Letter from Honduras: Under the spell
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 9, 2011 - Sometimes you can also catch two birds with one stone, especially when it's the Philosopher's Stone. Yes, I HAD to see the latest (and last) Harry Potter movie, but a special trip to El Progreso, five hours away, seemed mere self indulgence, till Teresa Jorgen reminded me to visit Fr. Ray Pease, who I had neglected for at least a year.
Known these past 50 years here as Padre Ramon, he had just returned from another treatment in St. Louis for a mortal liver/blood disease, his version of Harry's battle with the evil Voldemort. He confronted death also in the passing of his brother George in Denver, where Ramon led the family's mourning and believing.
So, with my priorities in order, I took off. I arranged with Ramon to take him to lunch, but first he wanted to show me pictures of his brother and the funeral on his computer in the parish office. Ramon's style in inimitable -- funny and frank, ironic, holy, blunt, above all, intimate, his heart on his sleeve. He'd go on a while, then say, "But you're hungry, right?" But I would just ask another question or something, to keep him talking. Hungry, yes, for more conversation. I knew this was better than any movie.
When we did go to eat, he wanted something "quick," so we ended up at Burger King. There we saw some girls from the high school Ramon started when he first arrived in Honduras. "You know, I was the first principal in the whole country to let the girls wear pants." He chatted with them, though, you know how teens are, they could not really appreciate who this "old man" was. Ramon knows practically everyone in El Progreso. He taught half the population over the years, and their kids, and their grandkids. And he's buried hundreds of them, too, victims of the unrelenting violence that plagues us like a curse.
He felt tired, then, and wanted to rest some before evening Mass, which I promised to return for. Meanwhile, I headed for the fancy, nearly empty mall at the edge of town to catch the movie.
(SPOILER ALERT!) When Voldemort orders Narcissa to be sure Harry is dead, she gently bends over him in a sort of Pieta, feels his heart beating, and whispers, "Is my son alive?" At great risk to his own life, Harry had just saved her son Draco from a fiery death, despite their enmity all their years at Hogwarts. So grateful for Harry's unselfish love, Narcissa lies to Voldemort, "He's dead," and Voldemort, who cannot even imagine such bonds, starts his party, only to meet his end shortly afterward when his wand backfires against Harry's invincible capacity of love. Sorry to go on like this, but there's the gospel of J.K. Rowling, not so different from the one Ramon would preach at Mass.
Now, if you think Ramon's illness has slowed him down, you can't tell it from the way he says Mass. His masses have always been "slow," such reverence, such care, such prayerfulness, as though the words he has read a thousand times were fresh as flowers, and all his own, and a sermon spoken from the depth of his heart. "God fills us with love, just fills and fills us. Death cannot stop it." It's almost a mystical experience, or, as I told him afterward, "Your Mass is like a mini-retreat." I was like Harry thanking Dumbledore for all the life-lessons.
But Harry Potter's adventures are nothing compared to my trip with Chemo to Trascerros, the town at the end of the universe where Chemo's mother Rufina now lives. We would go for her 51st birthday, July 30. Chemo at one point confided that he was afraid to go, but those were no doubt vibes that he was picking up from me. His latest report card wasn't helping, either.
When Rufina and Fidel were beaten and robbed in their little house in Bonito Oriental some months ago, at the eastern edge of the country, they fled to Fidel's hometown of Trascerros. When they first called from there, I understood "Trasera," which means "butt," and I thought, that's a hell of a name for a town. When I located it on a map, I realized my mistake. "Tras-cerros," meaning, "across the hills," and, indeed, if it weren't for the mountains, you could see Guatemala from their house.
In fact, the trip was pretty easy, if easy means only having to take two buses, one direct from Las Vegas to San Pedro Sula (5 hours) and another to Trascerros (3 hours), where Fidel met us at the bus for the walk to the house. First thing I did was ask about a birthday cake, and Fidel said there's a wonderful woman who bakes cakes on call. Then Chemo wanted a soda, so Fidel points us to a "Cantina" -- I thought, now wait a minute, I'm not so sure I want to give my business to a bar. But as soon as we stepped inside, the proprietor introduces herself as Fidel's first wife!
In fact, the whole weekend, family kept coming out of the woodwork, at least three daughters, all with their own children, two sons, including a Fidel Jr., Chemo's age. We invited all of them to Rufina's birthday party. One big happy family -- no rivalries or resentments anywhere. Well, Fidel is such a gentle soul, the very opposite of "macho," there's no offense given or taken.
One other thing. When we got to Fidel and Rufina's house, there was old Don Cruz! He's 92, and he's got all the family anyone could want back in Bonito Oriental, but they're just too "fancy" for him. So his "family" is Fidel and Rufina, and he did not want to get left behind. So, you see, they're doing something right.
When Harry Potter has his last conversation with Dumbledore, in some kind of Limbo, where he must decide whether to rest from his labors or return for the final confrontation with Voldemort, he asks, "Is this real or is it all in my head?" To which Dumbledore replies, "Of course it's all in your head, Harry, but why would you think that means it isn't real?"
You are all in my head, and you are very real. May we all be brave.
About the Author
Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.
There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor.
For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.