Today I went to visit one of the poorest families in Dublin. They live in a small one-room basement apartment. The room is flanked on two sides by sofa beds, carefully made and arranged as if it were a sitting room. There is a cooker brimming with food in one corner and a bathroom tucked into another corner. I went because the boy was celebrating his 13th birthday.
On my 13th birthday I had a party in my house and my mother cooked a lot of food. My sisters were around, presents were given, there was a huge cake. A similar scene unfolded today. Only this time it was accompanied by loud Romanian folk music streaming out of an old TV and the babble of a language I cannot understand.
Earlier in the day the mother had been hauled into court to pay a fine she will never be able to pay. They have no access to social welfare. They live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. The judge threatened her with a prison sentence, which will cost the State more than it is worth. She has excruciating tooth-pain and will go to a free clinic for medical care.
Regardless of these seemingly unbearable struggles, they live a content life. They express more generosity than I have ever experienced. Each time I see them they give me clothes or food or bus fare – even though they have very little. To me it seems foolish. But it simultaneously has me awe-struck. How is it that materialism has absolutely no hold on them? They simply have no desire to accumulate. I am reminded of the widow who gave two small coins – all the wealth she had in the world. To Jesus, this is more than gold.
As I went to leave, they packed up enough food to feed a family of 4, exclaiming that I was part of their family. I do not speak their language, I do not really understand their culture, I come from a heritage of wealth and privilege. What is this kinship? In my experience, it is a common acknowledgement that God is good – whoever you are.