Sometimes I struggle with the concept of language – it is such a frail thing, these jumbles of letters and sounds that are associated with certain meanings and carry such emotional weight and power. But it is all I have to attempt to pierce the shadows that permeate my being, and share the day-to-day reality, beauty, brokenness, and heartache of living among the poor.
I wish you could ring my annoyingly loud buzzer doorbell that makes me flinch and drop things if I’m standing too close to it. I wish that I could yell out to you from my window to come on up, and laugh as you fumble with the latch on the gate and scurry up the stairs. You’d walk into my living room, see the hammock and the guitar and my picture of Jeferson and Isabel hanging on the wall. We’d sit down and have some coffee or a fresh fruit smoothie (think Jamba Juice, only better!) and just laugh. I wish you could be here when the neighbor girls timidly ask on the door to ask if they can borrow some flour, and run off giggling when I wink at them.
I wish you could see the madhouse my place is when the gang of ten little neighborhood punks comes running up the stairs, knocking on the door, and crowding into my tiny living room to gather on the floor and play dominoes and cards and guitar, and talk, and get in fights over how to play checkers. I wish you could be over at the house when Rodrigo and Lucio ring my doorbell at 1 AM cause they’re hungry and lonely and scared and they want to tell me that their mom has just been arrested. I wish you could laugh as they examine themselves for the tiniest injuries so they can bathe them in hydrogen peroxide and put a band-aid on them.
I wish you could have been here last Sunday afternoon – watching the madhouse that is MY house. I wish you could have seen the guys from Lapa who call the street their home – Cleiton and Silvano and Williard and Thiago – as they decided they wanted to cook us a “Brazilian” dinner. I wish you could have observed as they bickered over how much oil to fry the meat in, how much vinegar to put in the salad, how to cut up the potatoes, and whose fault it was when the meat was knocked off the stove and landed on the floor. I wish you could have felt the pride emanating from them as they served us the fruits of their work. I wish you could laugh with me as they dally in front of the mirror, douse themselves in cologne and aftershave, dab gel in their hair, and finally are dragged out of the door to try and not be MORE than 45 minutes late. I wish you could be in church when they sing the visitors song – “It’s so good to have you here with me, to talk and get to know you” as everyone moves around giving high fives, kisses, hugs, claps on the back, and massive grins. I wish you could sit beside me and I would nudge you in the service to look behind and see Silvano sleeping through the sermon, while Cleiton sits with a rapt expression on his face.
I wish you could have been here tonight as I sat around with the Servant Team discussing “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” by Sider. Hearing their insights and convictions and their unique personalities and the way God speaks to me through them, and then hearing the doorbell ring again. You could have run down the stairs with me to find Cleiton and Michael Jackson. We would have listened to them tell how that evening the police had come by again, thrown all their belongings in a pile, and lit it on fire. We would have heard how the police burned all their blankets, mattresses, and anything else they could get their hands on. We would have invited them upstairs to sit and talk and get out the pain-killers for Cleiton’s toothache. We would have postponed the book discussion and decided to finish talking about it later, because our friends, our brothers were here in front of us, and alone, and in pain, and tired. You could have sat around with me and laughed as I tried to explain Jon Stewart’s jokes to Michael Jackson. You could have gone into the kitchen and been part of the Gnutella fight between Emily and Laura, and helped Cleiton take pictures of the whole thing.
But I really wish you could have sat with me as I talked with Cleiton. I wish you could have heard Cleiton’s voice break as he talked about his brothers and sisters – his mom struggling to make ends meet – his pain at seeing her go through that. I wish you could have heard him as he picked up a book with the picture of Jesus on the cover and asked me, “Why is it that all the Jesus’ I see are white, with blond hair and blue eyes? When I picture Jesus, I picture him as black with tight curly hair…” and the discussion that ensued. I wish you could have seen the expression on his face as he cut himself off in mid-sentence and said, “Who am I to tell you this stuff. You know it better than me…” And then I wish you could have seen his expression soften as I told him how much I learned from him, and even how God said that he uses the weak things to shame the strong, and the foolish to shame the wise, so we know that it is from Him.
I wish you could have been a part of the story telling that took place as we looked through my pictures. You would have laughed at the picture of me up on the platform speaking at our church – all nerves and awkwardness and fumbled speech that thankfully don’t show up in the pictures – and helped with my response as I answered his question “What did you talk about?” I wish you could have drunk in his eyes as he listened to me tell the story of the Prodigal Son. I wish you could have seen the light flickering behind them as the meaning of His grace flickered across the surface of his soul. I wish you could have been there as he asked, full of quiet wonderment, “So you mean… that’s how God feels about us?”
I wish you could have been with us tonight as we walked the girls home, and avoided the puddles and the sprinkling and the cops and the guns, and breathed in the clean “after the rain” air. I wish you could have been with me as Cleiton and Michael Jackson walked home with me at midnight. I wish you could have stood beside me as I watched them walk away, heading back to their “home” on the streets, feeling a strange mixture of sorrow and joy – feeling inadequate yet hopeful.
I wish you could have Cleiton, and Michael Jackson, and Jeferson, and Silvano, and Ingrid, and Rafael, and Rodrigo, and Lucio, and Thiago, and Christiane, and Monique, and Adriana, and Marielly, and all the others burrow into your hearts. I wish you could know them and huge them, laugh with them and cry with them and love them, and be amazed as they teach you and love you in return. I wish you could know a piece of my life here.
I wish that my words were more than they are, but I am comforted by realizing that maybe this time, simple words may be enough.
I wish you could see it…