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I Go To Court, Have A Tiny Mental Breakdown, And Make Friends With Complete Strangers

The following entry picks up my journey where I had arrived In London and was staying with The Catholic Worker, a social justice organization.

I arrived in London in a strange state of mind. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, and probably in no state to even have a normal conversation. But I hadn’t realized this yet, and was still making great effort to be social, friendly, and open to whatever the next few weeks held for me while volunteering with the Catholic Worker.

I should say a little bit about the Catholic Worker, its goals, and what it really is, before I trail off on to other subjects.

The Catholic Worker is basically a social justice organization, which was started in the Untied States around the depression as a response to the capitalist system. It was started by two charismatic leaders, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Dorothy Day was a Communist who left Communism for Catholism after meeting Peter Maurin.

The Catholic Worker focuses on the works of mercy as a way to combat poverty. They believe in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etcetra. They take this vow of service a bit farther than most, by actually living with the poor and taking vows of poverty themselves, by creating houses of hospitality for poor people to find temporary accomodation and services, and by actively…as pacifists…. protesting the governments that create policies that create poverty.

Maybe this sounds like anarchism to you. Well, some Catholic workers call themselves anarchists. Other Catholic Workers call themselves radical Catholics. But, whats most interesting about the Catholic Worker movement is that you can’t really categorize its members..because its members run from athieists to born again Christians to priests to whatever you can think of.

The main thing tying these folks all together is that they take a somewhat radical approach to poverty, and that they come from all walks of life.

I have worked with the Catholic Worker several times in the Catholic Worker house in Texas I worked with gave shelter to illegal immigrants coming across the border from Mexico, and was staffed by Catholic nuns. Another house in California was staffed by almost entirely gay men, who were completely devoting themselves to providing services for people with AIDS. Yet another house in California was teaching a Pacifist training course.

So, I arrived at the farmhouse with no expectations, really, of what it would be like, what they would be doing, or where I would fit into it.

It turned out the house was doing alot of different things, including providing asylum for women immigrants and their children, gardening, and being involved in protesting war and arms.

After the very colorful collection of characters who were running the place and volunteering there, I found out that the first thing on the agenda the following day was that we were all going to court. We were going to be doing two things.

First, we were going to be in support of Father Martin, a Catholic priest who had been arrested for defacing a sign at the local military base and was refusing to pay the fine.

Secondly, we were going to be holding a vigil outside the courthouse. The vigil consisted of wearing placards protesting the war, passing off leaflets to passerby, talking to people, and prayer.

So, the following morning we all got up, got dressed, and made our way to the courthouse to meet Father Martin. Father Martin turned out to be one of the sweetest people in the world, and I got to hear about his history being involved with both the Catholic Worker movement in England as well as the current action against him.

It was not the first time he had been arrested for protesting against the war or at the local military base. It was not the first time he had refused to pay the fine; in fact, he had been imprisoned before. He was expecting to have to go to prison again this time around, and everyone seemed to think they were going to take him there this very day.

Being in the courtroom was a surreal experience for me, in part because of my state of mind from the previous weeks, and in part because I was in a courtroom supporting a priest being a conscientious objector on my very first day in London!

The judge talked over everything with Father Martin, was courteous and listened to what he had to say. Father Martin seemed to be gentle, soft spoken man, and yet was able to state his case with remarkable clarity, in spite of the fact that he was visibly shaking.

In the end, the judge told him that he would give him more time to reconsider payment of the fines, as he didn’t want to send him to prison. He ended up giving him several more weeks to reconsider as well as such a low payment plan that it would be feasible for Father Martin to actually pay it; Father Martin lived in the Hospitality House and had so little money that he was literally as poor as a church mouse.

On leaving the courthouse, father Martin seemed to be visibly shaken, but told us that he would not pay the fine, no matter how small, as he had decided that he would rather go to prison.

After this interesting morning and afternoon, we headed back to the farmhouse where we worked on the garden, and I got to know the other two volunteers. Whitney was a Southern Baptist from Texas, who was attending a nearby bible college, and Welsh Tarin was a Catholic who was planning on living in the nearby Hospitality House in Oxford in a few months while she studied there.

The family who ran the farmhouse was quite colorful and very zealous about their goals and plans for the farmhouse. They were very hospitable to take me in so suddenly, and shared everything they had..from food to their computer. The children all seemed very artistic, and were amazingly  open at having a stranger suddenly sharing their bathroom!

