In the Midst
I stepped off the hot bus and quickly surveyed my surroundings in order to orient myself. Which way to go? I quickly saw the cemetery. It was not the well-organized, well-manicured sight, which I was accustomed to seeing; but I knew that each grave site held the remains of loved ones who had breathed their last breaths as citizens of this earth. Tombstones covered with the usual inscriptions of names and dates, with some adding an epitaph. In the midst of these tombstones, I wondered what my epitaph would be.
It was a sunny day; full of heat, full of scents, full of activity. People walking, as on a mission. I was on a mission, too – to get to my destination, but I was taking in what I saw on my way. What caught my eye were the rows upon tall rows of the mausoleum. Many of these individual tombs were decorated with artificial flowers. I wondered how the upper rows were reached in order to be decorated. These spaces were rented by family members of the deceased. When the family could no longer pay or they forgot to pay, the remains of their loved ones were exhumed and placed in mass graves. In the midst of this cemetery, I was reminded of my final destination, the place where I would live for eternity.
Trees dotted the property. Trees that at one time provided life and color to this cemetery were now dead, just like the buried bodies. Vultures circled overhead, landing on those lifeless trees, taking flight again and circling over an area a little further away. Sadness filled my heart. I knew that in this area of the city I was in the midst of death.
I walked to the far edge of the cemetery – my destination. My heart and mind were all tangled up and quickly changing gears from shock, to sadness, to anger, to compassion, to love. I tried to slow my heart and mind down and process everything that I was seeing. I stood at the edge of a steep cliff, overlooking the city dump. This was no ordinary dump. A dump is a necessary and smelly evil to get rid of trash. That’s all. A necessary and smelly evil to get rid of my trash. What I observed this day in Guatemala City was something else.
The gates opened. A truck drove inside the walled space. Waiting for that truck, approximately 20 people claimed that truck, running alongside it to the back of the dump. The truck emptied out its contents as the race began. Almost like large ants, people scurried around in the heaps of trash. Bags were quickly filled, consultations with other “recyclers” took place, and the heap was spread out and reduced.
You see, the quicker the trash was sorted, the likelihood of sorting another and another truck was increased. This sorting equaled food, sales, treasures. This meant food, school fees, medical assistance.
In the midst of the dump, I saw poverty. I saw despair. I saw illness. I saw hunger.
I saw my affluence. I saw my hope. I saw my health. I saw my full refrigerator.
I felt burdened. I felt guilty. I felt sinful. I felt sad.
Still, my heart and mind were racing; they were like active bumper cars, crashing into each other.
Lord, give me the mind of Christ; give me the heart of the loving Father. What is happening? What do you want me to see, to feel, to do?
At that dump’s viewing site, a man read scripture, asked questions, gave time for processing and reflection. I listened. I prayed. I spoke. You see, I remembered from a past experience of the beauty in the midst of such poverty in a slum. The beauty of community. The beauty of deep relationships. The beauty of sharing. The beauty of family. The beauty of worship. The beauty of giving. The beauty of experiencing together. The beauty in the midst of an ugly reality.
In the midst of this dump, there was beauty. It was a vibrant place of employment, of family, of community, and of hope. In the midst of this dump was a living community.
Later I viewed a doll. A doll which had been made from parts of several discarded and broken dolls, which had been scavenged from the trash heap. Beauty. Beauty in people securing doll parts for a woman who could not walk to the dump. I purchased jewelry made from recycled soda cans and clothes. Beauty in a new products from ugly discarded parts. Beauty in marketable products. Beauty in the midst of despair.
This dump was not a necessary and smelly evil to get rid of my trash. In the midst of this dump, there was beauty. It was a vibrant place of employment, of family, of community, and of hope. In the midst of this dump was a living community.
Lord, continue to give me the mind and heart of Christ. Help me to see what you see, to be what you want me to be, and to do what you want me to do.