Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas special: Struggles of the rural poor over 50 years harken thoughts of the first Christmas

Marie Cirillo
(Photo by Georgiana Vines,
Knoxville News-Sentinel)
In 1967, Marie Cirillo came to the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River, on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky, to help people there who lived in poverty. She retired three years ago from the Clearfork Community Institute, which she founded, but continues to help people in need. Her latest effort, to help homeless people with newborns, encountered some difficulties, prompting her to write an essay about it, her career and Christmas. Here's part of it:

"In the midst of these few short months, I have been conscious of several significant things happening to me. I think this was my Christmas Gift.  I was thinking a lot about Mary and Joseph and why they had to leave their home to go to a city to register. . . . I wondered how many times Joseph must have gotten off the donkey or, in today's world, out of his car to see if some household would give them a place to stay. I began to compare that Christmas birth recorded in the Bible with the birth of the two families I have come to be with these past few months.

"Then, in the midst of being with the families, hearing their stories, trying to do for both when there were no decent houses in the valley, then finding worn-out houses and soliciting help in repairing our first, relationships got confusing. . . . This has been mentally and physically challenging – but I am not alone. And that has been challenging but Oh, so wonderful. The hard thing to encounter is the talk by critics. They judge the family undeserving and me a fool. . . .

"There was a time when the Spirit moved men to write what we read as The Old Testament. Times changed over these several centuries, but I have a feeling that there had to be similar emotional situations between Mary and Maegan and my other mother, Casey, and her husband Adam. A newborn infant and two others – told to leave their house in two days, and when that did not happen, a man was sent to break down the door and throw everything in the house out on the ground. They came to me, Casey angry, Adam beside himself.  And so life continues in this little no-place that actually is some very important place that the stars will shine on this Christmas Eve of 2016.

"This year I am finding different reasons for why and how to celebrate Christmas. I am not doing what I have done every years since being in this Tennessee hinterland. But this year I felt responsible to this community where I have lived these past 49 years. Turning the corner into a 50th year and seeing how things are getting worse, brings out the best of the least of us and finds me more in tune with the birth of Jesus to a woman named Mary and a husband named Joseph. It was easy for the shepherds to feel one with this family."

To read the entire essay, click here.

No comments: