Category Archives: Relationship

School Bells for Joy

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
(Psalm 34:6)

Joy at School

Joy at nursery school.

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.

But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.

Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills.

After Kees spent the morning driving Samuel 40 kms to the interview and interpreting for him, Samuel informed Kees that he had other plans. He had no intention of ever taking a job in Umbria and was going off to Malta to work there!

This news raised some alarm bells for us. It seemed that Samuel did not trust us enough to tell us this before Kees took an entire morning to help him. Okay. Off he went to Malta, Nigerian passport in hand (cost €400). But when he arrived, despite having Nigerian contacts, he could not find work because he does not have permanent residency in Italy. Without work, no one would rent him a bed. Begging is against the law in Malta, so for two weeks he slept in the rough on the street and ate whatever he could find. In the end, he dragged himself home, defeated.

“Why did God give me a family if I cannot earn a living and take care of them,” he asked Rose. “What kind of a man am I in the end?”

charity man

Charity (1884)

Worse came to worst. News arrived from Samuel’s lawyer that his case was rejected by the judge for “lack of believable evidence.” Samuel’s lawyer appealed the case, and once more it was rejected. A second appeal made. A second rejection. At the moment, Samuel’s case waits for its third and final appeal to be heard by the highest tribunal court in Rome.

Their story goes on and on. Samuel doesn’t trust us, so he doesn’t ask for any help or advice. On his own, without knowledge of Italian, he goes to the immigration office and they ineptly tell him to pay fees that he doesn’t need to pay and to bring documents that he doesn’t need to bring. (By the way, this also happened to us when we were establishing my residency here. Eight trips to the immigration office and payments to a judge for validating our translated marriage certificate which we were later told we didn’t need.)

Then one day everything blows up. Samuel calls to say he has had enough and is going back to Africa. Okay. The EU has a program that helps immigrants return to their home country, including air travel, hotel stay and seed money once you are back, etc. But Rose refuses to go back to Africa. This is not surprising. In the news that very week, I see a UN report that Nigeria has a housing deficit of 17 million units and that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women and children, had been evicted from their homes in the last few years by people using firearms, arson and arbitrary arrests.

011572 Charity

“Charity – Christian love. Loving God… and loving others for the sake of God. Rendering Greek agapé of the New Testament. Webster – Loving men or brothers because they are sons of God. id.” (Assagioli’s note from his archives,

Rose has now taken the phone, and is screaming and crying. I can’t understand a word she’s saying and ask her to calm down. All I can hear is her wailing and Samuel yelling in the background. I hang up.

After a few days, things have calmed down. Nobody’s going back to Africa anymore. But Samuel seems broken by all his anger and frustration. These feelings have to come out somehow and suddenly, in the Caritas parking lot, Samuel confronts me. “What is your job?” Samuel demands. “Your job is to take care of my wife and child.” He is screaming. “My child is born here and Italy must take care of her.”

“But that’s not how things work,” I try to calmly explain. But explanations are not what he needs. He needs a job. He needs to feel safe. He needs to stop having to beg. And the harsh reality is: We’re volunteers just trying to help. His daughter is not Italian but “stateless”. And after waiting five years, the odds are he’s probably not going to receive asylum.

Since this parking lot confrontation, things have shifted between us, but for the better. Our interactions have become more business-like, less “friendly”. Kees and I have found a more balanced attitude in choosing what we do to help them. We have also learned to rely more on the Caritas to support us in the never-ending challenges facing this family.

The Good News

But like most immigrant stories, there’s also good news. The good news is that little 1-1/2 year-old Joy found a place in the local Peter Pan nursery despite being #18 on the waiting list. I don’t know how that happened, other than through Divine grace. I was desperate to have her begin as soon as possible because her days were filled with sitting on the sofa in a dark living room watching the same children’s video over and over again. She wasn’t eating, sleeping, and could barely walk. She didn’t know how to play or interact with anyone. Whenever I arrived and tried to be with her, Joy would just move closer to the TV so she could hear it better and clasp her eyes on the screen.

Since she began a month ago, school is doing Joy a world of good. She greets and engages with me whenever we meet. She is walking better. At times, she is singing and clapping with glee. Joy still refuses to eat and often insists on remaining in her stroller, but overall the teachers are happy with her progress. Rose says Joy is now napping during the day and sleeping through the night.


Children at the Peter Pan nursery school.

