While a student at LMU in the early ’80s, I waited tables at LAX restaurants and bars. I remember being struck by the stories of some of my co-workers: bussers, cooks, servers, dishwashers. It wasn’t unusual to hear that a busser had been a doctor, lawyer or engineer in his native country, but couldn’t work in that profession in his adopted land, and instead spent his days in the humblest of professions.
One Christmas Eve, a server, a Mexican man with no family in the U.S., ended up in jail — long story — and the experience of corralling my colleagues to help him led to my 35-year career helping others through my work at St. Margaret’s Center.
How often are our perceptions of those we meet so off-target? How many times are our assumptions wrong? Recently I helped a man who was homeless file for his stimulus payment, and in the process learned that he had an engineering degree from LMU and was earning a six-figure salary before his life spiraled out of control, putting him on the streets.
Indeed, our Savior, born in poverty in a manger and working as a humble carpenter, ultimately transformed the arc of human history.
In our current world fraught with division — based on our assumptions and perceptions that are often misguided, incomplete or just plain wrong — my wish is for all of us to give each other a pass. To recognize our common humanity, the similarities we share, the gifts that may be hidden, the purpose that unites us. It sounds so trite to remark, “We are all in this together,” but if not now, during a global pandemic, then when? We are inextricably bound to each other, responsible for one another, our actions can have inexorable consequences, and we share one planet together.
Christmas represents hope, God’s love for us made manifest. My deepest wish as 2020 fades into history is that we remain bearers of that hope and perceive each other with our hearts rather than our limited senses and partial knowledge, and that our actions are impelled by that all-consuming love.
Mary Agnes Erlandson is director of St. Margaret’s Center, a social services organization and program of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, in Lennox, California.