Sunday, February 26, 2012

Glass Houses


Sitting, of all places, on the toilet when it happened, I heard two successive loud bangs on the roof, followed by a third which was accompanied by the crash of something breaking. Finished with my business, I quickly got up to investigate, but first had to take a few minutes to fill a bucket and flush – I figured there was really nothing I could do immediately to stop whatever was happening.

The free skylight!
When I realized there was a hole in the roof I helped replace last year, I briefly cursed the ceramic-like material we chose instead of the more commonly used zinc. Then I remembered that it is the insulating properties of the material that allow meetings, like the free electricians' class that was suddenly scrambling to understand the noises, to happen on hot afternoons like this one in the Barrio. Several students ran up the alley to the field behind the house to investigate, a couple more went into the back garden to see if they could spot the culprits, while I surveyed the damage – wondering what, really, could be done if we did find the responsible parties. This is a neighborhood where who the ladrones are is talked about openly, and the police sometimes have to be fetched in a taxi to investigate a burglary.

I found the fist-sized hole above the cabinet where we keep the games and childrens' books, just outside the kitchen door. A few feet away was the small chunk of concrete that had been hurled – I imagine with some sort of sling – with enough force to shatter the roof panel. Three other small holes revealed the contact points of less-destructive throws.
The rock: really a tangerine-sized chunk of concrete.
I find myself trying to process my emotions while the six students who aren't looking for the stone throwers, and their teacher from the Technical School - who says “that woke us up!” - mill about anxiously. Do I feel unsafe? Barely – I feel a bit more vulnerable than usual, for sure, but for some unexplained reason I feel ready to deal with whatever might happen to me, even if it were a rock to the head. What about the children, and the other adults who use this place, mostly when I'm not here? Yes, I definitely feel concern for them, and for Marria, who I have invited to join me on this visit. This needs to be a place where people feel (and are) safe, where they can relax – a retreat from the busyness and anxiety that are so often byproducts of the struggle for survival in the modern world.

What would I do if I had the chance to confront the rock-throwers? Yell at them? (What, really, would that accomplish?) Call the Police, and try to make sure they get punished? I struggle to find a punishing bone in my body. Life is so full of natural consequences, why would I need (or want) to increase the pain in this world that so often feels over-full of it? The closest I feel to resolution in those fifteen minutes after the incident is that I want to invite the stoners over to the house, to explain what it is for, and to find out what it is they need. Maybe that would shed some light on what inspired them to hail rocks on our roof. (Was it only our roof? I heard no reports of other roofs being hit.)

A beam of sunlight serves as a constant reminder as the adrenaline wears off, and I continue reflecting on the event, what might have caused it, if there's something I should do about it. Somehow it is easier for me to consider the house a target, rather than be a subject of totally random violence. Maybe it's like a sugary sweetener feeding my gringo guilt. Of course we should be the target: we have a brand new roof, and a water tank, and a new paint job, and most of the year no one even lives in this house! To some, this house could represent the wealth and hegemonic power of the United States, more or less dependent on exploitation of countries like Nicaragua and its people; the U.S. role in overturning the Nicaraguan revolution, facilitated by drug and arms sales; the hundreds of years of colonial history, which left the largest, most resource-rich country in Central America its poorest, with still-beautiful landscapes growing out of clear-cut jungle. Of course I am just making up someone else's story, using what I know, and looking from my own perspective. I don't know why this happened any more than I do who did it.

When I take the time, though, to think about myself, I remember that my own behavior often reflects the care I feel I am receiving from others. How many times have my arguments and fights with my siblings been born out of jealousy for what they got from my parents? When have I taken liberties with employers: when I believe they really cared for my well being as much as their own, or when it seemed like they were out for only their own good? Have I ever left a MacDonalds cleaner than I found it? How about the home of a gracious host? I want to care for these piedrinos in the way I feel cared for, in the way I feel care for them. For though I don't know them, I do care for them, and about them; and, as members of this community, in some unknown way I feel they are caring for me, though throwing rocks isn't their most precise way of doing so.

It comes to me simply and directly, as a cat who's ready to be pet now: I will confront what feels like uncarefulness with care. I decide to go into the street in front of the house and clean up the garbage, carelessly tossed there like the rocks on my roof.

In the spirit of the Faithful Fools, who believe wehave what we need before it is asked of us, I find an extra garbage sack in front of the house (we reuse them here). If that weren't enough, when the neighborhood kids ask me what we'll do together tomorrow, I tell them what I really want to do is clean the street; and they ask what time, and debate over when it won't be too hot, and then show up promptly at 4pm and we clean for an hour. In the end, I don't know if what I've done will keep more rocks from falling on the roof of the Casa Misionera Franciscana, or keep the culprits from doing it to someone else, but I feel like I helped some kids who could grow up to be rock-throwers find something to do when they're bored that probably feels better than throwing rocks at someone's house.

I can't help but think that maybe we all live in glass houses, and the first stone isn't the only one we shouldn't throw.

Paz y amor.

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