"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Someone Else's Shoes

I walked a mile in someone else's shoes yesterday. It took an embarrassing mistake of absentmindedness to develop the need to walk in said shoes, but... it happened.

I'm house-sitting for a couple who are good friends of Ciudad Nueva's who own a farm outside of El Paso. They're in Vegas for the week, and I've been given the task of feeding their dogs and cat, eating their food, watching their large TV, and sleeping in a huge bed in their huge house.

Yesterday morning when I went out to check on the dogs before hopping in the shower and then heading into town, the sliding door locked behind me. There I was... on the back patio, keyless, phoneless, and shoeless. I started searching all around the house for any hint of a trace of a spare key, walking on mulch and in dirt in my socks. Nothing. After about an hour of searching, I decided I had to go to the neighbors' and see if they had the home owners' cell phone numbers... and a phone I could use. Through my searching for the spare key, I had come across a few pairs of shoes/boots that I assume the owners use for gardening and farming. So, I found a pair that fit, and started walking.

I forgot what it was like being in the country. As soon as I departed the driveway, I stopped to figure out which neighbor was closest, and the likelihood that someone would be home. Of course, the closest house - just across the dirt road - was empty except for a barking dog. I looked at the houses down the road... no people in sight, no cars in driveways. I just started walking again, probably just under half of a mile, and finally came across a kind older woman tending her horses. She was nice enough to welcome me into her home and offer me a soda. After no luck of calling other neighbors to figure out the owners' cell numbers, I hopped on her slow-moving computer, and 20 minutes later had an email pulled up with one of the owner's cell numbers. And praise the Lord, he wasn't caught up at some blackjack table ignoring calls; he answered, and shortly after, I was headed back to the house, with the location of a spare key written on a paper in my hand.

This experience of feeling lost, frustrated, and somewhat forgotten, and the need to use someone else's shoes, makes me think about the times I get torn about the work I am doing. I am a privileged, white adult citizen of the United States, and my life, my interests, reflect a push for "justice" for my friends and neighbors who are immigrants, who are poor, who are gay, who are 13-years-old, who are in dangerous situations... my neighbors of whose qualities that are the focus of their need for "justice," I share none. Heck, I should be fighting for women's rights if anything! I wonder to what extent can I walk in the shoes of the beloved kids I know who live in 10x10 casitas with five other family members, or the caring parents who do not have papers even though their kids do. Is my 40 hours a week of running an after-school program enough to say that I have "walked in her shoes"? Is living blocks away from the most impoverished neighborhood in the state enough to say that I am living in solidarity with the poor?

And then there's all this talk of "indigenous leadership" lately. About how we need to get people from the neighborhood - folks who live here long-term - in charge of our programs, building relationships, and making change happen. We need to gather the community's input, let them decide what to do... instead of all of us outsiders making programs happen.

Some days I wonder if I should just move back to Iowa.

But I will remember when I almost lost hope of making it to work yesterday, when I was scared I was going to be walking down the gravel road in my socks for miles, when I thought it would be days before anyone would find me cold, hungry, stranded with the dogs outside this huge house... I will remember my panic, frustration, fear, embarrassment.

My situation will always be different from anyone with whom I work - whether they be privileged middle schoolers or low-income families, homeless folks or people living in a huge farm house outside of El Paso. But we all share the same feelings. We get scared, we get tired, we get lost, we get locked out... sure, your situation might be much more serious or more desperate than mine. But I think we can take a small step of solidarity together - in each others' shoes - if we recognize the human emotions that all of us share before allowing our differences to dictate whether or not we will work together for justice.