Revelation by Sweatshirts

On May 14, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Roger Bond Choquette

This past Friday I led the year’s final (and my final) Kino Border Initiative trip to Nogales. This trip has pushed and pulled me in many ways by both the difficulty of the immigrant experience and, more practically, the difficulty of getting a group of teenage boys to and from Mexico in the same day. For that reason, it has offered me so many stories, experiences and images that are saturated with significance. There is not much like seeing a wall cut a town in half as though it were Berlin or hearing a nun explain to immigrants just what human rights are…and that they have them.

Still, the image that I will carry with me past this year is much simpler. When we arrived at the soup kitchen, I looked up at a migrant and saw him wearing a sweatshirt. It honestly shocked me.

To explain, Brophy had been collecting clothing donations for KBI for some weeks and it was incredibly successful. It was so successful in part because of donations from the community, but of more importance was the Lost and Found. I stripped it bare; bagging sweatshirts pants and shoes, moving them across campus, washing them one load at a time over the course of  weeks, folding them and finally moving them back. It really wasn’t all that difficult, and I am not now complaining, but it struck me while I was folding a sweatshirt one day: what is this even for? Why bother folding and caring of these donations? It can’t be that these donations make much of a difference. It’s just a sweatshirt and all my hours could be spent better elsewhere.

But when I looked at the immigrant, about a month after those weeks of washing, I saw him wearing a Northwestern sweatshirt that I had found, washed, folded and delivered to KBI. I remembered that sweatshirt distinctly, so it was disorienting to see it in such a different context. Moreover, it gave me a tangible, ostensible consequence of those hours. In just a moment, the hours were suddenly justified.

The difficulty of service is that the benefits are often indirect and the ideals one is working towards become impossible to see. It often seems like it isn’t worthwhile because our perspective by nature precludes a complete view. But the work is worthwhile and I know that because of the simple things, like sweatshirts. Justice, compassion, service, et al. are visible, discernible things, we just need the proper lens.

 

 

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