Another special moment.  At 7 pm. we boarded a bus and while sitting there idling, the engine died.  But not to worry, the after a couple minutes the driver got it running again.   About 3 hours into the ride home, the engine died and the driver pulled off the interstate and there we sat in the dark.  Now would be the time to worry.  He called the dispatcher of Vern's Bus and Bait Shop and eventually the dispatcher sent out another bus to meet us and pick us up and transport us the rest of the way home.  We got in at midnight and were completely surprised by some of our family and friends welcoming us off the bus.  

Soon I hope to fill you in on my reflections as I look back on our 3 months in Honduras.  We are now adjusting to re-entry into mid-upper class IL.  By the way, we did get all our luggage two days after we got home.  But I still carry an attitude about the whole affair.  I guess you carry your baggage whether or not you lose your luggage.  Know what I mean?

I hope to hear from you as I get back in my blogging routine.  If you have questions to which you'd like me to respond, let me know.

Be thankful for what and who you have.