Fascination of the mundane

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

“Hola. Hello. How are you?” For the past two years every conversation I have had with Carlos has been the exactly the same. “I am well. How are you?” Or every once in a while I will respond in Spanish. “Buena. Como estas?” Then, Carlos in his heavy accent laughs at me and says, “Good. Thank you.” You have candy for throat?” I hand him his chough drops and he leaves the office.

Around André House everyone knows Carlos. He has a very distinct voice and he has some version of the same conversation with everyone. Actually, he has the same conversation with a person each time he sees that person. This means I may say “Hello. How are you?” with Carlos five times a day. Two years of the same conversation. I never really thought about this.

Then one day we had a different conversation.

Pencil, notebook and eraser

It was just Carlos and me in the office and he asked for a pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener. He told me he likes to draw. He picked up a small piece of paper, a piece no larger than a playing card, and sat in front of me at the desk and drew me a picture. He drew a simple picture of reeds, a fish, birds, a scene from a pond. I was mesmerized as he drew. It was not his drawing that was mesmerizing; it was that after two years of exactly the same conversation Carlos was now a different person to me. He had learned my name two years ago and had practiced many times saying it correctly. Today, as his drawing was finished he took a second piece of paper and practiced writing my name. Eight times he practiced writing my name.

It is easy for life to become mundane. It is easy to become caught up the daily grind. It is easy to follow the in and out of a daily schedule. How often do you sit down at the end of the day and you cannot even remember everything that you did throughout the day? I think this is especially true in relationships. It is easy to become static in relationships. I can often see this very clearly in community. After 10 months together we can exchange thoughts without words, we can predict when a person will not be able to follow through, we know each others’ likes and dislikes and can read each other with fairly good accuracy. This brings comfort and fluidity to our daily work.

Yet, it also inhibits us from challenging each other and being open to listening.

Similarly with family or friends, often conversations operate on a superficial level and lack the depth that brings about new ideas and the possibility of transformation. I think what we need more of is a healthy, childlike fascination with our daily events and the people in our lives. Fascination is a strong word, but I think it is the best one to describe what is needed to make a relationship flourish.

In the preface of The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes: “Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge.” Gladwell suggests that we must move beyond our human instinct and develop a constant consciousness to our lack of knowledge of each other in order to gives us the freedom to continue to learn and transform relationships.

Furthermore, a constant fascination of apparently mundane events grants us the ability to see the miracles of our daily lives. It may seem awkward to try and hold a conscious fascination with the world, but if you take a moment, take a breath, and stop to wonder and awe miracles will appear everywhere.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/34348

“in your own soul”

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Diedrich

I work at a homeless outreach center that serves about 400 people each day. Every day I have the opportunity to hear the stories of the people we serve. These people are my friends: Dan, Hector, Allen … I enjoy seeing them every day (checking in on each other and supporting each other through challenging times). I hear about their kids, their apartment searches, their job hunt, and often stories from their past. Some, although fewer than you might think, are addicts, dealers or have committed violent crimes.

Hearing a person’s story is a privilege but it can also be a burden. There are times I find it easier not to know too much about a person’s past. When you hear the worst stories about drugs, prostitution, murder and violent crimes,  it’s easy to judge the act (especially extreme acts) and the person.

This past week was difficult on the street. There were two stabbings and one reported death. I know one of the men who was stabbed. I have known him for two years. I know he gang raped a 14-year-old girl. I have seen him fight guys half his size. He is violent, manipulative, angry and two-faced. Honestly, I don’t really like this guy, and sometimes I feel some acts are unforgivable. This man survived the stabbing but I could not honestly pray in thanksgiving for his life or pray for his healing and recovery.

Yet, I was reading a prayer by Thomas Merton last night:

So instead of loving what you think is peace,

love others and love God above all.

And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers,

hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

If you love peace,

then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –

but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Merton’s prayer reminds me that I must first judge myself; I must reflect on my interior life and exterior actions before judging others. As I see this man – and so many others – addicted, dealing and violent, I know that I hold the same sins in my heart.

There are definitely things in my life that I am addicted to and I would not easily give up – daily internet access and coffee come to mind. There are things in my life that I “deal.” I have more than once been called an enabler when it comes to food and drink. Although I am not normally violent, there are times in my life where my anger toward others has been greater than my love towards others.

It is easy to judge people who have already been judged by society and seem so different from myself. It is as I reflect on my own shortcomings that I see that I am not so different from those I quickly judge. At the most basic level we are all sinners, we all have areas that need work. Christ came to forgive all of us, no matter the sin, no matter how big or small, we are all welcomed into the forgiving arms of Christ.

From my daily experiences, I know that I cannot change the addicts and dealers I see every day, but I have the power to continually change myself. I have the power to look at my interior life, see where I fall short, see the qualities that I quickly judge in others, and attempt to better myself. If I so desperately wish for a more peaceful world, I must first call for a revolution in my own heart.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/2251716549/in/pool-913552@N22
Christ of the Breadlines, by Fritz Eichenberg

Originally from Madison, WI, this week’s guest blogger, Elizabeth Diedrich, is currently a Catholic Worker at Andre House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. She spends her free time hiking, playing Euchre, and making pottery. Elizabeth and Sister Julia enjoy sharing tea, chocolate, cheese and long conversations on peace and justice.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/2251716549/in/pool-913552@N22