Part of our History: Life in Baltimore 400 N.

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Though the United States has changed enormously since racial segregation was made illegal, "de facto" segregation still exists in many places, for reasons at once economic, social, and psychological. Little sister Rita, originally from Italy, worked for several years in food service in a downtown Baltimore hospital, delivering and collecting trays from patients' rooms.  The other workers are all African-American. She retired in the spring, and wanted to share a few thoughts and experiences:

Maybe you know that last October my schedule was changed.  I worked five, sometimes six, days a week, mostly from 3:30 pm until we finished everything, at 8:00 to 9:30 pm. I also worked every weekend, alternating one afternoon shift like this and one from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm.

In December most of the old hospital moved into the beautiful new building they built next door, and naturally we had to serve them both. That was the last straw, and I found my body saying, "Basta cosi," "Enough is enough!." We made the decision together that it was time for me to retire.

What I want to share now is more about what I learned during the past six years.

I found it easy and nice working with people who were middle-aged or older. It was much harder working with the new group—of young people who had been marked by violence, drug trafficking, and the killings of very close family members, young people who'd lived their entire lives "in the hood" (i.e., in the ghetto.) I had a hard time dealing with a lot of their feelings and their ways of reacting. Maybe my colour reminded them of injustice, and of opportunities they had not had.

If in one way I felt that I was in the right place, thanks to my vocation, I also realized that ideals are one thing, but real life puts me in touch with my own poverty and selfishness. For example, I was sure that some of them would have been happier if I hadn't been there... Sometimes I found myself thinking, "I gave my life because I wanted to love you guys, and it looks like you really don't care!"

I realized later that that was "my" problem, not theirs! And that I was still far away from what Jesus had invited us to do, "Love as I love you," without seeking any recognition. So when things were difficult it helped me to think that one day God would ask me how much I had loved people and not how much they had loved me. This thought gave me peace, and helped me appreciate the truth that "God is not through with me yet," and that we all struggle to follow Him.

At the same time, when these young people discovered that I was living "in the 'hood" too, I saw how important that was to them. One day a girl realized that we lived a few blocks from her mother. The next day she took me aside and said, "Rita, tell your Sisters not to move from where you all are living, you don't know how much that means to us!"

Another day I was bringing something to a patient in the Intensive Care Unit when, in another room, I saw an African-American patient whom I knew. I went in to greet him. A nurse, who is also African-American, passed by and said to him, "Aren't you lucky that our neighbour comes to see you?" Surprised, I said, "I didn't know you lived near me!" They looked at each other and smiled, and the nurse answered, "Rita, all the people like you who live with us are our neighbours, even if they live in a different part of the city!"

When a co-worker hugged me just before I left for good, after a few kind words she added,"... and I will never forget that a white Catholic sister lived with us."

That evening, after the party they gave me, I felt like I had a hole in my stomach, and a big regret: that I didn't love enough. Fortunately, a sentence came to mind:

'If you are walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.' Barack Obama