Thursday, August 28, 2008
Tomorrow my roommate-in-Cuernavaca leaves for home. He’s leaving a day earlier than everyone else because of some screwy scheduling by an airline that is not United. Tonight he said his goodbyes by making us all bananas foster – a dessert I’ve had only once before, with equally fond memories of friendship and laughter.
Anyway, after dessert David (en espanol pronounced Dahv-EED, which is how I pronounce it every time I write it here) gave each of us a little goodbye, and I even got a hat out of the deal! The hat was from a mission trip he’d taken a youth group on in New Orleans. I was moved, but, as usual, had no decent reply ready. Which is where a blog comes in handy. What I write here doesn’t say everything – it isn’t possible – it does amount of my feeble attempt to say something about what my time with David has meant to me.
While this is, obviously, sort of a public thank you to one person, I hope it gives everybody else a window into a major slice of my experience these last three weeks. It is but one example of the people you meet for only a brief moment in time but who impact you in ways far beyond your expectations.
I have to be honest. When my roommate first arrived in Cuernavaca, I was skeptical. Here I am, the classic introvert, sitting in my new room taking a few minutes to adjust to my new surroundings, when I hear this guy coming up the stairs, talking nonstop to our host and dragging the biggest suitcase you’ve ever seen (or heard coming up the stairs, for that matter). Dude comes in and immediately tells me his life story and all I can do is inwardly shake my head in wonder at how these two opposite personalities have been placed together for two weeks. O Lord, You have got the weirdest sense of humor.
Within ten minutes David had told me his call story and then asked me about mine. My call story?! I’d been wandering around Mexico for two weeks; my call story seemed like something from another life. Deer-in-the-headlights, anyone? I babbled something for five minutes straight and I can’t remember anything coherent that I said. But what I do remember is that every time I looked over to this new roommate of mine, he was listening intently, no matter how incoherent I was being. By the end of the night, I knew I liked this guy. By the end of the week I wasn’t just laughing (though, gracias a Dios, I was still doing that) I was thanking God we had been placed together.
Here’s the first thing I liked about rooming with David: He’s got a great sense of humor. As y’all reading this probably already know, that’s pretty much the first requirement for being my friend: you gotta be able to laugh easy. And David definitely laughs easy. (Need I mention huaraches?!) My personal favorite story in this strain occurred when I learned David's least favorite song ever and then immediately realized I had it on my computer. Within minutes of his telling me the story of why he hated it, the gentle 70s sounds of Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze" were gently wafting out of my little laptop. (As Chris put it, "That is almost exactly the kind of thing that Matt and his roommate would do to each other in college. I mean, it really falls into the long Matt Keadle tradition of roommate torture...") We had a lot of laughter in that little upstairs room, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through those two weeks in Cuernavaca without it.
Here’s the second thing I liked about rooming with David: He’s a great pastor. It was truly a gift to learn under his shadow these last few weeks. As thrown off as I was by the sudden call for call stories, I was struck by the way David put practicing hospitality near the core of his calling as a pastor. And then I heard story after story from David about his life’s work and his many experiences, and many of those stories will stick with me as I prepare for the next steps in my own vocational journey. But most of all, I learned from his example. So often in our visits to Mexican homes or charlas (chats) with local residents or Bible studies with local groups (see especially the blog post Altavista from August 19 or The Face of God from August 23) lots of us – mostly myself – would be left speechless by the power of the experience. But after this brief moment of quiet, David nearly always had a well-formed affirmative word to say. I still remember how moved I was when he told Elena her house, physically made only of thick concrete and corrugated metal was “strong, very strong.” He said it in English but you knew she got the message, both in its physical and metaphorical truth. And then in the Bible study I was totally reduced to nothing, but all of a sudden here comes David’s voice using the words of the New Testament to affirm what these people were doing in this little Bible study. Here was the voice of the pastor, speaking loud and clear and speaking a blessing in a place the other religious leaders had abandoned (the current church leadership in Cuernavaca is opposed to these small-group Bible studies), and as he spoke the people nodded in agreement and I thought this, this is what the pastor can do, amid all that is wrong with the world, this is what the pastor can do, this is a role for the pastor. We joke about me having a future internship with David, but in truth I’ve already had one. As ridiculous as it sounds, for these few weeks, I had a mentor.
Here’s the third thing I liked about rooming with David, which is personal and only works because of the strange twists of fate God uses to change us: David has got exactly the right personality to draw me out of myself quickly. Those of you who know me well know how hard this can be, how hard it can be to draw me out, the introvert who is often so very guarded and cautious around new people (as Hannah put it once, "It took Matt awhile to decide if he wanted to be friends with us...") How can I put this better? Here is one example: David and I were both here in this program in part to learn Spanish, and as part of the program we were placed in a homestay so we could practice. My approach to this practicing is to go into my head, think of some Spanish vocab, conjugate the verbs, rearrange the nouns and adjectives, then try to construct a sentence and see if our host will understand. David’s approach is to gesticulate wildly, acting out what he’s trying say as if he were a mime, speaking mostly English but very clear English, and throwing in Spanish words whenever he can think of them (at least, David, this is what it seems like to me). And here’s the thing: what David did to communicate almost always seemed to work! So by the end of the week, here I am, certainly using what Spanish I know but also when I can’t think of a word throwing in a little miming action, like driving an invisible steering wheel for the verb to drive… I have to be careful, because I really am trying to learn Spanish carefully and systematically during this long year abroad, but I think David’s influence has drawn me out of my shell a bit, made me a bit braver about trying to communicate with people even if I don't have the language figured out perfectly just yet. It's made me a bit more willing, despite all of my inner self-doubts and worries, to just give it a try and go for it.
Anyway, these kinds of experiences like this immersive language program are supposed to be “transformative,” right? Well, I can tell you this much right now: the first way in which I was transformed on this particular trip was through the time I spent with David.