Sunday, July 24, 2016

so goodbye to all that

Stay where you are. Find your own Kolkata. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Kolkata all over the world, if you have the eyes to see.
---Mother Teresa

When I first arrived in Kolkata, so many moons ago, I hated the city.
I hated it so much.
I distinctly remember seeing a goat walk in front of me in the thousand degree heat, and hating that goat. That one, particular goat was a sacramental of discontent and despair, and I hated that goat furiously and unabashedly.
I hated the sweat that covered me like a second skin, the feeling of droplets dripping down my back.
I hated the dirt, which was uncleanable.
I hated the injustices I couldn't heal, that left the gutters populated with families.

Slowly, of course, Kolkata lived up to her name: the City of Joy.

Kolkata has become shorthand for me for a place where the heavens kiss the earth, where Christ is so clearly visible in the face of the poor, in my brother and sister workers, in the Church, in the Eucharist, even in myself.

The memory of my summer there stands for me, always, as a marker of conversion: of finding God in each person's face, of witnessing the spiritual wealth of those who possess nothing, only Jesus, and learning that charity means, above all, solidarity and empathy. Charity as less a series of proscribed actions, and more an attitude of reverence and awe towards my fellow beings. Kolkata taught me simplicity, it taught me compassion, and it taught me silence. Kolkata is an assault on the senses, it is a challenge to the self, and it taught me that God can be found in the most unlikely of places.
And that, where God is, there is Joy.

Two years later, I land in New York, and--surprise, surprise--hate it. With a passion. And that hatred continues for a good long while. I hate the stifled feeling of concrete and skyscraper. I miss the beauty of nature. I hate the way people at rush hour on the subway treat each other not like fellow human but like obstacles to be hurdled, or shoved out of the way. I hate the way Park Avenue has empty penthouses and people sleeping on the streets, just ten blocks from each other. I hate that people push each other off the subway platform into oncoming trains. I hate that boys shoot each other, and that girls are trapped in abusive relationships, I hate that children are left abandoned, I hate the drug industry that leaves addicts clinging to park benches like soggy autumn leaves, I hate that people get their faces slashed on subways.

Slowly, so slowly, New York begins to woo me. I look at the faces around me and see in them a spark of life that is undeniable and blessed. Although it is easy to grumble about the many people crowding the streets and buses, really, what they offer me is an opportunity to reverence the image of Christ 8 million times a day.

At first, I cry that New York is a city devoid of God, empty of Joy--a spiritual desert. But then, New York becomes a space in which I live where I am constantly uncomfortable. And Christ is in the discomfort. New York's caustic nature burns away at my stubborn self. It chips away at my pride, at my tendency to withdraw, it demands so much of me, and never lets up. It forces me into relationship with others, and it requires a terrifying authenticity and vulnerability. It taps into courage and strength 'til now untapped. It demands kindness and charity. It demands clarity and attentiveness.

It makes me wild. And I find Christ there.
It teaches me the beauty of sticking around. And I find Christ there.
It teaches me friendship, it teaches me community, it teaches me empathy, loneliness, beauty, and strength.
And, in all these, I find Christ.

And so, I have tattooed this reminder upon my heart (and skin), and branded these words into my brain, that I might remember that, each new place I am led, each new challenge, new city, new community, can become a city of Joy--a city where God makes Himself intimately known, and loves me most intimately. It can (and will) become a part of the story of God's love in my life. Each new place is a place I can find a city of Joy, I can find my own Kolkata.

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