“The sustained effort of writing, of putting pen to paper so many hours a day when there are human beings around who need me, when there is sickness, and hunger, and sorrow, is a harrowingly painful job.”
(Dorothy Day, legendary Catholic social activist, in her autobiography The Long Loneliness)
I do not claim to be a social activist on par with Dorothy Day, but this sentence struck a chord in me when I read it. I haven’t been posting much on my blog lately precisely because I’m too busy with actual human beings to take the time to write. I mentor two refugee families, participate in numerous community meetings, lead a prayer group and a sewing group—all related to refugees and immigrants, and I volunteer in a family immigration legal services office. In the last few weeks alone I’ve accompanied families to meetings, banks, government offices, and doctor appointments; I’ve helped enroll a child in kindergarten, and accompanied her and her parents on her first day of school; and I went with a mom to the apartment management office to complain about a toilet that had been backed up for waaay too long. I’ve translated documents from Spanish to English, brought a new student to register for ESL class, and accompanied an immigrant to a court hearing. And that’s just a sampling. But despite my busyness, my husband and others remind me that writing about my experiences is also important.
Happily, both I and my mentor families were free from work on the two best weather days of the spring break week! On Monday two other mentors met me at the zoo with our refugee family from Democratic Republic of Congo: a single mother and her three daughters. We fed the giraffes, visited the zebras and the African porcupine, the lions, and the elephants. Did you know the Swahili word for lion is simba? And the Swahili for elephant is dembo? The girls climbed on all the elephant sculptures, and I’m pretty sure they spent more than their fair share of time inside the airplane, even in the pilot’s seat. We enjoyed a picnic feast, we rode the carousel, and hung out with the primates. The girls climbed on more sculptures and posed for more photos. It was a fabulous start to spring break.
On Thursday the weather was beautiful again, and I returned to the zoo, this time with my Karen family from Burma. Although I’ve taken this family to the zoo in previous years, the husband/father just arrived in the U.S. a few months ago. He happily took photos of all the animals on his cell phone. The five-year-old daughter raced us through the zoo, with more energy than the rest of us combined. She climbed on all the sculptures; we fed the giraffes and the birds, played in the airplane, had a picnic lunch, and rode on the carousel.
These fun times with my families are just as important as the time I spend helping them navigate the complex systems of our country. Everyone needs a spring break. And while my families can’t afford to travel to California or Mexico, I can help them enjoy a special day, spent with friends and family, reveling in the diversity of God’s good creation. We all need time to have fun and make memories. Not only refugees and immigrants, but their mentors as well. Even our Creator tells us to observe sabbath. We all enjoyed the opportunity to have fun together, relaxing and being refreshed. And now, we’re stronger together to face whatever lies ahead.