The following days were spent in the garden, moving around compost, listening to their ideas for the future, and getting to know everyone. Tarin ended up being my roomate, and we had wonderful conversations every night, about everything under the sun.

Still, in spite of new friends and certainly interesting work, I didn’t feel like myself. One afternoon I found myself in Whitneys room, completely in tears and overwhelmed. I had begun to process my most recent experience at the “Buddhist” center, and I was realizing that I was more affected by it thatn I realized. I literally sobbed until my eyes hurt, and I began telling them what had happened there. I was in a state of shock, both at my current state of mind and with what had happened at that place.

Everyone was very kind to me, and Scott, the husband in the family who I had been working with, told me it was fine if I just wanted to stay on and not volunteer, but rest. This is just what I wanted to hear, just what I needed, and I grabbed a few books off their bookcase in the hall and locked myself in Tarins and my bedroom. Tarin brought in my meals, and in this way, I was able to keep to myself.

I decided to email my friend Leyla, a woman who I met thru this blog and who lived somewhat nearby in France. I was supposed to have arrived at her house almost a month later, but I figured that she might be open to me coming earlier. I knew she had a farmhouse and cats, and that I’d find some peace and quiet there and be able to rest for awhile. The farmhouse was too chaotic for me, and I felt that I needed time alone.

Leyla responded to my email with astonishing quickness, and in this way, I was able to decided where I was going and what I was doing within a few hours. This gave me much peace of mind, and I was relieved to be going to visit someone whom I felt I sort of knew. I didn’t know her well, as I had only met her once when she came to visit me in Panama for one day, but we had emailed pretty often and my sense was that she was a refreshingly down to earth woman.

My last day in London was also Whitneys last day at the farmhouse, and they threw her a little party. Whitney was remarkable in that she was such a friendly, outgoing, and loving person, that one felt good just being around her. It was obvious that they would miss her at the farmhouse.

After the party, Tarin and I headed to London to spend the evening before I had to go to the airport. I was really happy about this, as I really got along with Tarin, and found her to be such an easy person to get along with and talk to. She was very genuine and caring, and she was very sensitive to other people as well. In fact, I like her so much that I invited her to come live with me in California and do volunteer work with Hispanic immigrants in my community when I’m done with this trip. But thats another blog entry…

Anyway, we went to Westminster Cathedral, which was being..renovated. The whole thing was basically scaffolding, but here and there were the most remarkable, beautiful mosaics I have seen in some time. They were full of gold smalti, and they glistened, shone, and practically lept off the walls.

We ended up meeting Father Martin outside on the steps, as he was there with a huge group of people in remembrance of Hiroshima. Included in the entourage of people were Buddhist monks, wearing the robes of their orders. When I saw them, how I wished I had spent a month with them, rather than the strange people at the cult in the middle of nowhere!

We all decided to go out to dinner, and ended up at this hilarious Indian place called “Spicy World”. Spicy World proved to be not very spicy, but did prove to be a world of it’s own.

They gave us more food and waiters and pots of tea and little plates of chilies than we knew what to do with. The waiters would set the sugar bowls down and then whisk them away before we had a chance to use them. They kept bringing us more pots of tea, with less and less milk, seemingly astonished that so few people could drink so much tea. Father Martin seemed to always talk and eat with a teacup in his hand.

Conversation came easily to us and ran the gamut from the Catholic Worker movement to religion to the causes of war. It was a brilliant last evening in England, and somehow redeemed this strange country and the weird experiences I’d had there.

I found myself liking Tarin more and more, finding her sensibilities so much like mine in so many ways that I knew we would remain friends. Strange how you can meet someone and only be around them for a few days, but somehow, you just know that you won’t lose touch.

I had decided to go to the airport that evening, and spend the night there, instead of spending the night at the farmhouse or staying at a hotel. My flight didn’t leave until the following morning, so we stopped off at a bookshop and I bought a few books, one of which was all about Buddhism by the Dalai Lama. I figured now is the time to investigate this faith intellectually, so that I don’t confuse Buddhism with whatever was being taught to me this past month.

I took a train to the airport, and spent the evening talking to an Japanese man who had missed his flight and would miss his daughters wedding in Japan, a Jewish couple from Eastern Europe who now lived in Canada and had missed the flight to connect with their cruise, and an American expat Evangelical singer who talked about Jesus alot and celebrated her birthday with us.

Just another crazy travel day!



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