I knew it was undeniably fall in Chile when leaves kept dropping into my laundry. While I washed my clothes outside last week, yellow leaves landed in the sink, rinse bucket, and spinner. As timing would have it, that was my last time washing my clothes at that house. The seasons are changing, and so is my program. On Monday we moved everything from my home to an apartment in Santiago, ending a decade of volunteers living in that house.
Our program is in a state of closing, albeit a slow one. Last July the governing body of the Congregation of Holy Cross decided to re-evaluate the vision and purpose of the Associate program. While that process happens, the current Associate program, both in Chile and the U.S., is closing. Whether it will be born again in a different incarnation remains an open question for the future. For the present, as part of this transition, it fell to my roommates and me to close our house in Pocuro.
Associates have been in Chile since 1978; they have been in Pocuro, the small town where I lived, for about 10 years. In that time 33 recent college graduates have lived in my house. Each person formed relationships with people in this little pueblo. Each person has memories of this place. Each person was an owner of one particularly peculiar dog, Memo. Each person left something behind. In fact, having cleaned our house and packed it into boxes, I have to wonder if each person also left behind dozens knick-knacks.
We had a farewell gathering Sunday after Mass. Many people commented that it was a shame we were leaving. Our current group of three didn’t have personal relationships with all of them, but most of the people there had been friends with one associate or many over the years. I think it was also the idea of a legacy ending that was saddening. Not every 1,000 person Chilean town has a group of gringos that pass through every year.
The gathering itself went swimmingly. I whipped up three batches of frosting and Natalie made Chilean flag cupcakes. We set up tables with all the junk that has accumulated in the house over the years for people to go through. I had faith in the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” adage, which I think is doubly true in Chile. Though we had quite the assortment of odd items, I expected everything to be taken. Which it was—not a single item was left over.
On Monday morning, we packed our house into an impossibly small moving truck and shipped it 90 minutes south to Santiago. Then we cleaned the house and left it as empty as it has been in many years. To every thing there is a season: a time to begin, and a time to finish.