He was in my space. We all have the personal bubble. I even teach kids about it in schools. Different people have varying levels of tolerance and my bubble tends to be pretty small in comparison to a lot of people from the US – I like to be close to people. But this guy was definitely in my space in the not good way.
December 7th and 8th are Catholic holidays here in Nicaragua. La gritería is a celebration/festival/halloweenish? thing in honor of la purísima conception de Maria. Across Nicaragua different pueblos celebrate in various ways. We’ve heard accounts of children going to people’s houses to sing, and then the people in the houses give out gifts – tupperware, food, etc. There’s also a decent amount of mass in the Cathedrals. With these stories in mind, Andrew and I set out to see what all the fireworks were about this past Sunday evening.
We found ourselves at the church as mass was getting ready to start. We wandered into the massive, packed Cathedral. It wasn’t bus-from-Managua-to-Masatepe packed. (Which, just for the visual, was an old school bus from the US, seats full, and people three-wide standing in the aisle. If the “maximum capacity” of the bus we 58, there were over 120 people sardinly situationed inside. Not an exaggeration.) We positioned ourselves standing in the back with a bulletin board behind us, so our tall bodies would allow us to see the proceedings, but not block the views of the usually shorter Nicaraguans.
I understood we were all standing close to one another, but the man who was in front of me was exceptionally close and he just didn’t seem to notice. On top of that, his smell kept wafting my direction. Traveling to a different culture to me is akin to going to someone’s house when you’re a kid and you just notice it smells…weird, different, foreign. I can’t quite pin it down, but you recognize it’s not pleasant, maybe because it’s just not what you’re used to. The unpleasantness increases when it’s difficult to wash due to water limitations/difficulties and while I don’t know if that was the case for this man in particular, I know it is a difficulty many Nicas face.
So he’s in my space, and he smells.
But I try to concentrate on the Priest’s message. Can’t. It’s in mumbled Spanish and I’m distracted by the man near me. He keeps looking back at me, too. I know I stick out, but by the fourth of fifth stare I’m really starting to be annoyed.
I try to focus on the songs. I can’t understand the Spanish here either, so I start to insert other church song lyrics in my head to the beautiful tunes. When I closed my eyes, I could almost remove myself from the uncomfortable situation. I even scolded myself for being so mean to this man in my head, as I know it’s not the type of person I want to be. The Community of Christ mission prayer floated into my awareness and I began to wonder about the life of the man who I had just moments before, dismissed as not important, smelly, and annoying.
I opened my eyes and took another look. During most of the mass, the sermon, the songs, the prayers, he was looking all around, moving (and bumping into me) constantly, seemingly not paying attention. In this moment though he stood completely still. Then he raised his palms up and knelt his head in what appeared to be a humble prayer.
I had the overwhelming urge to pray for him. Those of you who know me well know that prayer and I have had a rocky relationship. I find it difficult to “pray for” someone with the idea that God will intervene in their life because of my request. Too many bad things happen in the world, even with a whole lot of praying on their behalf. But in this moment, I have no other words for it. I felt moved. I felt connected. I felt called to spend the next few moments placing my whole attention, spirit, and being, thinking about and praying for this man. As tears welled up in my eyes I recognized the God in him, as in me. Humbled, thankful, and full of gratitude for the life of this stranger, I held his life up to the light for that entire song.
Encounters with the spirit of connection leave me in awe. Perhaps I needed a reminder of the Worth of All Persons. Perhaps he needed a little extra love and light that night. Whatever the reason, in that moment I tried to listen and to understand.
When it came time to “pass the peace,” I made sure to pass it to him. Twice.