Friday, January 23, 2015

Estoy Aquí

I don't know why, but one of the most ridiculous things I constantly have to think about when speaking in Spanish is whether to use the verb "soy" or "estoy."

If you don't know, these are the two "to be" verbs in Spanish. "Soy" implies a more permanent state of being. "Soy un hombre," "I am a man,' for example. Estoy, however, implies a transitive state, something that will not last. "Estoy cansado," "I am tired," for example.

And when I sit down, I can remember that... but in the regular flow of conversation, I have a bad habit of getting it all jumbled.

This afternoon I arrived in the Dominican Republic for three weeks of Spanish language immersion work along with spending time working in and among local parishes in the area. I took two years of Spanish in High School, but I tried hard to keep it up over a decade in the restaurant industry. My Spanish is passable, but certainly not fluent. The goal of this time is to help me get over the hump to fluency.

Catedral de la Epifania • Epiphany Cathedral
After I dropped my bag off at my room here at the Epiphany Cathedral, my host, Karen, offered to take me to exchange some cash and get a few staples for my stay. We stopped off at the diocesan offices, however, and ran into one of the seminarians, Marcus. He explained that there was actually a seminary class on Scripture going on upstairs that would be followed by the seminarians dinner. Karen asked if I wanted to jump in and I said, "Absolutely, that's what I'm here for."

We went upstairs and entered the room in which the class was being held. Marcus pulled me up a seat (near the back, kindly enough) and I sat down to take in what I could. I was able to catch bits and pieces of the Spanish and to follow along with the English Bible on my iPhone whenever they went to specific texts.

I sat in on the class for probably an hour and a half and they did not even take one single break. They just keep plowing through the New Testament, exploring the concept of virtues in Scripture and how they are a part of the Christian life. It was glorious.

But then my phone died.

And I started getting tired (I was up at 5am today, after all).

I kept an eye on the clock and realized the class was going to be continuing for a while yet. I decided that since I had just arrived, a bit of a break would be OK. I let myself out the door, made my way outside, and somehow was able to walk back to the Cathedral on my own. After plugging my phone in a charger, I went to a nearby restaurant to eat a quick bite.

As I sat at the table, with no phone or reading material to keep my from human interaction, I watched the people walk by. I watched a family a few tables over enjoying each other. When the food arrived, the father raised an eyebrow and one of the children hesitantly handed over the smartphone so they could focus on dinner. A younger couple a few tables to my right were enjoying drinks and the pleasure of sitting close to each other.

I breathed in the night air and wondered.... are we really that different? If I can get past the language barriers, so much seems to be the same. And for those pieces that are different, those ways of being that vary according to culture... what richness lies for those who will journey in.

Estoy aqui. I am here. I am here for three weeks, far from my wife who has amazingly enough agreed to let me spend all this time on this project. I am far from my parish, leaving it in the able hands of my priest associate and our parish administrator and trying very hard to resist the urge to get into work e-mails.

Necesito estar aquí. I need to be here.

But I cannot help but wonder, is it possible to be here, to be among the people in the Latino culture in a less transitive way? That is the goal, upon my return, after all. To find ways to practice Christian ministry in Northwest Ottawa county that might invite our small Latino population in, that I might be among them, be with them. No other church in our area offers any Spanish services near round—even though one community not more than ten minutes away is nearly one-tenth Latino.

And so I am hoping. I am hoping that over these next weeks I can learn enough—I can be brave enough—to be here in such a way that it enables me to be here in a less transitive way.

Quiero estar con ustedes. I want to be with you all.

Quiero aprender como estar con ustedes. I want to learn to be with you all.

Espero que tengo la fuerza. I hope that I have the strength.

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