"...He prayeth well, who loveth well, Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best, All things both great and small;
for the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all..."

The Rime of the Anchient Mariner -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Story about a Story (about a story)

There's this verb that is widely used in Spanish: to 'convivir.' It literally means to 'live with' or to coexist. In English we might see it in print describing a get-together like 'a convivial atmosphere', though to say it in the same context might be a little archaic. I've written about this word before perhaps to emphasize the inclusive nature of Mexican Culture when I get invited to family events like BBQ's, dinner, TV, parties & religious or cultural celebrations. Whether it's a real tradition or just an excuse to throw down a couple beers, it's always an honor to be allowed into the threshold of the family circle. I knew of the importance of 'convivir'-ing to the culture after a few months in Mexico, but it wasn't until recently when 'convivir'-ing took on a new dimension for me. It's more than just the act of eating, drinking & laughing. It also includes sharing life's trails & sorrows. Being interested in life, sitting down and listening to someone get something off of their mind is 'convivir'-ing too...like listening to a mother tell a story about a story.

The story starts with a young Emiliano Zapata, who grew up to become famous Mexican Revolutionary War hero and who is characterized by the curvy mustache (and a big sombrero). Young Emiliano was having his 7th birthday, and he was getting really excited. More than toys, he wanted to have a party. A party with beef & maybe a cake, but Emiliano's parents were poor and couldn't afford that luxury. His mother told him that for his birthday, instead of just having two tortillas with beans, he could have five. Then came the day of his birthday but no party & he threw fit, and said lots of hurtful words to his mother. The mother started crying and went to her room. Emiliano started feeling remorseful. He went to pick some greens from a field, and brought them back in a big sack. He got close to his mom and whispered that he was ready for dinner, showing her the bag of greens (collards probably). She sighed and said that she still didn't have the meat & young Emiliano hugged his mom and told her that he would be happy just eating what they have with his family.

There's a classroom full of children listening. During the part where young Emiliano is in the field picking the collard greens, a 7 year old boy is bent over at his desk in school sobbing, because this story reminds him of the banquet party he demanded of his mother. His schoolmates are laughing at him, because they don't know that on most days he goes an entire day without eating. The boy gets home from school, hands his mother the story book, and asks his mother to read the story about Emiliano. "It's a sad story, isn't it mommy?" Mother and child are reading the story & crying, and she tells him "Never stop studying, so that your children won't suffer like we do."

These are stories that are part of life. Listening to them gives you a concept of what life is like for someone beyond the superficial greeting. Listening to them is part of 'convivir'-ing. As I hear this story, I started tearing up too. I remember being 7; if volunteers hadn't interceded for me when I was 7 years old, things would be vastly different for me. In the same way, I hope that the little time I spend with this 7 year old is helping to alter his life for the best. Being a volunteer where you live is important, even if your profession is a "volunteer." We all have the opportunity positive role models and make a difference...I guess I forget sometimes.