Money changes everything

There are no keys to the rooms in Taize which spreads out over 250 acres of the Burgundy hills with a public road running straight through the center. Visitors are told not to bring things of value, but still there are passports and cameras and credit cards. We are strongly advised at check-in to turn our valuables over to the security desk at La Morada. The counter is open twice a day. For fifteen minutes. I didn’t wear a watch and I hadn’t brought my phone so the notion of trying to catch a 15-minute window of time — when our room was as far from the welcome area as geographically possible —was daunting. “Give me your valuables,” I said to my aunt after dinner. “I’m going to run down there and try to get this out of the way before worship.” She handed me her entire wallet and her passport case and I high-tailed it across the property. The day was beginning to catch up with both of us. Hard to imagine I had awakened on a down pillow with a glass bottle of Evian on my nightstand; now my head was spinning with languages and logistics and fatigue.

There was one person ahead of me at the valuables desk. Most of the 400 people present that day at Taize had checked in on Sunday; by the weekend there would be at least ten times that many. How this 15-minute system would work when they were at capacity was beyond me. I mulled over the irony of having to check one’s valuables while staying in a community whose mission statement was “A pilgrimage of trust on earth.” When at last it was my turn I smiled at the fresh-faced young girl in charge, handed her my aunt’s things, plus my own passport, driver’s license, and credit card. “Here you go,” I said. “Do I need to sign something?”

“First, of all,” she informed me, “You must take everything out of the wallet.” She pointed to a sign on the wall behind her with that very message and I suddenly found it easy to picture her at 40, wagging her finger at her children. “Seriously?” I protested, slowly complying. She handed me a sheet of paper which I promptly put my name on and turned toward the door. “No,” she said, gesturing towards the paper. “You must write down each item. Here. On this list.” Mulishly, I crossed off the boxes that read passport, cell phone (my aunt’s), credit cards, cash, and handed her back the sheet. “I can’t imagine you can get many people through this whole process in 15 minutes,” I commented pointedly. Whatever glow I’d arrived with was quickly fading. She offered a tight smile and corrected me again. “No. Here. You need to write down the names of each of the credit cards individually. And you must give an exact count on the Euros.” Responses came to mind but they were not appropriate for a community of peace seekers. I took a deep breath and began to go through my aunt’s stack: gas cards, airline cards, department store cards— she’d brought her entire wallet with her. The girl who I’d decided was not fresh-faced at all but exceedingly rigid now began to prepare the sealed envelope for the safe. “We ask that you do not try to claim anything until you’re ready to leave.”

“But what if we have to?” We in the free world like to keep our options open.

“We ask that you do your best not to make that necessary,” she advised. Realizing I’d likely want to go to the ceramics store again before the crowds arrived, I retrieved my one credit card. “I’ll just hold onto this, then,” I said, smiling, trying to get some sort of brownie points for supporting the system. “So what happens if we miss the window on Sunday morning before we have to leave?”

“Then we’ll have a problem.” Clearly she were not trained in the customer-was-always-right school of hospitality.

“What do you mean we’ll have a problem?” I suddenly imagined throngs of visitors blocking the valuables door and our not being able to get our passports out before she flipped the closed sign, pulled the blinds.

“We have many other things to do here in the community. We can’t stand at this desk all day,” she said. “Do try to be here on time.”

And with that I made my way towards the doors to the Church of Reconciliation.

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