Taipei, Taiwan: the daily work of a “little grace” teaches us to give thanks for the miracles that we have received.

Swarms of mopeds threading in and out of all the main avenues and side streets. Metro trains, buses and trams chock full of people, all silent and orderly. Little shops that sell typical Chinese food that one must eat in a hurry so she can get right back to work. Traditional street markets, open 365 days a year, in every corner of the city, that teem with housewives by day and youngsters by night. Students who leave home at dawn and return when night has already fallen. Kiosks with young women who sell a sort of chewing berry, a stimulus for those who need to get through eighteen-hour workdays.
The above is a snapshot of the life in any given neighborhood of Taipei, which confirms the stereotype that would depict the Asian people as a race of tireless workers. Faced with this daily spectacle, you have to ask yourself: Why all this bustle? Is there any sense to this rat race? For what are these people sacrificing their lives? However, we can all really put the same question to ourselves: what is the meaning of our work? Who really cares about what I do? And I, what am I really looking for in my quotidian busyness?
In every one of us lives a creative energy that must find an outlet or a concrete realization; inactivity and idleness don’t correspond to what we really desire. And yet, this energy, this impulse to create does not, in and of itself, justify getting out of bed in the morning to go to the jobsite, to the office, to school…What do we seek in the work we do? What do we affirm when we close a deal, when we work through some complex problem, when we set up shop in our store or teach our students?
Xiao En is a woman of fifty years, but seems like a child, for her minute stature. There were many who thought that she should not have been born. Her father never knew her. Her doctors, who had diagnosed an at-risk pregnancy, predicted that she would have never made it. Even the mother, desperate and abandoned, would have preferred to not bring another daughter into the world, whom she would have to raise by herself. And despite all of this, Xiao En, which means “little grace”, was born. To this day she carries the evident signs of a tormented pregnancy. She cannot walk well, and nor speak clearly: the almost indistinct sounds that come from her mouth are incomprehensible for those who don’t already know her. She moved to Taiwan from Indonesia some twenty years ago, to marry a man who was too poor to procure a Taiwanese wife for himself and was willing to take a woman with physical defects into his home.
She arrived at our parish in Taishan a bit out of the blue, with her slow and crooked walk, her speech that lacks consonants, and her hands that are difficult to shake. Xiao En has a paid job that takes up a couple of hours everyday: she is a cleaning lady for a business in Wugu. In addition, she receives aid from the State due to her invalidity. For this reason, she has always had a bit of free time in her schedule. But we’re in Taiwan: you can just sit around twiddling your thumbs…And so in the morning, after waking up her children (despite everything Xiao En has had three kids), after making them breakfast and seeing them off to school, this child-lady hops on a bus and, slowly but surely, heads to our parish, St. Francis Xavier, in Taishan. She always comes with her elderly mother, who would have preferred that Xiao En had never been born and yet has been forgiven by her daughter. After the Mass, she begins her real job. She starts by cleaning the church, then passes to the square, to the parish center; she takes out the trash and, in the end, dedicates some time to her flowers and her potted plants. In just a few years she has transformed the blackened wall of our courtyard into a flowering, green space, which everyone by now calls “the Garden of Xiao En.”
You can see her working in silence every morning, without anyone having asked to her to, without any pay, without any corporate ladder to climb and without any chance of being recognized as extraordinary. And so, you have to wonder, “What is it that makes her do all this?” Yet, this time, the answer is immediate: in the midst of people for whom work is an idol, in spite of those for whom money, a career, and economic security are all that counts, for Xiao En, work is a way to give thanks for what she has received. All of her life has been one, enormous miracle. Now, she lives giving back what she has been given, pitching in to bring a touch of beauty into a place that has very little. She does all that she can so that whomever comes into this space might have the same experience as her.
When you look at Xiao En, you realize that the highest motive our work can have is to help create places in which every person feels welcomed and valued for his or her objective greatness. It becomes clear that the only reason for committing oneself to the construction of something is because one has received a great grace. Thanks to her, you understand what it truly means to work; you understand that what gives value to our work is contributing, like Xiao En, to the edification of the Kingdom of God.

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