Monday, January 29, 2018

Life goes on

In the midst of the political upheaval here, with the swearing in of the president, whose election is highly contested nationally and questioned internationally, it was a fairly conventional week for me. It also rained a lot less.

Though there have been protests and blocking of highways in other parts of the country, it’s been quiet here in the mountains of Copán, in southwest Honduras.

There have been deaths and injuries in the country, associated with the use of tear gas (made in the US) and use of live ammunition by government forces. There are also serious concerns about human rights violations. I saw a photo of one of the tear gas shells – made in western Pennsylvania.

But in the midst of this I’ve visited the sick, helped with the parish coffee harvest, preached in a rural village, interviewed a couple who will be married soon, visited with a friend in Santa Rosa, and took my pick up to a mechanic because it was over-heating.

We had over two hundred people helping the coffee harvest for two full days, last Monday and Tuesday. The first day they picked over 500 five-gallon containers of coffee berries.

This is the third major harvest – and we’ll have at least one more harvest. (Each coffee bush produces ripe coffee berries continuously for about ten weeks and so the berries are harvested three or four or more times.) I picked about one five gallon container, but mostly I helped with transporting folks to and from the field, as well as transporting the food for lunch.

We have had a few days of warm, dry weather – though my pick up is still caked with mud. Yet today it’s raining again – and cool.

Last Friday I went to San Agustín, about 40 minutes away from home, to visit the sick and aged. There is only on Communion minister there and 20 to 30 people who are ill or aged. I’ve decided to visit there at least once a month to see four or five people.

Margarita, the Communion minister, took me around. But the last person we visited was the most heart-wrenching.

We walked down the steep embankment to his fairly good sixed bahareque house, mud and stick walls and a dirt floor. He got up from his stool in the galera when we arrived and he invited us to sit down. I found another chair to sit on joined him.

He is in his mid-forties, but suffered a stroke three years ago and has no feeling or strength on his right side. He has difficulty talking but Margarita understood some. I mostly watched him and got a sense of what he was trying to express. He even wrote in the dirt to try to communicate.

I think I sensed a deep sadness. He is alone. He was living with a woman who left but used to bring him food. Now she doesn’t come. She seems to have taken almost all of the furniture from the house and so he lives with almost nothing. Some people give him some food, but there is no place to heat it. I talked to Margarita and asked her to have the base communities bring him food – even just tortillas and beans or pupusas several times a week.

We talked and I gave him one of the small wooden crosses we have for the sick. I placed in his right hand. It stayed there and I hope it provides him a reminder of God’s presence with him.

As I listened to him and watched, I realized that, though his clothes were dusty and a bit dirty, he took care of himself. He even explained to us, with gestures, how he washed himself daily with one hand.

He had work before his stroke – working in house construction and carpentry. As he explained this I could sense the pride he had in his work.

I don’t know if I should have gotten him some food but I left a few lempiras with Margarita to buy some food for him. She mentioned about getting something to take him. Also, she will bring my suggestion to the community church council. When I go back next month I’ll visit him and bring some food (and a thermos with hot coffee) and share a meal with him. (By the way, one of the things I learned in Santiago Atitlan about Fr. Stanley Rother is that he would take food to poor parishioners and sit down and eat with them.)

All the way driving back home, I kept thinking of him. I wonder if he could have had some restoration of muscle control of his arm if he had had therapy three years ago – the fate of the poor in a country that has money for weapons but poor health care.

For much of that day, I thought of him being alone there and I realized that I found no bitterness in him. A stroke, abandoned, alone, dependent on others for food – but with a sense of God with him. It’s almost too much to comprehend.

What struck me later is that his name means “God-with-us.” I guess Friday I was visited by “God-with-us.”

Would that I and all of us would remember this. It would make life better for so many.

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