It takes a village to raise a child. But not just a village…a village full of prayers. As a Christian woman, I am asked to be charitable and help the poor. In fact, caritas is the Latin word for ‘Christian love,’ and for the past 700 years, it’s English derivative has meant “benevolent goodwill or love of humanity”.

hand charityI have learned that charity is not always easy. Samuel, Rose and Joy are poor in so many ways – not just financially. Poor in spirit, inner resources, education, social skills, language skills, and at times hope.

If you would like to help us help them, we are gratefully receiving both prayers and donations earmarked for the payment of Joy’s nursery school.

To help, please use our Paypal account purshana(at)live(dot)com or contact me for bank details.


Rocky’s Prayer

Day of the DeadThis weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.


Fava bean flowers

The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading

An Imagined Apology

Apology - Street ArtNot long ago, I reflected on the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take. Recently, I heard a fascinating interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her new book The Apology. Throughout her childhood, Ensler had been physically and sexually abused by her father. Decades after his death, she decided to write an apology for him – the apology that she had yearned to hear all her life. The book is written entirely from his perspective. In its “Introduction”, she talks about using her imagination to create the words she needed to hear her father say:

“My father is long dead. He will never say the words to me. He will not make the apology. So it must be imagined. For it is in our imagination that we can dream across boundaries, deepen the narrative, and design alternative outcomes.”

Continue reading

Spring Breath of God

With standing room only, the bus sped down the freeway on a bright warm morning. Once we turned onto the bollenstreek, long ribbons of intense blue, mauve, and white stretched to the near horizon. At the same time, the colours seemed to invade inside and pour over us. Fields of yellow daffodils blared spring’s final triumph over the particularly long winter. Every head on the bus turned and gazed. And then suddenly, quite spontaneously, everyone sighed together, “Aaahhhhhhhh.” A breath song of collective awe.

We were headed to Keukenhof Gardens, near the Dutch town of Lisse, famous for its variety of bulb flowers, especially tulips. I was feeling particularly triumphant because I had two Dutch people in tow. My husband had finally run out of excuses and decided to appease his American wife. Along with us was a friend who had actually lived near the gardens for the past 35 years and had never visited them before. Continue reading

Birthing Forgiveness

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Today Christians mark the death of Jesus, who before dying, forgave his executioners as well as the thief crucified by his side. Born out of a paradoxical mixture of human suffering, responsibility and love, the essential power of forgiveness is that is contains rather than proliferates violence. Today seems like a good time to explore where forgiveness comes from and the power it holds. How does it happen? And what are the steps that we, in our personal lives, can take towards it?

Forgiveness is a creative process. You decide how much, when, where, how, and under what conditions to forgive. As Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “The important part of forgiveness is to begin and to continue” (author’s italics). It does not happen overnight, it does not have to happen fully. But one thing is certain, it cannot happen from your head. We cannot reason our way around, into, or towards forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the heart, and it requires a great love, a Love beyond ourselves. Continue reading

Levels of Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at

Valentine’s Day feels like a good time to take a closer look at Love. February is also Black History Month in the US, and lately I have been reading and listening to sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr in 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

When you listen to Dr. King speak, his message is more powerful than ever before. As his deep baritone voice melodically rises and falls, you are swept across the tides of time into his eternal message of Love and Will. His gift was to help us touch the human heart and awaken our deeper transpersonal nature. He was a master teacher, leader, and poet – using his voice to conjure truth through the most familiar of images and the essence of everyday life. Continue reading

Wedding Bells for Joy

joy smaller


For a year now, I have been a volunteer working one morning a week for the local Italian Catholic organization Caritas, which means ‘charity’ in Italian. This national organization, funded in part by the Vatican and in part by donations, offers food and clothing to the poor, subsidizes housing, pays medical bills, and tries to find or create jobs for the unemployed. During this past year, I have done everything from teach asylum seekers English, pack and distribute groceries for the needy, canvas for food outside supermarkets, help run an auction, perform basic office work, and hang out with people in the Caritas waiting room.

One sweltering July morning, Rose (Note that all names have been changed) showed up hot and sweaty and on the verge of tears. She had walked three miles in the sweltering heat pushing her 4-month-old baby girl in a rickety stroller down a road full of racing Italian traffic and no sidewalk. Rose plopped down onto a chair and started sobbing. Everything was just too much. Despite having been in the country for two years, she still didn’t understand much Italian. (I would realize months later that she could barely read and write.) That day she sat gripping another official letter that can had come in the post. One of those bureaucratic letters full of convoluted language that just tells you to wait for another bureaucratic letter to arrive someday soon. Continue reading