Retired from work, but life is very full

Detroit has been known for decades as the capital and centre of the automobile industry.
The fraternity here dates from 1963. The first brothers moved into one of the black neighbourhoods which was, in 1967, at the centre of bloody and destructive riots by the black population. Today the fraternity is in a neighbourhood with a mainly Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population.
Jean Marie has lived there at the beginning of the 1970s and again from 1988. For quite a long time he has been having problems with his eyesight: it became less and less until he was declared blind. This also marked his retirement from work.

«Here, in the United States, we are still feeling the last effects of celebrating Thanksgiving. It is certainly the most popular feast, which commemorates the first year of survival of the English colonists, founders of this country, who are called "Pilgrims". It is a chance to sit down together, not only to eat turkey and pumpkin pie but also to "count our blessings" (as one says here) and to open our hearts as a sign of gratitude. Jean MarieJean Marie
On a personal level, I celebrated the first anniversary of my retirement and I had many things to be thankful for. I was forced to take my retirement much earlier than expected and it didn't leave me time to make any plans.
I said then, as a joke, that since I was now blind, I was going to proceed "at a rough estimate". Ah well, I must say that things have turned out rather well for me. I have found quite a lot of activities (or rather I should say that they have found me) which keep me busy without monopolising my time.
For thirty years, we have had a centre in our district (now called Freedom House) which welcomes people requesting political asylum. In the beginning, it was mainly refugees coming from Latin America. Today, most residents (65 in total) come from French-speaking Africa. So they need translators. Usually I translate conversations between a refugee and his lawyer to prepare for their appearance before the immigration services. Each session lasts three hours or more. It demands great concentration to try and translate as accurately as possible. There is also a price to pay on an emotional level: the person must relate in detail all they have had to suffer. All those I have had to work with up till now have not only been imprisoned, but also tortured and raped. Many have had people dear to them tortured, raped or killed in front of them. One never gets used to the cruelty of human beings towards their own kind.
It is a humbling experience - one no longer wants to complain about little everyday struggles having heard about some of the horrors that the refugees have had to endure and when one sees their courage and determination. During the weeks of preparation, real bonds of friendship are formed. Freedom House is certainly one of the "blessings" for which I give thanks: first of all because of what it accomplishes in respect of its residents and also for all that I have learned up until now.

During this year, I was also contacted by the person who leads a drama group in the area, with which I have collaborated for a long time as actor, author, producer, etc. For many years, the Matrix Theatre has focused on "inclusion", trying to encourage people with various handicaps to participate fully in all areas. In 2010, we had a project to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the law on the rights of the disabled (A.D.A.). The theatre had built a giant puppet of Justin Dart, one of the "fathers" of the A.D.A., a puppet three metres high, moving about in a giant wheelchair. We put on a little show around this puppet and we took it out on the road with a troupe made up of people with physical, cognitive and/or psychological disabilities. There were three blind people, three people in wheelchairs (including a tetraplegic), two autistic people and a young man with trisomic syndrome. We took part in different events marking the twentieth anniversary and we even went to Chicago.
Our piece de resistance was a poem entitled, "One becomes proud through trying". I am certainly grateful for the energy radiating within the group, and for the courage which each of them has shown in overcoming their inhibitions and their limits. They have certainly taught me to find the courage to continue to "try".

Every Friday I go as a volunteer to the Detroit Arts Institute, our local museum. More than 700 volunteers help to keep it open and make it welcoming for visitors. I have always been convinced of the profound truth of this saying from Dostoyevsky, "It is beauty which saves the world". In a background as depressing as that of Detroit can sometimes be, these oases of beauty are indispensable bubbles of spiritual oxygen.
The hours, which I spend there every week are like a long spell of meditation and greatly contribute to my internal well-being. There is, in particular, a small Rembrandt, depicting the face of Jesus, which moves me to tears each time I see it. The group of volunteers is very welcoming (I am one of the youngest) and there, too, friendships are formed. Also I give thanks for this museum and for all those who throughout the centuries, have been seduced by beauty and have known how to share a little of the beauty that they have caught a fleeting glimpse of.

I would be sinning by omission if I didn't give thanks as well for my two brothers here. They, too, are retired and have each found their own way to continue to live life to the full. EricEric Eric is a volunteer in two centres offering free healthcare in our district. For as long our health system remains as it is (and the promised reforms seem rather inadequate), these care centres provide an essential service for those who are not insured. Eric also lends a hand at Freedom House, once a week, answering the phone, translating certain documents and offering all sorts of help. Lots of friends and neighbours also call on him when they need a little repair job doing or simply when they need someone who takes the time to listen to them. When it’s fine, you could even find him line-fishing, but I haven't yet tasted anything he's caught!

Sam leaves for Nicaragua tomorrow. SamSam This will be Sam’s third trip to San Bartolo. When he returns, he will return to his courses at the University of Michigan: a class to improve his knowledge of Spanish language and culture and another class on Afro-American literature. For several months already, he has been helping a boy of 12 whose father is in prison. He is thinking as well of joining a group that here is called "hospice", an organisation providing palliative care for those who are in the last stages of their lives. He would be one of the volunteers helping, psychologically and spiritually, people on the verge of dying. When he has nothing else to do, you can see him on the local tennis courts, playing with other lads his age (he has just turned 70 a few weeks ago).

May you have a Christmas filled with peace and joy.»