In the last months, I’ve slowly started to open up like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. In short, I’ve let myself love.
As they say, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but I am left wondering at the ferocity of my emotions and the Iguazu tears that fall at often awkward moments.
Iggy came into my life just last Friday. Iggy (*Ignacia) I worked out couldn’t have been more than 10-14 days old when I found her. She had been abandoned in the Municipal Plaza and I spotted her tiny five-inch frame curled up in a ball on the ground. I asked the groundskeeper about her, and he told me to take her with me, or she would likely die.
There’s nothing scarier than the question and answer: “Is she a girl?”, “Ah, that’s probably why they threw her away.”
Iggy became a metaphor for my life in Paraguay over those days. I cried, marveled at her progress, agonized over whether to feed her more or less. I called the vet and he gave me instructions: 2mls of milk, a tiny bit of egg, and a touch of sugar every few hours for energy, administered through a syringe because her little mouth was still too small for a bottle. I recorded her progress on Instagram, Facebook, on my phone and in a little video. I took her photo with every camera lens I have. I declared my love for her, our relationship was Facebook official, and I organised her forever home, which would be with one of my music students Rosa. The few times she really enjoyed her food were the cutest to watch. As she got her fill, her little eyes closed with bliss, her mouth would open as she suckled, she would start to purr, and her tiny little claws would contentedly knead my skin or her blanket.
On Tuesday, she cried more than usual. I decided to do a bit of research to top up what the vet had told me, and upon reading the blogs and info at about.com, I started to realise that caring for a kitten was much like caring for a newborn baby.
Tuesday evening, we ate empanadas and I remarked to my brother Hector, “I don’t think she’s going to survive, she seems weak and flat.”
I watched Hector lift up the empanadas with Iggy in my hands, and realised that she was no bigger than the soy-filled pastries. This should have tipped me off. I attempted to feed her three or four times that evening but she didn’t want to eat.
At 3:30am, I woke up and decided to try again with the feeding. I lifted her out of her cardboard box and realized she was cold, even though she had been under the blankets, so I held her close to my chest and covered her with a jumper and a quilt. After half an hour, afraid I would squash her if I fell asleep, I bundled her up in my Fe y Alegria jumper and returned her to her box. She continued to cry a little longer and then settled down. By this stage, she had cried for most of the night. I woke up late, 8:30 and looked into her box. There she was on top of the jumper, seemingly asleep. I went to the kitchen to make a coffee and prepared her warm milk mixture and returned to give her some breakfast. I poked at her a couple of times, and it soon dawned on me that the poor little thing wasn’t sleeping.
She was dead.
I tried a few more times, but to no avail. Her cold lifeless body was still limp.
We buried her in the garden a few hours later, and for the rest of the day I was listless, tepid and sad.
So, why do I tell the story of a little kitten I only knew for five days? Why is it that my tears fall so unceasingly over a cat? Perhaps it’s because this country has so much sadness that it can have a numbing affect.
In many ways, the kitten was a metaphor. It happened, but Iggy’s presence in my life signaled something else. Love seems to be temporary, fleeting, and because of this, I live in fear of love.
I just finished a long retreat, well, seven days (should have been eight but that’s another story). In silence. The purpose was to discover the type of love God was calling me to share. The results were inconclusive and anxiety-producing. Religious life or marriage? Lay missionary or religious missionary? Single or attached?
And on that whole area of love, is it possible for me to live and love here in Paraguay? Is love different here? I know relationships are different here. That is a given. Just how different, I am slowly learning, with pain and with resolve.
Paraguay is a country of extreme poverty, often hidden in the relaxed nature of the people. The government takes and takes and gives nothing in return. The people seem resigned to corruption, terrible governments, abuse, oppression, oligarchy and poverty. Just this week, seven campesinos have been arrested and taken to jail in Asuncion, simply for non-violently protesting the takeover of their land.
It’s therefore hard to make a change here. My love and “entrega” (giving of self) sometimes feels thrown back in my face. Not by the people, but by the entire cultural reality.
I’ve made lots of efforts. In 2010, together with my friends Nadia and Nancy and the women of Bañado Norte, we started the Kuña Py’a Guasu crochet cooperative. It collapsed slowly and waits resurrection when the flood waters go down. It collapsed because of the resignation that extreme poverty would persist, even if they worked at something positive. It collapsed because no matter how many people were enamored at the beautiful jewelry crafted by their hands, the money they received was never enough to do much. It collapsed because of gossip, a way in which these women try to make sense of their lives and the injustice around them, not realising that that same gossip perpetuates a vicious cycle of distrust and injustice.
I would like to found a school, a foundation, an institute, a small development project. But the odds aren’t in my favour. I’m comforted by the words of St Ignatius which encourage us to pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends on us.
The prayer is my challenge. And the love will continue to be my motivation. I just have to learn how.