Different Ways to Pray

From “Different Ways to Pray”
by Naomi Shihab Nye

“There were the men who had been shepherds so long
They walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms—
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
But the olives bobbed peacefully
On fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread and white cheese,
And were happy in spite of the pain,
Because there was also happiness.”

Saturday dawned with a glorious cool, crisp bit of weather that is rare in these tropical parts. Across the Valley, men and women who normally spend their precious Saturday mornings at the market, or repairing the house, or setting straight the things that got of order during the work week, head out the door with a bounce in their step and purpose in their eyes.

Getting Out the Vote with Proyecto Juan Diego
It is the “Equal Voice Campaign’s Get Out the Vote” Saturday in the Rio Grande Valley. A thousand strong, at least (I have lost count, for the moment) slip on bright, gold tee-shirts that proclaim “Your Vote is Your Voice”, and head out the door to do some civic engagement.

In Brownsville, the voting promoters gather at a local community center, pick up packets with addresses for door to be knocked on, and head off into the streets. There are smiles all around; the get out the vote campaign in this neighborhood has always been a great success. Those who promote the vote are received with anticipation. In fact the challenge here is to be able to get around to all of the houses on your list–each person that you run into wants to talk politics. There is no voter apathy in this community.

In San Benito, the Get Out the Voters invade the local, and popular, community days celebration, passing out voting commitment cards and encouraging attendance at the candidates’ forum for later on the morning. I worry that people would be more interested in the antique car show or the karate demonstrations, but they fill a small auditorium to listen to the candidates for local offices make their pitches.
Ron Rogers, START Center
Ron Rogers, one of the local activists, tells me that he thinks that with this effort, “We might really be able to control some of the decisions made in this town. Wouldn’t that be something,” he says, “Working families dictating policy.”

In McAllen, some three hundred people pack a meeting room where forty politicians have lined up to learn what the community expects from them. The politicians are not allowed to preach, they are given thirty seconds to respond to questions that the community of poor families have come up with . “What will you do to better school bus service to our rural communities?” “How do you plan to keep school yards open after hours, so kids have a place to play?” If the politician goes on for too long, she is given a small American flag. This seems to be as effective on the politicians as blowing a police whistle.

There is water, but no coffee. This is serious business. But there is a bounce in everyone’s step—this, I think, is a kind of happiness. A precious kind of joy.

Back in Brownsville, I put on my gold-colored shirt and visit the sixty homes on my list. The first man I encounter is delusional and goes on at length about a vision of Jesus that he had when he was six. As he finishes up the detailed description of what Jesus was wearing, he looks at me over his sunglasses, takes the sample ballot, and says, “And that is why I vote!”
Voting, with faith for a child’s futu
I put a check next to “yes, I will vote” on my scorecard. He has made a connection between religion and politics that I think that I will leave alone.

The last person on my list turns out to be Lupita, the overall coordinator for getting out the vote in this community.

She is in the driver’s seat of her battered suburban, battling to get the car out of “Park.”

I wish I could help, but I am useless in these matters.

She told me that she had just dragged her sister’s car, parked on the street with the Suburban (the car stalled some place and won’t start). She had parked the Suburban right up behind the one functioning vehicle that remains, so things are an an impasse. Her family has places to go and things to do, but no one is going anywhere soon.

I am thinking that this is a great image for most of the working families here in our Valley along the border. People live surrounded and trapped by things that don’t work the way they should, be it a school system or a job, or a political system that is quickly forgetting what it means to work for the common good.

An unhappy person would give up. Or turn to violence.

I ask Lupita if she plans to vote in this election. She just laughs, a twinkle in her eye. I check the “yes” box next to her name, as she continues to jerk the gear shift back and forth.

As I walk down the driveway and back out onto the street, I am bouncing a little on my feet. I am enjoying the cool breeze, and savoring happiness.


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