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Two weeks ago the central part of Mexico experienced a series of earthquakes. The most damaging one happened on Sept. 19, on the 32nd anniversary of the major 1985 earthquake. While there were many similarities between the two earthquakes, there were also differences. This time, thank God, the number of causalities was less. Due to cable television and news networks, the coverage was constant, especially on the Hispanic channels. The other difference was the extended reporting that regular citizens provided through social media.
Although it was agonizing to watch the constant flow of news, I watched as much as I could. While watching, I learned much about relief efforts during earthquakes.
One of the things that caught my attention was the way in which rescuers attempted to discover people under the rubble. One method they used was bringing a sizable sensor to the affected site. The sensor functions as a thermometer that detects and differentiates the temperature of a human body and his/her environment. If the sensor detects a change in temperature in a particular area, it means that there is a human under the debris — a man or a woman who is trapped and struggling, with the hope that someone will come to remove the debris, so that he or she can be set free.
As I observed this process of finding and preserving life, I could not help but think that perhaps as human beings we need to have a similar sensor. At times, it seems to me that we have become numb and thus unable to recognize that under the debris that is produced by detrimental social dynamics, among them, racism, classism, sexism, and other “isms,” there is a human life. There is a real human being, like you and me, created in the image of God, who is trapped and struggling, and has hope that someone will come along to help him/her to remove the obstacles, so that he or she can be set free to experience life in its fullness.
Can you feel the temperature …?
Can you feel the temperature changing every time that a person — black, brown, or white — takes a knee? Can you feel that their actions are pointing to a whole group of people who are experiencing oppression and obstacles due to racist and classist dynamics that are burying them alive? Can you feel that there are human lives, black human lives, hoping for the obstacles to be removed so that they can experience life in its fullness? A rescuer will scream here: “There is real life under the debris, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Can you feel the temperature changing every time a DACA recipient is threatened with deportation? Can you feel that these are real human beings who are struggling to maintain the only life that they have known since they were little kids? Can you feel their fear of being abruptly separated from their family, friends and communities of learning and service? Can you feel that they are hoping for the obstacles to be removed so that they can experience life in its fullness? A rescuer will scream here: “There is real life under the debris, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Can you feel the temperature changing every time that a woman is suffering under sexist traditions, comments and dynamics? Can you feel how she is being buried every time that she hears: “You cannot do this; you can never achieve that … just because you are a woman?” And if this woman happens to be a brown or black woman, then she is being buried not only by sexism, but by an intricate combination of sexism, racism and classism. Can you feel that these are real human beings, made in God’s image, who are hoping for the removal of obstacles so that they can experience life to its fullness in whatever path God is calling them to follow? A rescuer will scream here: “There is real life under the debris, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Can you feel the temperature changing in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria? While it is true that all of the victims of recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Jose) have suffered, it is clear to me from the news and from friends’ narratives that the response to Maria’s victims has been very slow. Can you feel the temperature changing on this island where there are many humans, yes, brown humans who are American citizens, created in the image of God, who are dying due to an unbelievable and inexplicable slow delivery of water, food and medications? (At this point, the only way to explain this slowness is through a racial and political analysis that requires more space than the one allowed for this column). A rescuer will scream here: “There is real life under the debris, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Can you feel the temperature changing around you due to a member of your church who is buried under depression, addiction, financial stress, sickness or fractured relationships? A rescuer will scream here: “There is real life under the debris, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Every time the rescuers in Mexico City perceived signs of life under the rubble, they moved to obtain more information. One way to accomplish this was by requiring silence from the crowds of workers and observers. If the team leader lifted his/her fist, this was an urgent request for silence. It was amazing to watch the scene on television; suddenly everyone would follow, lifting their fists and remaining silent and attentive. They were attempting to hear sounds, maybe a weak voice or small bang indicating that indeed, there was a human being buried alive under the debris. Often these noises would lead the rescuers to the right direction and action path.
Can we feel the temperature changing around us? Can we feel that there are human beings, very close to us, created in God’s image, who are being buried? If we cannot, perhaps we need to be silent and attentive in order to listen to their stories of suffering due to spiritual, social, economic, and/ or physical conditions that are foreign to us. Perhaps a silent mouth and an attentive ear will lead us to the right direction and action path.
Can you feel the temperature changing around you? Can you feel it? Can you hear Jesus, the divine rescuer? He is screaming: “There is real life under the debris, my beloved children are being buried, let’s remove the obstacles!”
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)