I am sorry to start these so late. Things have been piling up. We start finals this week so I have been trying to prepare. This Italian Class is killing me. :)
The Missionaries of Charity run an AIDS hospice as well as a soup kitchen and a shelter for men and women on the west side of Madrid. The AIDS hospice usually has about 13 residents who are at different stages of dying. But thanks to medical advances, these guys live a lot longer. Supposedly, 10 years ago, there were guys dying every month. When I was there, these guys were in alright shape. Many of them had been there for years. I think half of them were in wheelchairs and those are the ones we really needed to help.
Those first few days in Madrid were tough. I started asking myself, why did I come here? Why, in fact, do I always try to find places to serve like with AIDS patients? Who gave me this stupid idea? I think that was the beginning of my prayer for the first few days.
I always dream up how things are going to be before I arrive somewhere. And somehow when I got to Madrid they did not quite add up. For one, I got there late because of my flight so I arrived when the sisters were doing their holy hour and the only guy there sent me away. So I came back an hour later and found that the sister in charge of the house where I would be was off at the hospital. So another sister just sent me up to the AIDS house to hang out. What a rough start. So there I am, sitting in a dining hall/living room, breathing in the fumes of five different types of cigarettes trying to make small talk, in my Spanglish-Italian. Tough. The sister in charge would finally wander in towards the end of the day, meeting people on the way, solving problems, and telling me over her shoulder as she showed me my room and hurried out the door that I would pick stuff up on the way.
Day 2. I don't think I wanted to get up that morning. And I definitely did not want my holy hour or Mass to end.
But things got better, quickly. I met the hoards of volunteers that come through this place and quickly became part of the family. A number of seminarians would come through and thankfully, we'd have English in common. There were some aspirant sisters and a girl visiting the order to talk to as well. The Missionaries of Charity inspire a lot of people to help. In fact, at this house, the volunteers really ran the house from the cooking and cleaning to the washing and feeding. They also financially supported the place. As a result, the sisters were around but not much. And I was not quite ready for that. When I was in Milan the sisters were around all the time and I learned a lot from them. We would do a holy hour together. It was great. Here, not so much.
The way the schedule was set up was actually real nice, especially when on Christmas vacation.
Mass at 8am
Get the boys up at 830am
Breakfast for the boys and Cleanup 900am to 11am
Downtime or Laundrytime or my breakfast 11am-1pm
Lunch for the boys 1pm-130pm
Put them down for naps 130pm
Lunch and Break 200pm-400pm
Get'em back up for Marinda or what we might call, snacking 400pm-415pm
Dinner 700pm to 715pm
Take them to bed 715pm to 8pm
Freedom 8pm and on
So I started learning, albeit slowly, how to get the guys up and put them to bed, either changing everything from the pinochet (its a piece of rubber that wraps around the guy's penis to take care of the urine) and the diaper to just changing clothing and sending them off to the dining hall. I realized it was all a trust thing. Guys would not want you helping them at the beginning until they really learned to trust you. Then even if they did not like you, like one certain fellow, they would still ask for your help over anyone else.
I would also help serve the food, cutting up the meat for some or in the case of another, feeding him one spoonful at a time. We would make the beds, mop the floors, clean the toilets, empty the urine bags, hang up the laundry, and many more glorious things. At times, these things made me wonder why so many people would show up here to help, even young people.
The downtime in the morning and afternoon was usually occupied with small talk, lounging around on the couches in silence, or loss after loss at the game of dominos to the professional ringer of the house.
Occasionally there would be a play down the hill that all the men would go down for or a movie shown on Sundays. For the big celebrations we would all go down the hill for the big party.
That was life, for a couple weeks anyways. Day in and day out was much the same. But as I fell into the routine, the montony, I had the experience of really living with them. I stayed in a room in the back. I could hear them if they cried out at night. I sat in the same smokey dining hall, waiting out the minutes of each day.
There were times of joy and laughter but also the blunt reality of the situation, people slowly wasting away. I even had the experience of feeling simply horrible when I caught a 24 virus from one of the guys and spent the next day puking my guts out. I look back on it with great fondness. :) I think there is really something said for entering into the lives of others. By doing so, I was able to be with them and love them. Much of what I think inspires the volunteers, young and old, the sisters, the seminarians, even the priests who would come through, is that what they are doing here is love. At this place, love becomes incarnate. There is this mutual giving between the volunteers and these men. No, the men do not give anything material, but they give what little they have, their smiles, their tears, their lives.
Though this west side of Madrid might normally be on the "outskirts" of society in some sense, it has become ground zero for so much love and ultimately for so much change. People come here to love and they leave changed, ready to share love with so many who have yet to discover it.
I thank God for having the chance to share in this.