Sometimes we experience things that effect us in a continual way. As if the moment of time it took place was not enough. It left an immediate impression, but continued to unpack itself inside of you.
There are times in our lives that we witness something happen, and that “something” leaves an indelible mark in us. It shifts things inside of us. Kind of unsettles us to a point of discomfort. As if we are being stretched to fully accept the “something” we witnessed.
Things can shake us to our core as human beings. Then we are left there standing stupefied. Unable to process in the proceeding moments. Wondering, what the hell did I just witness?
Last year I went to Mexico City with a group of guys on a trip to work with the Missionaries of Charity. This group of sisters, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, dedicate their lives to serving the poor and neglected day in and day out. We worked with them for just a week and it was the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life. Exhausted after just hours of entering into their daily routine. At the end of the each day I was left wondering, what the hell did I just witness?
However, there was one moment in particular that left a permanent mark on me. It is something that rocked my world, and has been unfolding in my heart ever since.
The group of sisters in Mexico City specifically housed and served children with severe mental and physical debilities that were abandoned on the streets to die by their families, old and disabled grandmothers, and women with mental and physical disabilities. The morning of the second day I was helping the young women. In particular, just one young lady named El Vida. She sat in her wheelchair. Unable to speak. Convulsing every few moments in pain. Nerve disorders and physical defects. She is a human that made me more human.
It was time for lunch, so I brought food over to El Vida and attempted to feed her. I failed miserably. After the first few bites, I turned my head because someone called me. When I turned, El Vida had a convulsion attack and her arm sent the bowl of food in my hand flying in the air and all over our clothes. It was a battle for an hour and a half. A simple meal that would take a normal person ten minutes to eat. It was incredibly difficult and frustrating. I had no way of communicating with her. I wanted to tell her that I was only trying to help her. To feed her the food she needed. Yet, I was a stranger growing impatient. Then I got aggravated at myself for getting aggravated in the first place. El Vida had not asked for any of this. But this was her life. And I couldn’t enter into it for less than two hours.
After I made her drink the last few sips of her juice, lunch was over. Finally. A break. I began to walk out. But not before I witnessed something that pierced my heart. As I walked through the lunch room towards the stairway, I saw something in my periphery in one of the rooms on my right. This scene will forever cut deep. There was a man with no arms or legs. He was lying down on his back on a square board with wheels. In front of a bed. There was a woman with no arms sitting on the end of the bed. She had a spoon in between her toes. She took the spoon and dipped it into the apple sauce container beside the man, then proceeded to feed him. In perfect harmony. No struggle. As if she does this every lunch for him. After struggling in aggravation with feeding El Vida, this old woman on the edge of the bed with no arms revealed my humanity to me.
A woman seen as less than human her entire life. With no arms, impoverished, and mentally disable. A woman who made the dignity of the human person concrete to me. She put my humanity in my face. No space. No distance. As if her witness screamed to me, “This is what it means to be human”. A woman that had been abandoned. A woman that had nothing. Yet, she gave everything. She fed that man. An unreal act of a gift of herself.
Her witness wrecked me. I wanted to sit in silence for hours and process what I had seen. It still shakes me in places that ordinary life does not reach. However, her witness was not only an impression. But it was an invitation. This woman who would normally be thought of as less than human, showed me a dynamic expression of what true humanity looks like. Through this, I was invited to experience the truth of her witness in my own life. Without any words, she said, “Come, see for yourself.” Inviting me to step into a truer expression of my humanness.