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Finally full

Marisa Iati | Tuesday, August 6, 2013

PARK CITY, Utah – To be completely and painfully honest, I came to Utah this summer in search of personal healing.

I had been feeling partly empty for a while, burdened by a void formed by self-doubt and broken relationships. What better way to fill that hole than by giving myself away in service to others for two months?

Fast forward to my third week teaching kids in kindergarten through fifth grade at the Holy Cross Ministries Summer Program, and things were not going as planned on my journey of spiritual renewal. Most of the kids’ parents are Mexican immigrants, and some of the kids are immigrants themselves. Because of this, the kids face a series of unique challenges, with English language acquisition and fear of deportation at the top of the list.

“How is it helping them to play Bingo with me for an hour when they’re going home to a mom who can’t stop crying because her husband was deported, or to an apartment that’s missing a member because she was just incarcerated?” I spit out to my dad on the phone. “Let’s face it. I can’t fix myself, and I can’t fix anyone else, either.”

Spoiler alert: I did not, in fact, “fix” anyone this summer.

I did not solve the kids’ legal dilemmas; many remain in households torn apart by broken immigration policies. I could not bring their English vocabularies up to par with those of the school district’s Anglo-Saxon students in the two months I had with them. And I didn’t solve any of their economic woes.

But on a sunny afternoon at the start of my final week in Park City, I discovered why God had brought me here. My site partner and I walked into Spanish Mass at the local parish and could not help but grin when we saw one of our favorite kindergarten boys from the Summer Program in the front row. He kept turning around to stare at us throughout the service, and at one point, he held out a little piece of paper as if he were trying to pass us a message.

I turned around during the Sign of Peace to find him right in front of me, staring up with his gigantic brown eyes and extending his hand. Then I saw a fourth grade girl from the program standing to my left with a big smile on her face. She had come all the way across the church to greet my site partner and me.

I shook the boy’s hand.

Then the girl’s hand.

And my heart completely melted.

The kids were truly excited to see us, especially in the context of that Spanish Mass that was new to us but familiar to them. It occurred to me that there lay the true success in what I did this summer. As the kids and I got to know each other during the program, we all crossed boundaries – those walls that prevent individuals from different walks of life from understanding one another. Breaking down those dividers, I believe, enabled all of us to feel a little more valuable than we had felt before.

Healing, I realized, occurs in the development of relationships with people whose personal crosses differ radically from your own. It finds you in moments of genuine understanding. It seeks you out when you’ve let your guard down and opened yourself to whatever you may learn about another person. And it comes with time.

As I walked out of Spanish Mass, I could not stop smiling.

I finally felt full.

Contact Marisa Iati at miati@nd.edu