Monday, September 21, 2009

The Voice Within

At Mass last night, a charismatic priest began his homily by saying he was a missionary a few years back. A missionary in Latin America he continues, and I lean forward. He continues some more, explaining the country he worked in- Ecuador. And in Ecuador he tells the audience, he came across a place that changed his life: The Working Boys Center. My heart beat taps an excited dance. A smile appears on my face and all the noise that has needlessly occupied my life for these past few months ceases for a brief moment.

There is a place where children quite literally work to feed themselves he tells this group. And my eyes closed and images of these little loved ones came to the forefront. I felt at peace, I felt connected to a part of me that I am still struggling to incorporate in my current setting. His homily ends rather abruptly, and we sit in silence for a few minutes as though he is beckoning his listeners to make his story their own.

It brought to light a familiar theme in my life throughout my readjustment phase: the struggle to tell the unique stories my journey into solidarity has afforded me. A gifted speaker, I have floundered when sharing my experiences. A passionate advocate, I have sat quietly on the sidelines letting opportunities to educate and raise awareness pass. I have beat myself up a lot, and felt as though I were in a race against time to right these wrongs, so to speak.

Stories yearn to be told, and I left Mass realizing those stories are not mine to tell so much as they are Gods stories that are longing to be told with me as an active collaborator. I have always readily been able to identify God in the other, but struggled to find where God dwells within me. In Ecuador, I found that connection. Today, after a year of many ups and downs, I am learning again to establish that trust in God so I can tell the stories through my lifeworks I so long to tell. I found a quote I thought explains it best. Below that, a video that explains what I have to motivate me to continue on in seeking the Magis within me.

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.” Thomas Merton New Seeds of Contemplation

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You Rebuild

I have sat in front of a computer for sometime now plotting out my entry to explain my return visit to Quito a month ago. I spent two weeks visiting the Center and the experience was invaluable in so many ways. It was a much needed visit that allowed me to better understand what my service meant while at the same time giving me permission to not so much move on as to move forward.

This past year, I have been unable to adequately share with anyone what my experience as a whole meant. It was so deeply personal, I foolishly reasoned that sharing any aspect of it was impossible. People never responded the way I felt they should, and so I shut down. And so when a friend or new acquaintance would genuinely ask about a portion of my service, I held firmly to a generic position that “it was a really great experience” and then subtly attempted to pose my own questions about a different subject, hoping to tactfully divert speaking about it.

On my last day visiting the center, a current volunteer who had journeyed with an Alternative Break group from Loyola Marymount gave to me a letter I had apparently written to this group upon their departure. In it I said the following:

“A bit of advice I too will be putting into practice when I head back in July: take it home. There are stories here that need to be told to the hearts at home that yearn, perhaps unconsciously, to be moved. You will arrive on campus in a matter of hours, and in the green and lush yards, you will struggle to balance the contradiction that is Quito to Westchester. Contradictory it may be, and yet both pieces now work together to in someway define who you are. Rather than deny one for the other, embrace both and seek to integrate these two seemingly contrasting worlds so that you are better in Westchester for your visit to Quito, and the people in Westchester are more informed and better because of the part of you that is the memory of an Ecuadorian street kid.”

Reading it, and seeing how I had failed to live up to the very advice I bestowed upon this group I was reminded of the story in the Bible in which Peter denies Jesus three times before the cock crows twice. And like Peter, the realization of my denial led to an intense wave of emotions.

Dave Eggers, in his powerful book What is the What says the following: “Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories… because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are here… I will tell these stories to people who will listen and to people who don’t want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you don’t exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.”

And so what I take away most, both from my two years of service and my two weeks of visiting, is, as a friend Nate said in his reflection on returning to Ecuador- "I’ve taken away how blessed i am. To have a college degree. A U.S. passport. Health. Opportunities. Social mobility. I want to help and work with those who don't have those advantages in this world. Kind of like Sister Annie says "to give voice to the voiceless." Ecuador, after a year of being out of my element, affirmed in me only further the belief that I am in my element when I am working on international causes.

There are stories to be told, stories I have for the most part neglected in telling. Brendan spoke about returning from volunteerism as being like your house is burning down, and you don’t know what else to do but go into survival mode and get out of the house. You find yourself then standing amongst the ashes of what was once your familiar and safe foundation, and asking what now? It’s taken a year, but at long last I can answer with confidence what the next part of the metaphor is. You rebuild. It may sound simplistic, but doing it has been anything but easy. I know there are areas I have been weakened and faltered. And I work on those, that is to say, I work on myself- with gentle kindness, something I am great at doing with others but not with myself. And I look to the past for guidance towards the future, steadfast with the knowledge that my work in the future years is what will allow me to pay adequate respect to those from my past that silently accompany me on this journey.

