Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CLOSING YOUR EAR

“If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard…” That arresting quotation from Proverbs was the take home message of yesterday’s homily delivered by The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz at St. Mary’s of Sewanee. Susanna, a tall woman who frequently wears her auburn red hair in a long braid down her back and goes up to Communion barefoot, has an impressive list of academic degrees behind her name – five to be exact – but she delivers The Word in an open, non-abrasive style, often ending with a “hmmm” that sets up a responsive musing in her hearers.

Her “hmmm” yesterday unleashed a powerful memory of an experience I had with the poor of Mexico. When I went down to Oaxaca City, Mexico, almost ten years ago, two friends accompanied me, one of whom had never been out of the U.S. The first evening out as we were eating at a sidewalk cafĂ© on the Zocalo, Janet, new to “international experiences,” saw a group of very young children walking the streets, working to support their families by shining shoes or selling jewelry and chewing gum, and she became so upset she wanted to leave Mexico.

Many of these children, we later learned, had fled political violence in western Oaxaca. Days passed before Janet became accustomed to the sight of street children and befriended several who sold her a passel of jewelry. The children ranged from 6 – 12 years of age and most of them flashed large brown eyes that looked imploringly at you as you examined their necklaces and bracelets. I’d say that anyone who resisted the “cries of the poor” children should suffer the consequences of not being heard themselves, should they become impoverished during their lifetime. The children weren’t beggars as I had seen in southern Iran; they were just among the “early employed,” cheerful and engaged in the art of selling.

A center called Centro de Esperanza Infantil (Oaxaca Street Children) has been established for these waifs , which houses a dining room, a library, computers, and a kindergarten. Had we known the need for volunteers (who are readily accepted, even today), we would have helped with meals or English classes, glad to answer “the cry of the poor.” The best we could do was to leave Oaxaca City bound for home, our necks laden with numerous brightly-colored homemade necklaces sold by the street children.

A poem I wrote, published in AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA is about one of the young “jewelry dealers”:

CHRIST’S VENDOR

Candi Lopez, child necklace dealer,
brought in an armload of new strands today,

including Jesus on a black string.

“Nada, nada, I have a cross,” I said,
fingering the finely wrought gold Celtic one,

as she pulled me into the hotel lobby,
held Jesus on a black string up to the white light

streaming through the open door to the zocalo,
one brown eye closed, the other focused

on a tiny glass peephole in the crucifix.

“Mira, mira,” she said, twirling around,
knowing she had caught me again.

Inside the peephole,
a paper image of Christo Rey,

who takest away, who takest away
all the sins in the world, and, too,

my pesos at the rate of 20 a day,
via Candi Lopez,

international necklace dealer.
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