The Savior, Part 2: The Dream

continued from January 28 blog post, The Savior, Part 1: Breaking

Jesuit Volunteer (JV) program, Belize City, Belize, September 1994

Sister Eileen is my boss, the founder and director of the Lay Minsters Program for the Catholic Diocese of Belize. We don’t know each other well. I can count on two hands the number of weeks we have worked together, on one hand the number of parishes we have visited. To me, most of the fifty or so lay ministers around the country are names in a ledger. Some are photographs from Sister Eileen’s albums of the group’s annual retreats. To me–less than two months in the country–only a handful are real human beings who have invited us into their homes, attended one our trainings, or popped into the office at the back of a dark parish hall to check out the new space or say hello and offer their support to the American volunteer. While the other JVs teach high school and junior college classes and develop friendships with colleagues, I spend my days alone, reading the lay ministry curriculum, studying photographs of people I hope will one day be my community, organizing the office, and waiting for Sister Eileen to return from the States where she has gone to unravel the mystery of debilitating back pain that set in over the summer and has only gotten worse.

This isn’t what I envisioned. I miss my friends, my U-mates (so named because our dorm rooms sat along a u-shaped hall, two doubles, three singles, one bathroom at each tip of the hall, and somehow Dawn and I had one bathroom to ourselves while the five boys shared the other). I miss my Catholic Student Association amigas, Sunday evening student mass in the basement of Saint Paul’s Church, spaghetti dinners, making brownies in the student center kitchen, praying through final exams in the chapel. I miss my family, our goofy sense of humor, my nephews who ask me to draw smiley faces on their big toes, my Grandma China’s close hugs, my mom and dad. I don’t know how to be here yet.


In the dream a note written on blue paper greets me as I walk in the door of the Jesuit Volunteer house—my house for the next two years—in Belize City. Your mom called. You need to go home right away. The next moment I am walking off the plane into my mom’s arms at the El Paso airport. I expect her sit me down and tell me that one of my grandparents or siblings is gravely ill. But there is no announcement, no let’s talk before we drive home. Instead she asks if I’m hungry. We drive back to Deming, nearly two hours (the speed limit is still 55, even in my dream) of small talk about her classroom, painting the house, the new priest and how my grandma still doesn’t like him because he only ever talks to her about me and that’s because I went to Harvard. Finally, as we pass the newly expanded golf course with its thirsty grass and turn into our neighborhood, I ask, “Mom, what happened?”

“What do you mean, mi’ja?”

“Why am I here? Is there an emergency or something?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. You just sounded so sad when we talked to you, I thought you should come home.”

I tell her that I need to go back to Belize. I’m not finished. I haven’t done what I was supposed to do.


I wake to the same shapes, sounds, and colors I’ve grown used to in Belize: pre-dawn light on the wood walls of my bedroom, hammock hanging still from a hook in the corner, clock reading 5-something, journal from my night table, to my hand, to my lap where I write the dream and maybe something new for me in Belize. I don’t know what I am supposed to do here, but I know this is where I belong.

I don’t remember the rest of that day, only the phone call that night from Sister Eileen’s roommate. Sister Eileen’s back pain is Multiple Myeloma. I know without being told that it’s advanced, that Sister Eileen won’t be back, that the cancer will kill her and quickly, but not quickly enough to spare her pain. I know that in an instant I have gone from Assistant to Director of a program I know little about in a country that is not mine. And though I want to run, I stay because I know, at least for now, this is where I belong.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 2:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow, your description takes me there, big time! Can’t wait to hear the rest…

  2. Amigo, thank you for being part of my community that year. And always.

  3. Love the way you weave in dream and reality (of course it’s all true) to create a tapestry of feelings. Miss you! Demetria

  4. Thank you, Demetria. I love that, though we no longer live in the same city, we remain connected through the word.

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Jennifer Givhan, Poet & Novelist

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