Life, seen as "underside" of history

This year the Fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus celebrates sixty years of presence in Chile. Benito has lived there for about thirty years. But it was in Lima, Peru, that he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. After a year of treatment and rehabilitation, partly in Europe, he went back to South America despite his handicap. He returned to Santiago where he is still living today..

Since our older brother Henri left to join the "fraternity of heaven", we continue to live here as a threesome.
Elias left for Colombia at the start of the month to be with Rigo and Jorge in Ibague, a fraternity that is associated with ours. He will remain there until next week.
As for Noel, he is making the most of his relative 'youth' and is always mindful of the various tasks that need doing about the house. He also uses the fact that he is more available in the neighbourhood to visit various people, especially as our friends and neighbours are growing ever older, and there is no shortage of people in bad health or suffering from some kind of restriction. Elias, Juancito, Noel, with BenitoElias, Juancito, Noel, with BenitoNow that all three of us are retired, it is appropriate that we are aware of people with difficulties, both within or beyond our own neighbourhood. This is Noel's main task, and Elías also plays his part; as for me, given my limited movements I can only observe from afar, often benefiting from their daily vigilant care, for which I often give a poor reward.

For the fact is that although the Lord has, for the past twelve years, allowed me to be a "hidden member of society", even sometimes an apparently useless person, it is a sign of love which I have been seeking to understand. It is a fumbling search, and the road to discovery is not always well marked, and still less do I offer a clear and appropriate response at all times. "It's too bad," I often say, but for all that the search remains an exciting one, and in the conversation between me and the Lord there is no lack of opportunities for rejoicing when I see all the signs of encouragement and the insights that mark every step of the way. Dare I be so bold as to try and tell you about some of them? LET'S GIVE IT A GO.

On the one hand there is the fact that the Lord, wonderfully attentive as always, has allowed me to retain some ability, which I have to nurture and seek to maintain as much as I can, so that I am as little a responsibility as possible for my brothers and friends - in other words, as light a burden as possible to those around me. This already marks out a good bit of the road, but does not remove my feeling of being a "hidden member of society", someone who is unable to look at life and its activities through the eyes of a 'normal' person.
Shouldn't this be an opportunity to seek to be more attentive to other people who are also, for one reason or another, "hidden members of society", and to try and be a true brother to them? In this respect, I find great support through my work on cultural matters with a group of neighbours. Now, don't make too much of this: it's a 'task' which is seeking to find a role. Much of the time this role is impossible to define, it is a bit crazy, but many people believe it contains a hidden treasure, which they try to uncover by making culture more 'productive' by removing it from its usual long term cultural context.
It is widely felt that the shared experiences of poor and insignificant people of all kinds are consigned to the 'underside' of history. This being so, the term "popular culture" seems to many people to be a contradiction in terms. Apart from the fact that there is confusion over how to define the word 'culture', there are never any university courses, or even single lectures, on such a controversial issue. All that one can do is to look out for this culture in the real life setting in which it is forged and expressed, and to try and define it and to give it a "right of citizenship", so to speak. This is also a task where it is important to note people's reactions, however humble, from one day to the next, to take people seriously in what they do or say, to seek to understand why or how they make certain decisions, and then to try and express this in terms that can be understood.
The conclusion often is that they are the 'blessed' of today, often showing us the hidden paths to the Kingdom and to human happiness.Of course, what I am summarising here in a few lines is the result of travelling a long road paved with experiments and false starts. I shall not trouble you with a description of all the murky by-ways I travelled on my search, but will simply invite you to try and imagine how I am able to gain satisfaction from finding interest and happiness in my condition of being a "hidden member of society", without spelling it out, being immersed in that strange medium that is "popular culture".
If you will forgive me, I have also discovered that here in Latin America we seemed to have brought with us (generally unwittingly) our own European culture, which allowed us to become integrated without major difficulties into these countries which have been independent for the last 200 years or so, as a result of political problems back in Europe.

This development was probably the most usual, although not inevitable, given that we were what we were and that these countries became independent by taking on the colonisers' culture - in other words, European culture. But we still have a lot of work to do regarding cultural awareness, as was suggested about twenty years ago by the Conference of South American Bishops meeting in Puebla, if we are to regain the rich culture of the indigenous peoples which was consigned to the 'underside' of history during the colonial era, but which is slowly acquiring a new vim and vigour, possibly inspired the movement of Evo Morales in Bolivia. This culture is strongly community-based, and as such adopts a 'horizontal' approach rather than the European 'top down' one in which a notion of a community is experienced only by those people who consider themselves outside it, reckoning that they are its 'betters'.
Although this perception is not completely without foundation, it seems to me that there is plenty of work for future generations to do.
I also acknowledge that here in Santiago we are a fraternity of retired people. But although we have retired from productive work, we remain active in our journey in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth who, disdaining all 'verticalism', revealed to us that God himself adopted a horizontal approach by being a member of our community, our brother, coming to join our fraternity and even, dare I say, joining us on the 'underside' of history.