You have probably heard me say many times that “happiness reflects your circumstances and joy reflects your heart.” I think that is no more visible than in the holiday season. Many of us have experienced some sort of disappointment or grief in the past year. Those moments can wrench the heart and certainly would never be remembered as happy times. But joy can not be stolen. It can only be misplaced or lost.
Here in Nicaragua, one can fathom the lives led by many of the countless poor, hungry, or sick who can be found at every turn. Yet somehow these weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year never fail to bring a buzz, even a torrent of pure joy to our cobblestone streets. Parades, fireworks, smiles are everywhere. Granada is full of visitors celebrating the festive season.
There are two people I want to talk about today. They highlight the dichotomy that can be Christmas.
My first friend that I want to introduce you to is a young lady I met while walking home from class last week. She is in her twenties. Rail thin, hair gnarled from lack of washing and combing, and displaying the easily recognizable eyes of an addict. I am never sure what ones drug of choice is unless they are holding a glue jar or a spirit bottle or bear the tracks of needles. There were none of these items, so I don’t know.
As I passed, she gestured the international sign of hunger. Hands near her lips, waving at the knuckles, appearing as if she was shoveling rice into her slightly opened mouth. Her eyes were saying “please give me something”, as they were squinting and she was repeatedly furrowing her black, thick eyebrows.
I stopped, greeted her, and asked what she needed. She said, “one dollar.” Those are the first English words every street person learns when they exist in a town of tourists. I noticed a pulperia nearby. These are the small shops, usually found in people’s homes, where you can find staples like rice, beans, and bread. In addition they usually sell sodas and candy. You can’t walk more that two blocks without finding one. This one happened to be two doors down from where we were standing.
I told her to come with me. We went to the iron gate of the door which had a hinged window of sorts and I yelled, “Buenas”, which is the polite Nicaraguan way of getting the shopkeeper’s attention. This is where I met my second friend.
He is an older man, rugged faced, jet black hair dappled with grey. He gave the nod of recognition and I asked what food he would be able to sell me. I told him I only had a a few cordobas, roughly two dollars, but that I wanted to help this woman.
He leaned in to whisper. He asked me if I knew this girl. I said I didn’t. But then I told him that I wanted to bless her with a gift. So he informed me that he had exactly what I thought, rice beans, and bread. I said I would like as much as my cash would allow. He agreed. He regressed toward the back where I couldn’t see. He seemed to vanish. When he reappeared, he didn’t have the raw materials of a meal, rather a fully cooked plate of rice and beans. Perched on top was a tiny piece of chicken.
I of course thanked him and said that I was surprised because I didn’t know that he was a street food vendor. He said that he wasn’t but that this was from his table, his kitchen, his family’s lunch. Normally a plate like that would be around 70 cordobas. He asked me if I had twenty. I said that I did and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “that’s good.”
The girl took the plate and devoured each morsel. Not a grain of rice was left. She did manage to say thank you before she handed me back the plated and took off. It was then my turn to shrug my shoulders and look at the owner as if to say, “we tried”. He laughed and told me to relax. He was happy to help me. He told me that he had heard of me and that he was glad to help the “Profe”.
I said that I would help him som time if he needed it. He then replied in broken English, “I have wife, I have children, they are health (sic).” Then in Spanish, “This girl is happy for this minute. I have joy when I come into my house. You understand? My family.”
I was blown away. Again! I said, “God bless you.” He replied with the less often used, “May God accompany you.”
I saw the woman again later in the week. It was few blocks away. I was passing by in a taxi. She was asleep on the sidewalk. For a few moments my shopkeeper friend and I had been able to bring a smile to her face. No doubt fleeting moments, as life struggling with her demons cannot be easy.
I also stopped again at the pulperia and asked my new friend how he was doing. He answered, “everything is good.” I knew that he couldn’t be telling me the whole truth. But in him I saw the definition of joy. He looks for the good in even the most difficult times. He has a depth of contentment in his soul. He shares my belief that sharing God’s love is the ultimate display of faith.
I hope you have found that joy in your life. I hope for this, as you are surrounded with love and care by all of those with whom you celebrate these seasons. If this is a difficult season, whether because of personal setbacks, failing health, or overwhelming grief, my prayer is that you will find people who will simply love you. I have no illusions of magical elixirs that will wipe away your tears. But if I know you, have merely encountered you, or if you call me a friend, know this. You are loved.
Dios los acompañe.