In the coming month, I would love to try an experiment called Memories whereby I post a series of short blogs introducing you to some of the people or memories that were such a vital part of my experience. It's just one small way to begin honoring those that have taught me so much and loved me so unconditionally, at home and abroad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I need your help

Hi friends and family,

So I am in operation Ecaudor mode.

June 19th, I return to the motherland. To give you a quick lesson about Quito and Ecuador:

Ecuador is home to the gold medal speed walker Jefferson Perez, aptly referred to as the "Pride of Ecuador."

The elevation of Quito is 9252 feet. To give you some perspective: that's more than double that of the Mile High City- Denver.

Its airport, one of the highest in the world, is situated in the middle of the city, right next to a large mountain range. Meaning a pilot must clear the mountains and then drop quickly in order to land. Special certification is required. One best not youtube Quito airport before flying into the airport for your own peace of mind.

In 1978 the city of Quito was declared UNESCO a world heritage site.

Despite being a mere 15 miles from the equator, the average high temperature never rises above 70 degrees. Confused. Go back to the point about being more than two miles above sea level.

Quito is host to the great soccer team LIGA, which won the Copa Libertadores and then went on in club play to the world championship, only to lose to a little known team- Manchester United.

But aside from all this, it's home to my home away from home- The Working Boys Center.

And I need your help.

As I prepare to return June 19th I think about supplies and needs at the center. I want to bring a suitcase worth of goods per person traveling, and to do that means I need you.

Anyone care to help by donating the following?

School supplies

Anything you can think of, we can use in Ecuador. If interested in helping, please contact me or send it to me via postal mail:

Patrick Furlong
2851 West 120th Street
Suite E254
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Thanks everyone!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baldness, Window Tint, Broken Beds, and Starfish- For Lack of a More Creative Title

I am slowly going bald and rapidly growing hair on my back. This is perhaps the most vexing of human concerns I have taken to in my mid twenties. Trivial it may be, but I’d like to make it known that I vote nature can give you hair loss or ridiculous amounts of hair, but not both and in the wrong spots. I’d like to wake up tomorrow and look at my head and be like “damn where did all that hair come from” and then look at my back and be thinking “where’d you go?” But sadly, that won’t happen.

On another note- I can’t tint my front car windows- it’s illegal in California. I live in the most progressive state in the union. OK, OK, I know, the last election we passed prop 2 giving chickens leg room in their cages but somehow failed to give our gay neighbors, friends, and family the right to marry the people they love. Progressive moment of silence for the shame I feel on that one. But aside from that, we are a pretty progressive bunch out here. And so the car window tinting thing vexes me. I don’t need limo dark, just dark enough to keep the heat out, use less AC, and save some emissions and fuel. Seems like a total California “governator” thing to do- why hasn’t it happened yet?

Dogs are treated like humans. Better than some of the humans that defined my life the last two years. We have been here already so I won’t visit it much more other then to say, for the love of God: why?

I broke my bed. Make all the jokes you want at my expense. You may remember I broke a bunk bed in Chile, tumbling to the floor and bringing half the frame with me so I am no stranger to this. After breaking this one, I dutifully measured it’s dimensions, even went out of my way to purchase a new tape measure for the occasion. I went to IKEA to purchase a new frame, and failed to use any of those measurements when making my purchase. I don’t know why.

I installed the bed with the help of my girlfriend Laura. She kinda sorta works in construction (in a nonprofit save the world and paint murals and construct benches sort of way) and so is better with power tools than I am- sensitive subject don't press it. Anyway, 3.5 hours of IKEA instructions and when at last I finished and moved the mattress onto the frame, I learned something very troubling: I have a full size bed. Queen size frame. Troublesome my inability to not head that problem off a little sooner. More disturbing: the queen sized hissy fit I threw as a result, with no one to blame but myself. To those who witnessed this- I apologize profusely.

Kids in South America and the United States are really into the fact that my name is Patrick and Sponge Bob Square Pants best friend is Patrick Star or Patricio Estrella depending what language you view it in. I run an after school program in an elementary school as part of my job that is called Starfish Corps. It wasn’t until last week that one girl, who approached me with a smile of the grandest proportions, put together what neither I, my staff, nor any other kid had pieced together: “your name is Patrick, Spongebob’s friend is named Patrick. Patrick on the show is a starfish and get this, you’re a starfish too! Isn’t that crazy” she asked me with genuine wonderment that only a third grader can sincerely manage.

