What I learned in Naples

(this picture actually doesn't have tons to do with this post, except the fact that there are a bunch of kind, faithful people here. This is one of Carl's branches from his mission. He taught and baptized the guy in the back on the left. He is strong in the church now and gave an excellent lesson in Sunday school.)

Naples was the dirtiest place I have ever been, and I've been to some dirty cities. We spent only a couple of days navigating through the trash and street vendors and made our way out to mount Vesuvius and some important geological sites for Carl. I don't know that I will ever return to Naples, the city was heavy with hopelessness and garbage, but something I learned in that place I cannot so easily leave behind. At a bus stop at the end of the day, we got to talking with a kid from Morocco. Actually, Carl really spoke to him because he speaks Italian and while I could understand most of what they were saying, my Italian was too weak to respond. In the course of the conversation the boy told us that he had immigrated from Morocco to Portugal because there was no work in his native country. He had a girlfriend and a decent job in Portugal, but was kicked out of the country because of Visa issues and had ended up in Naples as a street vendor. He carried a white paper shopping bag full of odd items to sell and he had a pocketful of cheap watches. Carl told him that he was 25 years old, and the boy said, 'me too!'. The boy, I wish we'd at least known his name, looked over to me and my round belly and told Carl that he was lucky. He slept on the streets, along with the majority of street vendors in Naples. He said he did his best to sell things, but the profit was little and the possibility of an out was slim. I was surprised that he didn't seem to tell us his story with a reaction of pity in mind, rather, he was upbeat and friendly.

The bus came and in the crowd of people getting on, we lost sight of him as he went to the back. We stood as we jostled through the city maze and Carl said that he kept looking back to see the kid, to at least smile or wave to him before we got off at our stop. We never saw him though, until we had gotten off the bus and were walking toward our hostel. He ran up behind us and placed one of his watches in Carl's hand. It was plastic and blue. He said, "a gift for you." and then as quickly as he had shown up behind us, he was gone into the crowd of street vendors and hurrying people. We wanted to chase him down and give him something, but we had only a couple euros, and to give money after such a kindness had been shown us seemed insignificant and even pitiful. I don't think I give credence to the moment, as words are often insufficient markers for recreation of experience, but I'd like to think that something changed for me that night. We walked the few blocks to the hostel without saying anything because we honestly couldn't speak; our throats were stopped up. When we got back to our miniature room, we set our bags down and had a good cry.

This post however, and the experience, are not sad to me. Of course we cried because we felt humbled and taught a great lesson by someone with so much less than us, so much less in terms of material things and ease of situation, but I think also we cried because something changed in us, or at least we wanted change. Because we could not stop him to thank him or give anything in return, we prayed for him. And we prayed for ourselves. We prayed that we wouldn't forget how to be kind in the way that boy had shown us. He could have easily written us off as wealthy American tourists who had everything (in terms of stable jobs, a baby and a marriage, ability to travel, etc...) that he wanted and did not have, but instead he showed us a great kindness with what little he had. I want to be that way, and I don't think I am. For all my schooling, churching, praying, living, I don't know that my reaction would match his still. I am working on it. I have been thinking a lot about kindness. When I began writing this, I had a lot more to say, but I think I just want to end with two quotes that have been in my vernacular as of late:

"God's children need to be loved, and to have someone to love..." Marion G. Romney.

and a piece of a poem by Laura Fargas,

"And the heart wants something to be kind to,
even if only a fish to sprinkle
crumbs on the water for once or twice a day."

I think the world is full of suffering that we do not comprehend, and that used to make me terribly sad. It still does, but not necessarily in the way that completely halts me because I don't know what to do about it. That boy, and the watch that Carl wears now reminds me that regardless of my situation, I am part of the solution, or can be. I am, however, muchly in the stage of trying to figure out how to better do this.

1 comment:

kathy w. said...

Oh, I love this. Thanks for sharing. Even though I wasn't there, you've got me thinking about suffering and kindness now, too.