I love the Spanish word “solidaridad,” translated “solidarity.” I first experienced the word—in its spoken form as well as its tangible manifestation—while visiting poverty-stricken villages in El Salvador back in 2001. Sister Fran Stacey talked about her neighbors’ commitment to one another as though witnessing it had changed her life. (It had. She stayed and became a Salvadoran citizen.) I saw this solidarity when the people shared stories of how guerrilla warfare had torn their families apart. I saw it as they came together to rebuild homes after Hurricane Mitch nearly washed them away. I saw it as they—as many as could fit in the back of Sister Fran’s Toyota truck—traversed to the hospital with a friend in the middle of the night to ensure he would receive treatment for his kidney pain even though he couldn’t pay for his care.
“Solidaridad” was one of the few Spanish words I never forgot.
Recently, I heard that beautiful word once again, in the unlikely circumstance of a conference call. Mark shared a harrowing story about his 7-year-old daughter and her friend having gone missing. He’d gone to pick her up at her friend’s house and the mother was surprised to realize she didn’t know where the girls were. Ten minutes turned into 20, and they began scouring the neighborhood. Soon, worry set in. Mark, who had never visited this area before, found himself knocking on doors and asking total strangers if they’d seen two little girls. At every home, people responded by putting on their shoes, leaving whatever they were doing, and joining in the search.
Two hours later, crews found the girls deep in a ravine, more than a mile through the woods from where they’d started. They were fine and there had been no foul play, except that of two young adventurers wandering too far from home without an adult.
After Mark came to terms with the panic and its ensuing resolution, what struck him most was the solidarity of the residents in this area. It didn’t matter whether they knew the girls. What mattered was that everyone joined the effort to find those children before any harm came to them.
By and large, it seems we are pretty good at acting in solidarity when there’s a crisis. Natural disasters and acts of violence, freak accidents, major tragedies and missing children have a way of bringing us together. We’re quick to make a financial donation or mobilize a response team, especially if we can do it online. If we could manage to celebrate successes together more, share more of our hoarded resources, care more about the “little” things in other people’s lives … that would be true solidarity.
Let’s put on our shoes and join that effort.