In the last couple of weeks in the reception, I have either encountered a disproportionate number of difficult situations to face, or, this time of year people’s desperation has tended to be closer and more poignant. Maybe the season of giving has made people unable to give feel more vulnerable, causing them to show up more at the Casa’s doorstep for help or donations. Maybe my own focus on how fortunate and grateful I am has made me emotionally available to those that have very little. The last few shifts I’ve worked in reception have been difficult, and left me feeling gentle and conscientious when handling people off the street.
Today as I was working, we brought a 20-ish year old guest with a baby-face to tears as he received the news that he could no longer stay in the Casa if he is unable to pay. He had already racked up a $1400 peso debt staying in the men’s dormitory for two weeks. This news was reality hitting him like a ton of bricks. I tried to find out a little bit about his situation–who he has for support and what his next steps will be–and all of these questions were met with a shy, bewildered series of “No one,” and “I don’t know.”
I thought maybe asking the right question might reveal an answer for him; I didn’t want to accept the fact that given his situation he’s going to have a really difficult time supporting himself alone. He came to Mexico City from Northern Mexico, with not a soul in the city to stay with, confide in or call upon for help. No friends, no family, nothing. It’s hard to believe that such a well-dressed, well-kempt, handsome young kid was on his way to some of the City’s ugliest public shelters, but there are some indications that he may have a damaged relationship to his family and really has no one left to help him out. After several questions revealed this kid really did not know which way to turn, there was nothing but silence left between us. Having given him three pretty deplorable options–the Salvation Army, a government-run shelter which, according to descriptions from migrants may be worse than staying in the street, and a fifth-rate hotel one colonia over which offers lodging for $40 pesos a night (although you run the risk of robbery or violence), I started running through a list of possibilities in my head of what might happen to this kid in those places or what kind of fear he might be facing in having to leave the Casa and find his way. Even though he has a part-time job, Mexico’s $65 peso a day minimum wage doesn’t offer much to survive off of. It was just hard to send someone so young off to meet the hard face of the world, maybe harder after a week of being pampered and spoiled by my own parents. How incredibly, incredibly lucky I feel.
Just after he left, a group of students arrived as part of a mountain climbing/life goals course, along with an 84 year-old woman they found crying in the airport because she was unable to find her daughter. After bringing the woman back to the Casa and telling her where she was, it dawned upon her that this was not the first time she had been in the Casa de los Amigos. In the 60′s she had stayed in the Casa with her children, and had not been back since. It turns out her husband dedicated his life to a well-known social justice organization, and it seemed to be fate that she had be brought, by complete coincidence, back through our doors.
It’s an incredibly unique experience to the Casa to receive this type of divine synchronicity, to be demanded so much presence day in and day out. In the city or out, we learn each day how small and how connected the world is, making our place within it that much more essential.