ESTA ES SU CASA--AUGUST 2010
Now I know how Martha felt. According to Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus came to her house for supper, Martha was flying around like crazy with all the chores; she even scolds Jesus for not chasing her sister Mary from his feet to help her. And Jesus so sweetly invites her--”Martha, Martha”--to sit with her sister and enjoy the feast Jesus has prepared for them. You might say, Jesus gave Martha a nudge.
After the whirligig six-week visitation of Chemo’s sister Rosa and her 2-two-old Tonito at our house, during which I had played the Martha role, Andy Kwok (Parkway North 2003) came to calm us, like Mary focused on “the one thing necessary,” the grace we can be for one another.
And he came with the perfect book, “Nudge,” by Cass Sunstein, now the controversial Information “czar” in the Obama administration; but this book is simply charming. Its theme is
better decisions prompted not by a law, a threat, or a slap, but just with a “nudge,” a little lift that respects and even enhances one’s freedom, like putting the salads and fruits first in the school cafeteria line. Andy hadn’t even finished the book, but he already knew his mission. In fact, he told me the group of friends from his church that were sponsoring his visit had the kindness and wisdom to suggest that he was going to Honduras as much for Miguel as for anyone else. A nudge.
As if Andy needed it! He has always had a heart for Honduras, ever since he formed the “Meat Club” at North to raise money for the malnourished poor of Honduras that I talked about in my classes all the time. As soon as he arrived, he started freeing us from our preoccupations. I told him he was like another Dago, Chemo’s teenaged cousin who just died so suddenly in a terrible accident, come to refresh our hope and faith.
The first folks Andy wanted to nudge were the kids, especially the ones not in school, like Pablito, Chepito, Laito, Fila, Reynieri, and a bunch of others. Now a teacher himself in a pretty hard-core high school in the San Francisco area, Andy started classes with the kids on my porch. And they loved it! The only discipline problem here was to keep the pencils sharpened for all their little “assignments.” One day we all went down to the river for a class in the shade of big trees before a swim.
When I could no longer hide the broken zippers on my backpack, Andy got me a new one, industrial-strength. When he saw my severely cluttered desktop, he brought out a handy external hard drive with a whopping 300 GB, already stocked with all four seasons of my favorite series “Battlestar Galactica” and a bunch of other goodies. In Tegucigalpa, he became immediate friends with Angelica and helped pay her heart and diabetes meds, and he invited Elio and Mema to Mirawa, their favorite restaurant--for Chinese! He graciously attended Mass with us, a true friend-without-borders. He’d loan his fancy Canon camera to the kids and they never broke it; in fact, they took some of Andy’s best pics. He played soccer with the kids, both up at the campo as well in back of our house with Elvis and Dora’s kids. He loved the food! Dora cooked our lunch (including chop suey!) and we’d go to Alba’s for supper, chicken and rice every night, but Andy even asked for the recipe, which left Alba scratching her head. “I just...well, what DO I do?”
And he never got sick, another miracle, not even from the zillion skeeter bites, in a country currently battling the worst epidemic of dengue fever in years. He gave all his clothes away! He brought some shirts and things to give away, but he gave away even the clothes he’d been wearing--he went home with practically nothing. And we talked daily about the Bible and Jesus. In fact, another item on my wish-list that Andy brought me was a “red-letter” Bible in Spanish, with all the words of Jesus in red.
Andy scheduled three major events for his visit--or at least it seemed so. For example, Pablito’s birthday. He was turning 16, despite his birth certificate that says he’s still 15. So, when Carolina called, “What name do you want on the cake--Pablito or Pablo?” a nudge from Andy was all it took. “Pablo,” said Pablo, Pablito no more. “Felicidades PABLO.” Pablo appreciated the change. He really is growing up, even more than Chemo. Besides, he’d just been bitten on the ankle by Doctora Rebeca’s little black dog. I sent him there to get some Phenobarbital for a poor soul with epilepsy who visits me every month from Terrero Blanco, and Pablo apparently took a misstep off the porch, just enough sudden movement to alert the little mutt to some imagined danger and it snatched at him. Rebeca immediately assured him the dog had had its shots and showered Pablo with antibiotics, ibuprofen, creams, and bandages; but he was still limping for his party.