Lots of things confuse me. Moments like the last one, remind me why, for the last three years, I have chosen a career path that leads me towards little pay, growing bills, but perhaps the most genuine satisfaction a career can give.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conversing With Dogs

I’m talking to dogs. Don’t worry; it’s not what it seems. Or perhaps it is and depending on who you are, this either fills you with great joy or disturbs you beyond consolation. One train of thought goes along the lines of “about time you speak to Pookie because pookie isn’t just any type of dog, she’s a big girl who loves Patrick, yes she does yes she does” and you can hear the baby voice that is said in. The other line of reasoning, the one I would most likely be inclined to side with says with flippant irreverence “sellout” and need not say anything more as you shake your head and wonder how another one bit the dust so quick.

But in my transition into the United States this is an enormous step I thought I could never take. There are a fair share of friends and family who have small dogs in their lives. And you know, transitionally speaking, I have been amazed at the human status dogs have been granted in our society. Entire rooms of houses are cornered off for the use of dogs. Lawsuits have been filed by dog owners angered that some restaurant had the audacity to suggest Mr. Snuggles not be allowed to sit at the table. I have been at more than a few dinner parties when a dog gets unruly, and my third world instincts had to be quelled. Rather than try and soothe it, I find myself scanning the room for objects to throw.

But the other day I caught myself talking to a dog as though he would talk back. He looked at me with droopy eyes as I conversed about my conundrum of the time and his response was a burp, a spastic lick attack of his genitals and then as I neared completion of the story, he ran off barking at the mailman. It was then it hit me, I have sold out to talking to dogs. Why do I care so much? Because with that comes the fear, unreasonable or not, that soon I will “sell out” in other ways. Maybe soon I won’t feel my vocation should still be in sync with my career. Maybe soon I will look at a homeless man and not wonder about the humanity of it all? Or maybe it’s because I have began to forget the names of some of my students in Chile and Ecuador, and this burdens me with a self imposed guilt I don’t know how to address.

And so you see, I am talking to dogs. I am taking the baby steps of being back in this culture and I think I am almost there, there being the place I was looking for that seeks to mix the best of USA me and South America me into just plain old me. Best of all, when I raise my arm South America “you mess with me dog and I will make your life worse than rabies” style, my American friends think it’s cute that I am trying to calm the dogs nerves down by engaging in a game of fetch. If only they knew…

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Lenten Challenge

It’s Lent. I know this because one random Wednesday there were a whole bunch of people that were doing one of two things: looking at me with horrid curiosity or nodding at me, smiling as though we were part of some secret society together, though the large black cross (or smudge) on our foreheads made our club anything but secret.

The traditional Catholic sentiment is that Lent is about giving up something. I always struggled with this as, well, my childhood instincts never leave me. I figure being 25 and giving up candy isn’t really kosher anymore. I listened to what other people were giving it up, and having no room to critique seeing as how I had yet to come up with my sacrifice, I nonetheless found myself highly critical of their “sacrifices.” Giving up fatty foods and beer, sure it is hard, but I have a nagging suspicion that it’s not so much about God as it is about your waistline.

I am by no means the model Catholic. Things like stem cell research, homosexual marriage, equal rights for women, etc… stand in the way of me being a by the book model. But I’d like to think I have been surrounded by some pretty insightful Catholics and one in particular always speaks about using Lent to not so much give up something as to take on something new. Giving up beer is cool. It also helps you get one step closer to being the sexiest Catholic since Bono. But taking the money you saved from avoiding beer consumption and giving it to a cause you are passionate about- now that’s the spirit of Lent I think we could all use a little more of.

In Ecuador, there are two thousand people who turn to The Working Boys Center each and every day for tools to eliminate poverty in their lives: clothing, three meals a day, education and books, medical and dental care, workshops for escaping poverty, spiritual nourishment, the list goes on and on. And in this economy, I imagine the people who I personally witnessed tirelessly are perhaps struggling a little more than ever before. In these tough times, more than ever we are called to be agents of hope.

And so this Lent I am asking you to join me in donating to The Working Boys Center. I have failed these last eight months to really develop the words that make up the story that was my own personal journey of enlightenment in Ecuador. And so I hope you hear me when I tell you that if you give now, be it $5 or $100 I could sit with you and tell you stories of people I know and love, people whose faces are burned into my memory and heart, that will directly benefit from your generosity.

