Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the place my heart calls home


i walked down the familiar stairs that i have gone down hundreds of times before.  although this time they seemed eerily unfamiliar.  today they were crimson-stained and told of the early morning events that unfolded in my sacred place: The Hole.

i didn't make eye contact with the twenty or so people seated on the concrete staircase and i didn't let a word leave my lips, not even my normal salutations that they are accustomed to.  i could feel the salty water behind my eyelids waiting to be released and i was afraid if i did anything but walk briskly i'd be unable to stop the niagara falls.

i veered left down the alley and saw Minino and Wilfreidy sitting in their doorway, trying to process in their eight year old and six year old minds the heaviness that plagued their barrio.  i gently kissed and hugged them both, not holding on too long as to not release the gates too soon.

a hundred people lined the path, familiar and unfamiliar faces.  i may have walked past people i knew only because i was looking intently for my Carolina.  her cousin saw my lost demeanor and grabbed me by my hand and led me into her home.  my eyes took a minute to adjust to the darkness and lack of electricity but i saw her sitting there, pretending to sip some soup.

when our eyes met i knew the time had come, i couldn't hold it in any longer, and as i embraced my dear friend and stroked her hair i cried with every cell in my body, unable to contain its release.  she only whispered softly as if speaking to someone else, "mataron mi papa, goody, mataron mi papa."  i know, sweet girl, i can't believe he's gone, either.

we held each other for a few minutes, wiped away our fading mascara and held hands as we made our way through the crowd.  a place that is normally piping with energetic kids in pajamas and women drinking coffee is now silently mourning the loss of one of their own.

in the school courtyard, i hugged his brother, Juan, and we shared tears, kisses on cheeks and disbelieving head-shakes.  i found Yudy, my peace, my saving grace, and cried some more as we said, "it doesn't seem real," over and over again.  i entered the school building surprised to see a coffin.  i wasn't sure what kind of situation i was walking in on but i definitely wasn't ready to see him.  so i scanned the room quickly and found his widow, my dear Carmen.

unhelpful women bent around her, trying to force her to guzzle down soup.  i could see in her eyes as they stared blankly at the floor that the last thing she wanted to do was eat.  i stood between her and her groom and she glanced at me, initially thinking maybe i was just another well-wisher wanting a hug but when her mind came back to reality and saw that it was me, we were lost in tears and half-mutterings and shaky knees.

i sat there holding her hand for a half an hour, fully knowing that he was five feet from me, never letting my eyes get above the legs holding up his casket.  i stared at the fading candles, crooked and leaning as they dripped wax on the concrete floor.  i felt the urge to get up and fix it, make the candles straight, clean up the falling wax, but that would mean being too close to him.  i wasn't ready for that.

his boys came in and out, sometimes staying long enough to cry over their father or touch his forehead.  other people entered, whipping out their cell phones to take pictures of his face.  i thought about getting up and griping at them but i know, culturally, death photos are perfectly acceptable.  finally the room was empty except for the priest, some randoms, his widow and me.  now was as good of time as any, i have to pay my respects before i go.

i pretended to fix a broken slat on the window on the opposite side of the room.  i relit a candle that went out directly above his head.  i touched the side of his casket and brushed some dust from its edges.  and then i looked first at his hair trying to prepare myself for his face.

he looked like he was sleeping; the advantage to the viewing being only a few hours after his actual death.  no makeup, no waxy look, no fake eyelashes.  it was just Lepido, asleep.  i hadn't realized it at the time but i must have looked like i might fall or something because Yudy suddenly appeared at my side holding my elbow and putting a hand around my waist.  her touch must have yanked my subconscious out of wherever it was because i began sobbing in that moment.

it was then that i saw his fatal wound, the one that i somehow missed for the other five minutes that i had been staring at his face.  along the side of his jawline, a series of deep stitching, holding his skin unnaturally together.  i thought to myself, "he didn't have a chance."  i put myself there, at 3 a.m., wondering if i had been there would i have been any help at all.  if i had been hanging around with all of them, eating empanadas and sipping a cold drink would my presence have made a difference?  my out-of-date cpr training.  my amateur knowledge of holding pressure on a wound or putting on butterfly bandages.  no.  with a wound like that, he didn't have a chance.

most of the next couple hours were a blur.  i held his grandchildren.  i hugged his children.  i prayed with his widow.  i couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that literally a week ago he hugged and kissed me and asked when the summer teams were done.

i still can't wrap my mind around it.

i'm sure if you are reading this you are thinking Lepido and i must have been close.  sure, i've drank coffee with him.  i've talked life with him.  i've taken pictures of him and his family.  nothing that would equate to using the word "close."  i have tried and tired to think of reasons why this is affecting me so greatly and i have come up completely empty.  i haven't slept much at all since the event occurred.  i think about it when i have a free moment from sippy cups and cartoons.  i pray about it when i'm walking from my front door to my car.  i can't shake it.  i can't explain it.  i have no resolution.

i do know that The Hole holds my every cell.  my passion lies in those concrete alleys.  my compassion lies with those shoeless children.  and maybe, i can't shake this because Lepido was part of that place.  the place that i love.  the place my heart calls home.  and a little piece of my heart just might have gone with him when he left.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Photo of the Week...7/17-7/24


we'll just call this week's photo of the week, broken heart: week #2.

although i cannot share all the details of this story, just trust that it's a good thing you don't know them.  and although it would be easy for me to make this entire post about how unfair life is and how awful people are, God showed me very clearly that regardless of what humans do, He is still in control.  He will take what people intend for evil and make it good.


as he strolled into the clean, church building you could almost cut the tension with a knife.  people's eyes were already welling up with tears, although we were trying hard to not let him see.  he calmly joined the silent group with a tentative smile on his face.  i tried to smile, wondering how on earth he could even muster one up.

this week was for him.  and although others were there, he was the inspiration.  a deaf teenager, living in a trash dump, never learning an actual language to communicate with others.  on this island, children with deformities or disabilities are often cast aside like the daily trash.  they are not cared for.  they are seen as a hindrance.  most of the time they are taken to a government orphanage so someone else can deal with them, that's if they aren't aborted first.  but Yordy's mom loves him.  maybe not the way some judgmental hearts might want her too, but she loves him the best she can.

as spanish signing cards were waving around and new conversations formed with hands and expressions, his eyes lit up with hope.  he wasn't the only one anymore.  there were people here that wanted to give him language.  that wanted him to know that he is anything but a castaway.  that he has value and that he belongs to a kingdom that reigns above the dirty river his home sits next to.

i watched him closely, looking for the remnants of his recent horrific situation.  instead of angry or hurt eyes, he smiled so often that i was blown away by this young man still so filled with joy.  but there were moments.  when no one was looking, and just i was watching, the smile would slip away.  his eyes would look downward and his mind would wander.  remembering.  but almost as quickly as his smile left it was almost as if his heart reminded him that today was a new day, and his smile reappeared bigger and brighter than before.

i can't really explain all that those few hours taught me in a room full of people, signing a language i barely knew.  but God showed me through a deaf teenager whose future, according to this world, holds nothing but disappointment and ridicule, that joy can be found in every moment.  even amidst our worst nightmares, God has a redemption plan bigger than we could ever imagine.  and His grace extends beyond language, culture or circumstance.