Then came the Day of Lempira, the legendary indigenous hero who led that day’s version of the Resistencia against the invasion of the Spanish (who of course murdered him treacherously at a “peace conference”). This year, something unique--all the kids dressed up like Indians, the boys in a “taparabo,” a loincloth made of “chato” bark (banana plants), and the girls in skirts fashioned from those enormous banana leafs. Juana, our neighbor, was making a taparabo for her son Carlitos, so I asked her to make one for Chemo. I was so nervous, would they be the only ones going to school naked that day? But morning came and the streets were filled with the “undocumented.” Andy and I and half the town attended the festivities, which included performances of songs or ballads or dances or skits by every grade, as well as lots of tasty foods for sale. OK, it was a sort of Disneyfication of a bloody history, but it was better than last year--during the “coup”--when the day was totally ignored.
I asked Chemo why he didn’t perform with the other third-graders. “Teacher didn’t want me.” I suspect he probably hid under his desk when she was picking volunteers. Juana Maria is Chemo’s fifth teacher this year, fourth overall. First was Vitelio, then Regina, who it turns out was doing her practice teaching for six weeks, then Vitelio again, until his retirement papers came through and he was gone, then Danilo, till his retirement papers came through, now Juana Maria, who looks more like a school teacher than any of them, so I’m trying not to be scared of her. But so far she’s been very nice, quickly giving Chemo permissions for all our little excursions.
One excursion was the third big event Andy participated in, the 18th anniversary of the organic Coffee Cooperative, now serving an international clientele. For the first time in three years, they held the event at the “Beneficio,” where the coffee beans are processed way up in the mountains, so I told Andy we must not miss it. The view is just breathtaking, the mountains dressed in cloud, Las Vegas like a little cartoon way down below. Music, dancing, speeches, and great food, celebrating, as I told Andy, one of the few success stories we have to offer.
Speaking of success, Rosa’s condition is improving. When it came time for her to leave, as Andy was arriving, I thought, we have to get her a check-up. The brigada had to postpone their July visit because every hospital bed in the country is occupied by a dengue patient, so we went the private clinic route, to my cardiologist, Dr. Bayardo Pagoada. His diagnosis, “abdominal aortic aneurysm,” was a little different from Dr. Christian Gilbert of the brigada, but it amounts to the same thing. The “abdominal” part refers to the way it pressures the ovary, thus the ravage caused by her pregnancy with little Tonito. But, as I say, improving. A new echocardiogram showed the wide-open mithral valve is closing, thank God, little by little. So he kept her on all her medicines, changing only one for something a little stronger. She’s on no less than three diuretics, this because an x-ray showed an abnormally small, probably non-functioning, right kidney, never diagnosed before. Andy took us all to dinner, and the next morning Rosa and Tonito got on the bus for the nine-hour trip to Tocoa, and Chemo, Andy, and I took the bus to Victoria/Las Vegas, a seven-hour excursion.
When Andy left two weeks later, he still wasn’t done. He got a ton of books and notebooks and educational games at the mall in Tegucigalpa for us to take back to Las Vegas, as his legacy. So the nudges can continue....
There’s a saying here that I actually heard for the first time not too long ago. When the Legion of Mary hiked to the village of Zarzal to visit a little old lady, she greeted us with, “Dios me trajo!” (God brought you to me). That’s how we feel about Andy here. He reminded us that, despite the sins and setbacks that drain our faith, God provides a friendly universe.
Bernard Lonergan, “Method in Theology”: “Faith and progress have a common root in man’s cognitional and moral self-transcendence. To promote either is to promote the other indirectly. Faith places human efforts in a friendly universe; it reveals an ultimate significance in human achievement; it strengthens new undertakings with confidence. Most of all, faith has the power of undoing decline.”