Saturday, March 20, 2010

Always coming home: San Salvador

Even though I've never been here before, the city feels familiar. I spent hours yesterday studying maps of the various neighborhoods and rolling the names around on my tongue: the Zona Rosa, the Centro, Parque Cuscatlan, and of course the Jesuit university, the UCA or the Universitario de Centro America.

In the Jesuit circles in which my late husband Bill moved, the UCA was ground zero. One of the Jesuit martyrs was at the University of Chicago the same time we were there, and another, American-born Dean Brackley SJ, now teaches on the faculty. I've heard much about the work of the Casa de la Solidaridad that Santa Clara University runs, its unique combination of study and service learning, its emphasis on formation for justice.

I've listened to stories from other delegations. In the 1980s SHARE delegates accompanied displaced villagers to their homes. Bill came with a Santa Clara group ten years later, shortly after the civil war ended. My sister-in-law and a dear friend came on another delegation, and her group visited the rough chapel built on the site where the American nuns were raped and killed. As the group sat in the pews listening to a presentation, blossoms from a flowering tree drifted in the open windows, covering the group in a mantle of purple and blessing. Lisa was here in the fall of this past year to commemorate the martyrdom of the Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter.

All these stories, all these connections, all these maps: I feel like I know the city.

Still, nothing could have prepared me for the volcanoes that preside over the city, casting shadow and capturing clouds. Nor could I have supplied from a flat map the slope of the Alameda Araujo as it rolls into the center of town. Or told where the sun would rise as we barreled in from the airport at dawn dodging trucks spewing diesel fumes and laden with sugar cane. Or understood the impact of seeing where the Jesuits and the two women were assassinated.

It's all familiar -- and yet so different than I imagined. Yet being here makes something deep click into place. Like shifting into a gear I hadn't known was there. Only now that it's fully engaged can things move forward.

I hadn't realized I'd been standing still.

Maybe that's a telling resonance between immersion and pilgrimage, necessary next steps to a place that's been beckoning.

Maps, stories, relationships only point in the right direction.

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