Friday, June 15, 2012

After the Rose Petals Ceremony

I invited my MSW students over for Finals Week Brunch.  We ate and laughed and talked and appreciated each other.

As a termination ritual, I read a passage from Father Greg Boyle's book - Tattoos on the Heart:

...With my backpack snug on my shoulder and spirit deflated, I began to make the long walk down the mountain and back to town.  But before I leave the makeshift soccer field that had been our cathedral, an old Quechua campesino, seemingly out of nowhere, makes his way to me.  He appears ancient, but I suspect his body has been weathered by work and the burden of an Indian's life.  As he nears me, I see he is wearing tethered wool pants, with a white buttoned shirt, greatly frayed at the collar.  He has a rope for a belt.  His suit coat is coarse and worn.  He has a fedora, toughened by the years.  He is wearing huaraches, and his feet are caked with Bolivian mud.  Any place that a human face can have wrinkles and creases, he has them.  He is at least a foot shorter than I am, and he stands right in front of me and says, "Tatai."

This is Quechua for Padrecito, a word packed with cariño, affection, and a charming intimacy.  He looks up at me, with penetrating, weary eyes and says, "Tatai, gracias por haber venido" (Thanks for coming).

I think of something to say, but nothing comes to me.  Which is just as well, because before I can speak, the old campesino reaches into the pockets of his suit coat and retrieves two fistfuls of multicolored rose petals.  He's on the tips of his toes and gestures that I might assist with the inclination of my head.  And he drops petals over my head, and I'm without words.  He digs into his pockets again and manages two more fistfuls of petals.  He does this again and again, and the store of red, pink, and yellow rose petals seems infinite.  I just stand there and let him do this, staring at my own huaraches, now moistened with my tears, covered with rose petals.  Finally, he takes his leave and I'm there, alone, with only the bright aroma of roses.

For all the many times I would return to Tirani and see the same villagers, over and over, I never saw this old campesino again.

God, I guess, is more expansive than every image we think rhymes with God.  How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have.  More than anything else, the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval.  This joy just doesn't know what we're talking about when we focus on the restriction of not measuring up.  This joy, God's joy, is like a bunch of women lined up in the parish hall on your birthday, wanting only to dance with you - cheek to cheek.  "First things, recognizably first," Daniel Berrigan says.  The God, who is greater than God, has only one thing on Her mind, and that is to drop, endlessly, rose petals on our head.  Behold the One who can't take His eyes off of you.
Marinate in the vastness of that. 

We stood in a circle around my backyard tree, each person with a fistful of multicolored rose petals.  Then we took turns pouring rose petals on the head of the person standing next to us - out of love and respect.  That is how we said thank you for showing up - as your true self.

When you do something kind for someone else, "the fragrance remains with the hand that gives the rose."  The bright aroma of rose petals lingered on our heads, hearts and hands.

Nury & Me (AKA Las Chingonas)
We also had a guest speaker, Nury Martinez, LAUSD School Board Member representing the Valley, former San Fernando Mayor and Councilwoman, and Executive Director of Pacoima Beautiful - an environmental justice non-profit organization.  I met Nury over 20 years ago when I hired her to be a Peer Educator.  She was in high school.  She says I made her teach peers to put condoms on wooden penises with their mouth.  Yikes.  I sent her to juvenile halls and probation camps to spread the word about HIV prevention among vulnerable populations.  She credits this experience as giving her confidence to overcome her shyness and fear in order to organize communities, campaign and challenge injustice in schools.  She inspired us all with her passion, chutzpah and voice.

Wendy & me

This is my career, this is my life, these are my relationships.  Thank you, Yesus.

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