I want to begin with two things. First, thank you all for loving and supporting me in so many ways. The leap of faith in coming here has felt less like a leap and more like the gentle push of many many hands. Secondly, an apology
about letter content. With limited time to devote to finding the right words, and not having been exercising expressive English on a daily basis, I already know that what I write will probably fall short of what I want to say. (Not having my own computer here,
I have limited access to the internet about once a week.)
It’s been about a month and a half since I arrived in San José, a long time, yet no time at all. The city lies on a plain surrounded by steep mountainous hills, their blue green
tops often covered by clouds. Tirrases, one of the neighborhoods in the region of Curridabat, lies at the base of one of the hills, the brightly painted houses, amalgamates of aluminum and concrete, climbing precariously up the slope.
are Agnes (or more often, “Inés”), 41, from France; and Analía, 35, and Hermana (Sister) Diana, 32, both from Argentina. All three are amazing people who seem remarkably ageless, possessing the energy, bodies, humor, and exuberance
of people in their twenties, but with the wisdom of their actual years.
Because the Heart’s Home is an “open door house,” our schedule from week to week is a bit flexible depending on who knocks at our door. In general though, three
days are always set aside specifically to welcome the children of the neighborhood - our house becomes a safe place to draw, play jenga, endless games of Uno, etc. while the moms, many of whom are single parents, enjoy a break drinking coffee around our table
and talking about life. One day a week we visit the men’s nursing home (the “hogar des abuelos,” literally translated as “the home of the grandfathers”), and one day we spend time with inmates at the women’s prison.
There, we’ve been visiting with the “pensíonistas”, women who owe debts, most often to childcare providers. As “short term” residents (6 months, versus many years), they have less freedom - the 15 women live in
a fenced in area about 30 x 40 ft. It’s a cruel catch-22, as their absence can cost them the same job s they rely upon to pay the money they owe, and there’s no way to make the needed money while in prison. Thursday is our “noche de jovenes”
- dinner, vespers, and simply (but importantly) a space for neighborhood youth to talk about life in a place that’s safe and somewhat removed from it. A guitar usually comes out at the end.
During the rest of the week we make personal home visits
to neighbors who simply need company or a person to listen. Outside of the schedule, our work includes everything from celebrating birthdays and baptisms to helping friends study for English exams. Analía and Hermana Diana recently helped a suicidal
neighbor of ours navigate the healthcare system and get much needed treatment. As my dad describes it, the work is very simply about being a good neighbor, in a very sincere sense of the word.
As I’ve been reflecting on the place of Heart’s
Home in the neighborhood, I’ve begun to think that it may have a unique significance in Costa Rica as an internationally affiliated organization. The Church and State here are very close - I’m told it’s one of the few countries explicitly
Catholic from its foundation. As far as I can tell, this does nothing to alter the practices of the people - if anything, it may turn the religion into a social/political obligation rather than a ¨love affair¨ as G.K. Chesterton calls it - love must
be freely chosen rather than obligatory. As an international organization, Heart’s Home bears witness to the universality of the Church, and offers - I hope - a place to experience it more freely, unbound by any cultural or political expectations.
At the same time, and perhaps a bit paradoxically, our common religious belief gives us something to hold onto. Among our many nationalities (volunteers and neighborhood friends alike) it is often the singular thing that ties us together outside of our
humanity itself. There is a beauty in the almost desperate feeling of having to rely on this one thread of commonality, when it is a thread of such integrity. When everything else is stripped away, the strength of the thread is revealed.
Every day is
a mind bender, making my way through the linguistic maze of two Spanish dialects, Spanish with a French accent, French with a Spanish accent, accented English, and Patchouko, which is the local slang (verging on dialect - it’s pretty extensive).
My favorite Patchouko word is ¨chorizo,¨ as in the sausage, which means “corrupt.” Not to be used in polite company though.
I’ll have to admit that in the beginning, I was a bit skeptical of the
effectiveness of a multi-lingual volunteering model. However, as the days have progressed, I’ve been slowly discovering its wisdom. The language barrier has served first and foremost as an exercise in humility - a re-acknowledgement that we as volunteers
are very small, not “world savers” at all, but rather rusty instruments of a higher power. In tandem, not being able to speak the language gives one a small taste of the voicelessness experienced by the neglected who we encounter during our days,
a small way to live empathy in a very concrete way. The misinterpretations and lack of expressive ability are still frustrating, but hopefully they will also yield some interior growth and make us better humans, priming us for the work. At times, the language
barrier also allows one to step back and view things from a wider perspective, as if from behind the lens of a camera. Paradoxically, the distance can let you to bypass some of the social norms, scripts, small talk, etc. and interact with others in a way that
somehow seems more deeply human. There is no tiptoeing around differences (they are already honestly and very much out in the open) or dealing with details (limited vocabulary doesn’t afford the means to). You are left with the basics: shared smiles;
delight in good food; I am human, you are human…. The simplicity of interaction allows for a beautiful clarity; you are left simply to look upon the other, to behold one another as human beings.
For me, this acknowledgement of the dignity of
the human person is at the core of the Heart’s Home charism. I can thus appreciate the international dimension of the org - inconvenient on the surface in many ways, but in the end perhaps quite vital to the success of the work as each volunteer is catapulted
into a situation similar to my own.
I continue to think of you all - so grateful for your support, in the broadest sense of the word. Hope each of you are doing well and finding fulfillment wherever you are at this moment.
If you would like to contribute to help Lucy and the other missionaries of Hearts Homes, please visit: