Letter from Honduras: Celebrations
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 14, 2013: Don't make the same mistake Julio Burgos did when he heard that Guillermo was getting "chemicals." He thought Guillermo had died and was getting embalmed!
In fact, Guillermo is not getting "quimio" (chemotherapy), but the gentler version of radiation. He's just finished the first week of 35 daily treatments. I saw him and Erlinda this morning at the out-patient clinic at San Felipe Hospital in Tegucigalpa. He's in good spirits, in fact they both are.
When Pope Francis spent last week in Brazil at the World Youth Day, I think a lot of us got inspired all over again about taking our faith "outside," where the poor are. To serve the poor, to live with the poor, to share our life together, a mutual exchange that transcends any "religious" differences or distinctions.
The other day, rumors were flying that Manuel, the young man I mentioned before as our “poster child” for poverty in Las Vegas, had died suddenly. Epileptic and mentally retarded, not to mention the victim-son of Renan, an unregenerate drunk, he could go at any time, you'd say. Folks were gathering for an evening Mass, and everyone was asking me about him.
I called the only two phone numbers I had for Terrero Blanco, where Manuel lives, and got no answer. I spotted a couple kids from Terrero Blanco and asked what they knew. Nothing. But did they have a cell phone they could call someone? Word came back that Manuel was in "agonia." When no one came during Mass or afterwards to ring the funeral bell, I thought at least he's still alive, and I would go up to Terrero Blanco in the morning, since by now it was dark -- and dangerous.
Next morning, I was getting ready to go when Manuel's grandfather Pilo comes down my street. The previous night, Oracio, a teacher at the school who has a nice truck, went to Terrero Blanco, got Manuel and brought him to Pilo's house in Las Vegas. When I got there, Manuel was moving, awake, even taking a little soup. Maybe he had a little stroke or something. He could not stand or walk without a lot of help.
A few days later Manuel was back in Terrero Blanco, and when I saw Chemo's supper in the fridge untouched from the previous night, and a cool, overcast day, I had my "sign," and I set off.
A dear friend of mine served as a chaplain at an old folks home and taught me that even persons who seem totally out of it can still sing, and when one old lady pulled him near to whisper in his ear, she was reciting the "Our Father."
Manuel was sort of nested in a filthy bed, but he managed to sit up and enjoy the food I had brought, along with a cold soda. His sister and sister-in-law are helping take care of him, and a younger brother Dennis. And some neighbors check in as well. And then he sang. "God is here and He loves me. He sees me in the streets and comes to visit me." I actually think he might have been inventing that one! Four songs, actually, each one at least twice. And when I tried the "Our Father" deal, he picked it right up. Otherwise, he barely said anything, just gazed with wide eyes.
Three big events related to school kept everybody busy. Another round of 600 nacatamales for a fundraiser. I hated to see the women work so hard at it, but they voted for it, so I did my best to get supplies and then visit each of the three groups about four times apiece as they labored all day and into the night to fill their quota. Another big success.
The Day of Lempira, the heroic native who resisted the Spanish invasion more than 500 years ago, was celebrated July 20 in Nueva Palmira. Because of the many schools participating, only the top two students from each grade were invited. Well, that left Chemo out!
The boys dress up like warriors, the girls like princesses. But for me anyway, the highlight was Hermana Pilar, a nun from Spain who has visited us ever since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. She has not been here for several years, so I was eager to get a photo of her with Eli, the little boy whose life she saved when he was almost dead from malnutrition, a 2-year-old at the time that practically fit in your two cupped hands. This day, he was Lempira!
Then Earth Day the next weekend in Carrizal. This time, everybody was invited, if you could afford the bus fare! Chemo definitely wanted to go, especially when I agreed to pay for, as he put it, "two girls I'm friends with."
This celebration of how we're all so worried about the Earth, 'cause you know it's in "agonia," and we're all going to work together to save it, involves competitions, in costumes, paintings, "maquetas" (models), and above all in song. Only problem is, the losers throw fits, as one school did when their performance got Second Place. They wouldn't even accept their prizes. Sorry, Earth, looks like you're on your own! But, really, they should have rejoiced for the winner, a terrific sixth-grader from Guachipilin who wrote his own song and American-Idol'ed the heck out of it.
Last year at this time, we were planning my brother John's funeral, a perfect day in Forest Park at a picnic ground near his beloved Muny. Apparently, John is still leaving "signs" of his presence there. If you go as the season of shows comes to an end, you might buy a box of popcorn -- and share it. That was John's first job in high school, and he may still be "hawking" his wares.