Bolivia and My Road to Emmaus

by Joe Loney

Just a few weeks ago the Sunday Gospel told us the story of the disciples unknowingly meeting the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  I would like to tell you about my own road to Emmaus.

Early one Friday morning I journeyed by bus from my home in Cochabamba, Bolivia to a village called Sipe Sipe, to talk with a prosecuting attorney about Simon’s case, because Simon had waited more than two years in the San Pablo jail for the prosecutor to make his decision to seek a trial or to offer him a plea bargain. (All the jails are named after Saints in Bolivia).  I was tired after travelling in four buses, often cramped with school children, workers and the elderly for 90 minutes to get to Sipe Sipe, experiencing the intensely bright, fall sun and lamenting my foolishness in forgetting my sunglasses.  I knew I would have a busy afternoon with a visit by a family of an incarcerated man from Peru in the office, reports to complete and the preparations for my Saturday presentation to make.   On my journey to Sipe Sipe I dreamed about being super efficient and even accomplishing another visit in a jail nearby my office.  Despite my busy afternoon agenda, I decided I would be very efficient and stop on the way back to Cochabamba in the town of Quillacollo where I would update Simon at the San Pablo jail on the prosecutor’s decision and would do my weekly visit with the other incarcerated women and men.

The visits were going quickly in the San Pablo jail and I looked at my watch with satisfaction as it was only two o’clock in the afternoon and my interviews were nearly complete.  I felt pleased with my efficiency and calculated that within 45 minutes I would be back at the office.  Don Freddy then entered the cramped, ten by four office/library/jail cell. I choose to call him “Don” Freddy not only because at age 66 he is older than me; but also because I hoped that my respect would soothe his sometimes combative and negative manner.   I assumed he would want to talk about his appeal of his conviction which had just begun and which has a long road before completion.  Quite promptly, however, I realized that he was uncharacteristically upbeat and smiling, and my ears perked as he shared that he was not worried about his appeal since—he told me– I had written such a “Buena” supplemental, appellate brief.  To my surprise, he wanted to talk about his recent, successful abdominal surgery.  Sure, I thought, I can indulge him and let him talk for a minute about his surgery.

Well, after 10 minutes he was just beginning to tell me about meeting a long lost cousin in the hospital and I realized that, as I nervously peaked at my watch, Don Freddy’s operation history might put all my carefully made afternoon plans at risk.  Should I look for a diplomatic way to interrupt his story?  Was it really worth my time to listen to this?  Did I go to law school in Bolivia so I could simply listen to someone tell me the details of his surgery and to show me his surgical scar?

Okay, I thought, I will give him 5 more minutes.  Well the five additional minutes turned into twenty-five more minutes.  My afternoon plans changed in my head as Don Freddy told me about the surgeon, the nurses, hospital food, post operation treatments and his renewed interest in life.  At some moment during his story-telling, however, I simply gave in and stopped worrying about my afternoon plans.

As I walked out of the San Pablo jail and into the sunlight it occurred to me how Don Freddy had just opened my eyes, just like Jesus opened the eyes of the Disciples who accompanied him on the Road to Emmaus.  After my visit with Don Freddy I could see that simply listening, giving the gift of my time and being fully present can be more important than my legal skills.  Next week, I will have to thank Don Freddy for re-opening my eyes.

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