Shirley, It’s Mardi Gras!

16 02 2010

Yup Yup!  It’s Mardi Gras!  Today we come to the height of our revelry!  Today we live excessively… only to know that tomorrow is when we fast…

After thinking of all the clever stories I could share with y’all about the symbolism of Mardi Gras, instead I want to tell you about Shirley.

Contemplatives in Action tries to be open regularly between the hours of 9am-7pm Monday-Friday.  Some people think this “presence” is excessive, because it is highly unlikely that walk-ins come to us … afterall, we barely advertise our ministry and we have no signage outside our home.

But I am convinced that by being present we are available to others in their most sincere need.  One day this past November proved this theory right.

Our friend, Lynn, came to the door with her son, JJ. For all we knew, their family returned to Chicago after their volunteer experience a few years ago.  We see volunteers return for a weekend/week regularly, so I didn’t think much of it.

Lynn proceeded to tell me that her family had moved to New Orleans about  year and a half ago, and today they finally had a moment to stop by.  She continues to get our newsletter updates and has tried repeatedly to make her way to us since moving here. She was so glad to see me answer the door! After all this time, she wanted to introduce me to her relative, Shirley.

Turns out, Shirley lives in our neighborhood.  After Hurricane Katrina, she evacuated to Chicago and stayed with Lynn’s family.  Shirley finally returned to her home in New Orleans just last year.  She has subsequently hit hard times — her son has a severe learning disorder and has an abusive girlfriend.  Shirley needs medical care, but her part-time job at a local fast food restaurant doesn’t offer a plan.  Their house may be taken away if they can’t catch up with the property taxes, and they are without heat and electricity.

I got to know Shirley one afternoon while helping her collect a bag of food at the nearby church pantry, gave her my contact information, and waited to hear back from her as to what she may need help with.

I had not heard or seen Shirley until I ran into her at the grocery store last night.  She had brought a stroller to help carry pet food back to her home.

I learned that it usually takes her 1.5 hours to walk to work, and the parade routes during Mardi Gras are smack-dab in the middle of her walk.  It took her a good 10 minutes just to cut through the people assembled on the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas!

She was glad to receive blankets and towels from us while her friend takes care of the electrical work on her house.  She was also glad for the ride halfway to work because that gave her more time to spend with her family.

Shirley has a great smile and her eyes glow with curiosity and hope.  Although she is persistent in her efforts to rebuild her life,  she’s tired and quite honestly, needs more than a pack of Slim Jim’s to tide her over until her next half-bag of charity groceries.

She is working hard, always on her feet, to support her family.  She is alone taking care of herself and others, yet her generosity and diligence are excessive!

I do this ministry for people like Shirley… that perhaps every now and again, she may get a ride from the grocery store or get a new towel to give to her neighbor, or maybe even decide to feed herself because everyone else has been taken care of already.

My favorite memory of Mardi Gras this year: driving around with Shirley trying to cross over the police-barricaded street corners to get her to work on time. 🙂

Here’s to Team Enduring Hope!  Keep it up team!  Keep on sharing the stories of why racing for New Orleans is not just important, but it’s a matter of life and death.

Jocelyn A. Sideco, Spiritual Coach and Executive Director of Contemplatives in Action

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