It was early December and our hospitality at a slow trickle when a police officer called and asked if we had a bed for a 20-year-old male. James had been working the night shift laying, a gas line in the nearby town of Charlton and sharing a trailer with a young guy he described as his friend. When he borrowed his car one night to get to work, the “friend” accused James of stealing it. The allegation resulted in the loss of his job and a place to sleep in the trailer.
James was an industrious kid, going out each morning to look for work. After supper, he would retreat to his room, hoodie up, earbuds in his ears, and lie on his bed, one of his few certain comforts. It was hard to see someone so young fending for himself. James told us that aside from a year spent in New Hampshire with an uncle, who worked on nuclear submarines, he had been on his own since graduating from high school, working jobs up and down the east coast. One evening at supper, he said a trucking company in Maine might hire him. Two days later, he was gone, the room where he slept barely showing signs of his presence.
Loneliness is the greatest poverty, Mother Teresa said. We have certainly seen it here. Guests whose loved ones have died. Guests estranged from their families. People without moorings, bobbing along unknown. James is among the youngest. I am praying he finds a trustworthy friend, someone who loves him reliably. We are not made for such a solitary existence.
While James was still with us, we hosted the Delmas, a refugee family from Haiti. Mother, father, a wide-eyed toddler, and three-year-old Davide. They had entered the US via Brazil, crossing ten countries before reaching Roxbury, Massachusetts, their intended destination. Their arrangements fell through. The little ones contracted a respiratory infection and spent nearly two months in a Boston hospital. The father said, “Even my wife was sick. It was very difficult.”
Unlike James, the Delmas were not fending for themselves alone. The couple leaned on each other for support. You could see it in the way they silently read each other’s signals, in how he helped with the baby while she worked the phone, figuring out where they would stay next. The hardships and travel had not wearied little Davide. Upon his family’s arrival to Mason Street, he high-stepped his way up the hallway stairs as if he owned the place, as if he couldn’t wait to discover what these new circumstances would bring. The next morning, I found him prancing around the cat, laughing at every move old Dexter made. Observing Davide’s delight in the moment was one of this Christmas’s most memorable gifts.
And now comes a new year with a big war and an old cause. The Ukrainian conflict has pushed fears of nuclear annihilation back into popular consciousness. These days, I find myself attending a lot of meetings on growing the movement for nuclear disarmament, a dominant peace issue when Scott and I were young Catholic Workers. Time is looping back on itself, I said to him. We are where we began, once again organizing, meeting, writing, praying, adding our small efforts to the collective one pushing humanity toward Life not Death. God gives new friends, resources, and inspiration for the task. Little Davide is dancing in the kitchen. Ω
This essay first appeared in the “Mason Street Musings” column in the February/March 2023 issue of The Catholic Radical, a publication of the Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker Community.