I am pledging $20 a week (for the non Catholics in the crowd that will add up to $120). Anyone care to match me?

To give via Facebook click HERE

To give via the website, learn more about the program, and see how it is a 501c3 click HERE

In advance, I thank you on behalf of Maria, a 6th grader at the WBC. I thank you on behalf of Erik, a 5th grader. I thank you on behalf of Antonia, an employee of the center. And I thank you on behalf of the countless volunteers and staff who in way or another have given a part of that which is them to see to it that people are equipped with the needed tools to escape poverty, for themselves and their children.

If you join me in this personal cause, I promise you not just one but two things.

1. I will take lots of pictures when I visit in June so you can see where your money is going. I may even take you with me if you have the interest.
2. When you get off this ridiculous anti alcohol Lenten diet, the first beer is on me!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Learning in Transition

A few things I have learned over the last 7 months.

Speaking fast and under the guise of confidence is usually enough to hold people under the illusion you know what you are doing.

When tasting wine and you discover you thought an $8 bottle tasted better than a $90, have no shame: ya like what ya like. Simple enough. Ya like what ya like.

No matter how hard I try, I can't bring "provecho" (eat well) and the hug and kiss greeting and goodbye to be commonplace here in the States.

The Wii is pretty damn cool, in a frightening, “is this technology possible” kind of way.

Blackberry is the new love hate of my life.

Running is therapeutic. Cooking- even more therapeutic.

Seeing the garage you park your car in featured in an episode of Heroes can make you way more excited than something that ridiculous ever should make you. To all my friends in Albuquerque, I promise that will be the last time I call you at midnight trying to convince you to watch Heroes on Hulu just to see level 7 of my parking structure.

Speaking of Hulu- poor man’s DVR, and it rocks my socks!

If I were to tell you my floss was made in Ireland, would you be surprised?

Along the lines of surprised, GM has a new sales campaign that goes along the lines of “The Chevy Malibu is a great car. FANTASTIC QUALITY. And…it’s made by GM… Surprised?” Newsflash: your ad campaign, like your strategy to take a private jet to beg for a bailout, not so great, though nor am I “surprised” at the lack of thinking that went into either.

The Tamales at King Taco- pretty much as good as the tacos.

Colgate can be reached 24 hours a day on their hot line- begging the question: why?

Oh, and Brett Favre is retiring… again. I can’t say you will be so fortunate with me!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Please Turn Off and Stow All Electronic Devices

One of the joys of returning to a country you have been away from for so long is not so much the frighteningly new things, the Wii and Blackberry to name only the two most perplexing and intriguing of that category. I think I threw my shoulder out playing Wii against my friends 10 year old the other day, but that's a story for another time. But more exciting than dealing with what's new is returning to things that have been as they are for years and years and wondering, with a fresh perspective- why the hell is it like this?

On my flight home from a wedding in Sacramento (congratulations again Brian!) a flight attendant frantically came down the aisle of the plane, zeroed in on my seat with a menace you never want to see from a woman who, for all intensive purposes, has proprietary control on anything and everything in your life above 30,000 feet.

She mumbled something incoherent. OK, well, it was probably coherent enough but I didn’t hear a word of it because my IPOD was rocking to World Town off M.I.A.'s Kala CD -one of the greater discoveries upon return to the states. But I paused it just in time to hear here repeat, with more disgust in her emotions, “sir, federal regulations prohibit the use of electronic items during takeoff or landing, please turn off your electronic musical device now.” Electronic musical device for those of you not in the know is my MP3 player even more commonly referred to as an IPOD. But anyways…

It made me think about flying and a few things I don’t quite understand. How is taking off my shoes at security making the plane any safer? Why is my water bottle treated as a possible plot to blow up a plane? Why do I have to pay extra to fly stand by on an earlier flight or pay $15 to check my bag for that matter... ok, the last two were new wonders but you get the point. But most disturbing of all, does my IPOD really have the capability to interfere with the on board technology of my 393,000 pound 747-400 so much so that we might crash and when they review the black box, they will determine beyond doubt that the landing wouldn’t have been a problem if the kid in seat 26D hadn’t kept his IPOD Shuffle on? And Yes, I Googled the weight of a 747 for the sake of enhanced journalistic integrity.

In the meantime I have taken a most righteous approach to the scenario. I apologized to the flight attendant and waited until she was seated for landing to flip on my IPOD. I know, I know, a true rebel without a cause, James Dean would look at me and be jealous. But really, what the heck to all the above questions about flying in the United States nowadays? And where did the free meals go? OK, that is probably asking too much...