Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why Worry?

I got out of the house a little tonight. Saw For the Bible Tells Me So, a documentary about homosexuality and the Bible. Very interesting. Something I recommend for everyone to see, no matter your spiritual and sexual orientations.

Since the movie was played in Pasadena, I called up Mariah, a dear friend, Pasadena resident and LACW '07 Summer Intern. She was working at a cute little coffee shop, and she gave me a delicious soy Mexican chocolate latte (which explains why I am writing this blog entry at 11:30pm).

During our conversation, Mariah mentioned worrying about change and how that worry is more stressful than the change itself. I wanted to start crying. I reached out for Mariah's hand and said, "You have no idea how much that helps me."

I have been blessed enough to be considered for a position with the Holy Cross Associates, a post-grad service program via the Holy Cross Order (i.e.: Nortre Dame, and University of Portland--my alma mater). The placement for this particular program is Santiago, Chile, for a period of 18 months. While details are slowly trickling in, and there are no concrete plans, I am mentally preparing myself for some major changes within this year.

However, along with the preparation comes doubt, fear, anxiety. This is all very similar to my experience during my last two months in Portland this past summer. Looking toward my move to Los Angeles, I found myself distant from close friends, overanalyzing my future, and in constant stress. Instead of embracing the change and taking full advantage of my time and people in Portland, I was focused on the aspects of my life that were out of my control. And I find myself thinking the same things all over again today.

I have always been a control freak. Over a decade has passed, but my family still makes fun of me for "helping" my brothers open gifts on birthdays, Christmas, etc. Our videocamera captured many occassions which ended with my hands around the present and my pudgy face expressing more surprise and glee than the brother who actually received the gift.

Since moving from Portland, I have made a conscious effort for the very first time in my life to let go of control and let life take its own pace. I have forced myself to live day-to-day, or at least try. It has been a difficult transition, but a fruitful one. And I have noticed little changes, ones most likely only noticable to myself.

Mariah's unintentional advice could not have come at a better time. I was ready to, emotionally and mentally, start saying goodbye to the Catholic Worker, even though I might not be leaving until as late as August. I was ready to be at a plateau, seeking no further responsibilities and not making attempts to fulfill a role outside the Worker. But she reminded me of the pain I put myself through waiting for my transition to come when I was in Portland. It was wasted time.

So while I have no idea what will happen to me from here on out, I have to take deep breaths and accept my inadequacy to control the universe. I have to appreciate that I am here in LA, doing incredible work with dedicated and spirited people. I have to remember that so far, my life has been extremely blessed and I have had little control over it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

SOAW Comes to LA!

Getting back to work from a vacation is a tough, and often swift, transition. Returning to Los Angeles from a 26 hour train ride on New Year's Day, I found myself signed up for all the early shifts for the week and some additional resposibilities for the next days. While I was a bit overwhelmed by this, I had no idea that the duties with the Catholic Worker would be the easy part of my week.

In December, Margaret had attended a planning meeting for the SOA Watch Los Angeles chapter. It had been decided by local organizers and activists to bring the SOAW vigil to Los Angeles, and Margaret was delegated the intimidating task of constructing the puppets. The conversation, according to Margaret, was something along the lines of...

Activists/Organizers: We need to have some puppets at this rally! Who has experience with puppets?

Margaret: Well, I've helped people make them once.

Activists/Organizers: Great! You can be in charge! Next item...

The rally was set for Saturday, January 12. When Margaret and I returned from our respective vacations home, we realized that there were 10 days for two large (approximately 8'x4') puppet heads, two pairs of hands, and more. Margaret seemed to have the project, timeline and her stress under control, so I gladly followed her lead in hopes of being more help than a burden.

We started on the last Friday of the school's winter break, meeting at Sacred Heart, a local all-girls high school. Surprisingly, more than 10 girls showed up. We worked through the weekend and entire following week to prepare the larger-than-life faces and supporting pieces.

The two faces were made to represent Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Rufina Amaya. Archbishop Romero was a significant icon in El Salvador against the corrupt government and a voice for his people. He was assassinated in 1980 by SOA graduates. Rufina was the only survivor of the El Mozote massacre in 1981. The massacre, in the country of El Salvador, was carried out by SOA graduates, and the death toll exceeded 800. She passed away in 2007, and her courage and message of hope were celebrated this year in the national SOA Watch vigil in Georgia.

