People love a good success story. But perhaps they should rethink their ideas of success and failure. As Mother Teresa said, “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.”
Boyle has mentioned Scrappy in a previous chapter. Shortly after he began working for Homeboy Industries, he was gunned down. “Something,” Boyle notes, “caught up with Scrappy.” His death horrified his family and friends, of which he had many. Shortly afterwards, another graffiti worker was shot and killed. Another worker told Boyle, “I wish I had a magic wand to pass over your pain.” Boyle wept harder than he’d ever wept in his life.
Boyle is moved to tears—not simply because of the deaths of his two employees, but because another worker conveys his sympathy for Boyle. For this man to express his compassion for Boyle is an overwhelming experience.
Boyle argues that many people believe that they have a duty to improve the lives of the poor. In a way, Boyle disagrees with this idea: he thinks that people should “cast their lot”—i.e., share their lives—with the poor. Boyle thinks of the way Jesus acted around the poor. He spent all his time with the unfortunate, but he didn’t offer them a “ten-point plan” for improving their lives. One could say that Jesus annoyed both “conservatives and liberals” by associating with the unfortunate and yet not trying to improve them in any material way.
This is one of the most nuanced and controversial points in Boyle’s book. Boyle argues that, while it’s important to provide the poor with material support (and Boyle does—he gives them jobs), it’s more important to treat them with unqualified compassion and humanity. One could argue that Boyle is ignoring the root causes of poverty when he makes this point—or, as the late Christopher Hitchens infamously argued of Mother Teresa, he’s “a friend of poverty, not of the poor.”
Boyle is driving out of his church one afternoon when he sees La Shady, a nineteen-year-old, with her baby daughter. La Shady’s partner was murdered three months ago. She asks Boyle where he’s going. Boyle is going to a peace treaty meeting between two gangs, including the one that murdered her partner. However, he just says he’s going on an errand. Women are the minority in Los Angeles gangs—less than ten percent. However, many more women are “involved” with gangs in some way, since they date or marry gang members.
Boyle has the tact to hide the fact that he’s meeting with gang members—doing so would only cause La Shady further grief. As a brief aside, Boyle notes that women are closely connected to gang violence and gang culture (and are deeply affected by it), even if they only make up a small fraction of literal gang membership.
La Shady wants Boyle to help her interpret a dream she had. In the dream, she walked into Boyle’s church and saw Boyle standing by a baby’s coffin. La Shady was terrified, but she found the courage to peer into the coffin. Before she could, however, a white dove flew out of it. Boyle, who’s secretly puzzled about the dream, tells her that it means she should “give peace a chance” and embrace the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. Boyle asks, “How did the dream make you feel?” La Shady begins to weep: she admits she felt happy and calm when she saw the dove. Boyle assures her that God wants her to feel these good, positive emotions.
Notice that Boyle never offers an explicit interpretation of the dream. Instead, he emphasizes the strong, positive emotions that La Shady herself feels during the dream. In this way, Boyle seems to reiterate the point that he made in the previous chapter: God wants human beings to be happy. It’s interesting to compare this passage with an earlier one about the Virgin Mary “tortilla apparition.” In both cases, Boyle refuses to treat a thing (the dream, the tortilla) as an explicit sign from God. Instead, he emphasizes the more abstract, emotional way in which God communicates with people.
Boyle returns to his earlier point: God doesn’t want people to worry about their success, unless this success reflects their fidelity to God. While Homeboy Industries tries to help its employees, it’s not solely focused on making them financially independent—rather, it’s trying to teach them to be good, loving people. Jesus understood that kinship—the feeling of togetherness and love—is much more important than success. And in fact, the desire for success can be a barrier to kinship.
Boyle reiterates his earlier point about the difference between success and faith. Boyle emphasizes faith—human beings’ eternal relationship with God—rather than what he sees as the transient phenomenon of worldly success. Boyle acknowledges that a minimum amount of money and food is necessary to survive, but he doesn’t seem to believe that material success is inherently valuable past this minimum point.
One day, Boyle sees a man named Manny, who used to live in the projects. This displeases Boyle—he doesn’t want old residents coming back. Manny explains that he’s here to buy some beer with his food stamps. Manny, Boyle recalls, was one of the twenty workers who built the original Homeboy child care center. A few hours after Boyle sees Manny, Manny is shot and killed. Boyle joins the vigil for Manny, and comforts his family. He recalls speaking to Manny a couple months before about how Manny wanted to be a good father, but didn’t know how.
Manny’s death is especially tragic because it comes before Manny gets to watch his child grow up. The abruptness with which life can come to an end in the Dolores Mission would seem to make it especially important that people live morally and rejoice in their lives.
With Boyle’s encouragement, Manny’s family agrees to donate Manny’s organs to the medical authorities. One of the nurses who oversees the process mutters, “Who would want this monster’s heart?” The other nurse turns and says, “He was nineteen years old. He belonged to somebody. Shame on you.”
This is a disturbing example of the callousness that Boyle finds in Los Angeles society. People—in this case, the nurse—are ready to treat other people as “monsters.” However, Boyle also makes it clear that there are other people, such as the second nurse, who respect others and want to do good.
Boyle remembers a former gang member named Ronnie who got his diploma and joined the marines to fight in Afghanistan. One night, Ronnie was walking through the projects when someone shot him six times. Ronnie’s mother, Soledad, was inconsolable. Then, not too long after, one of Soledad’s other children was murdered, too. Boyle reunites with Soledad two years after this horrific tragedy. She tells him, “I love the two kids that I have. I hurt for the two that are gone … The hurt wins.”
Throughout the memoir, Boyle is sensitive to the experiences of women in the Mission. Although, by Boyle’s own argument, women are less likely to be killed in gang conflicts, they’re often left with greater torment—having to live on without their partners or children.
Shortly afterwards, Soledad goes to the hospital. There, she notices a kid from the gang that probably murdered two of her children. The kid is shot and clearly in a lot of pain—it’s not clear if he’s going to survive. Soledad begins to weep. The kid ends up surviving. You can’t bring the dead back to life, Boyle concludes, “But you can stretch your arm across a gurney and forgive and heal.”
Soldedad’s behavior suggests that, even if she’s tormented by the deaths of her children, she feels compassion for others, even the members of the gang that killed her children. Instead of craving revenge for her children’s deaths, Soledad seems to want nothing so much as peace.