Margaret and I quickly found ourselves waist deep in hours of work each day, spending more time with teenagers than we ever anticipated, and flying by the seat of our wheat paste-coated pants. Each day, each task, we looked at what we needed to do and tried to quelch the growing sense of anxiety. But we were saved by many generous people:

--The students of Sacred Heart High School: The young women sacrificed their last days of winter vacation, lunch hours, and even talked their way out of some classes their first week back to come paint, glue, tape, draw, cut, and transport these puppets. Not only were they excited about the puppets, but they were so passionate about the SOAW movement that they affected Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the movement. They were a workforce and consistent stream of energy.

--The staff of Sacred Heart High School: Without their permission to use their facilities to create and store our more than 20 puppets, Margaret and I would have been forced to push them into some random place at the Catholic Worker. Also hosted at the school was the press conference for the event and two days of Fr. Roy's presence. The staff welcomed so warmly the involvement of the activists and students.

--Arnie (above: far right): Our drum guru drove up from San Diego just days before the rally to assemble the equipment for the drum corps. His sarcasm, musicality and willingness to help us out was refreshing. His coordination of the drum corps brought dance, and a young, bright spirit to the performance. After the rally was finished, he even waited with Margaret and me in the park for our ride home. How sweet!

--Beth (above: bottom left) and Jake (below): Two superb puppetistas who took time out of their busy schedules to mentor Margaret and I in the art of puppet-making. Beth came our second day to help form the heads of Rufina and Oscar, which sounds like a small task; but without her knowledge and handy staple gun, Margaret and I would have resorted to copious amounts of duct tape. And when I say "copious," I mean more than the 4 rolls we went through.

Jake came to us from New Haven for the last 3 days of preparation. He restored our positive energy about the project by exhibiting his own excitement. Not only did he teach us how to construct and walk on stilts, but he reassured us that the work we had done was impressive for novices. He also secured the larger puppets and led the rehearsal session of the performance on Saturday.

--Patricia (above: far right): She let us take over her classroom, which is no overstatement. Mid-way through our 9-day project, the back half of her room was rendered useless and transformed into a cardboard jungle hiding tools, tape, cloth and miscellaneous puppet accessories. Patricia is also an inspiration to her students. During her religion classes, she encourages the girls to talk about social justice issues, highlights the importance of prayer supported by action, and teaches out of books she chooses (her qualifications for a good religion book: must mention Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero). Each year, she leads a small group of Sacred Heart students to the SOAW rally in Georgia.

--Margaret: The brave soul who took on this project with little experience and less sleep. She spent hours researching the necessary steps for proper construction, and even more time reflecting on how to respectfully bring to LA the emotions, message and performance of the SOAW in Georgia. Margaret put her complete energy into this project, and the final result mirrored her leadership, enthusiasm and passion for the SOAW.

After facing problems ranging from paint and paste stains to a useless staple gun to a collapsing Oscar Romero, we completed the two heads, their accompanying pairs of hands, three birds of death, a helicopter, and other painted cardboard pieces to represent village life. In addition, we constructed four pairs of stilts and learned to walk on them. Wow.

Saturday came, and Jake led the rehearsal. The village puppets come in, followed by the drum corps. Then, the birds of death fly in, along with the helicopter and attack the villages.

The villages are injured and fall to the power of the enemy.

Rufina and Oscar enter, bringing with them their spirit and message, to defeat the evil forces and ressurect the villages.

After this performance, Jake instructed everyone to come together to begin dancing and celebrating. "Only one rule!" he shouted. "You need to grab someone's hand and bring them in the dance with you." Margaret and I looked at one another with tears streaming down our faces. The long days and short nights, the paint that wouldn't scrub off of our fingers, the soreness from squatting, lifting, crouching and bending, and the distant feeling of hopelessness were forgotten during the rehearsal. All we saw was our work physically actualized.

The performance was beautiful. The day was clear, and the only reason we stopped the celebration was because the park was going to close for the night. For the first SOAW rally in Los Angeles, it was a success. And now, almost a week after the rally, I am still filled with the amazement I had that afternoon.