Letter from Honduras: Watchmen waiting for the dawn
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 13, 2011 - Las Vegas, Honduras - April was the cruelest month -- certainly as far as weather is concerned. You had hundreds of tornadoes; while here our "summer" was perfectly still, hot as Hades, dry as a bone, dust inches thick, the air as heavy as an overcoat, the smoky mountains just a blur, a blood-red moon. You could hardly call it "Lent," which really means spring.
Dona Julia, my 92-year-old neighbor, had the longest Lent. In fact, she began her dying even before Ash Wednesday, when I grabbed my camera to snap her last "glamour" shot as she enjoyed a fresh mango. She had risen briefly from her sickbed; but after this, she never got well. This is not to say that she was not still beautiful, even when she was just a shell of wrinkles, because she kept smiling, kept talking, even joking, her mind sharp, her attitude patient and uncomplaining.
Every night you'd swear was going to be her last. Indeed, a variable group of anywhere from 10 to 20 folks would gather at the house, inside at her bedside or out in the corridor or street, in quiet vigil. Eventually, a kind of community formed, a society of friends, a monastery at ease. Coffee and conversation, but mostly, as the Psalmist says, like watchmen waiting for the dawn.
You may remember I had said Padre Sebastian invited me to a group retreat that would meet weekly for several months. Well, his poor feet needed special attention, so he returned to Spain for treatment. I thought I'd give the retreat a try by myself. I used a "contemporary reading" of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by Father Dave Fleming, who just recently died after a long illness. He had been my Superior during my years with the Jesuits, so I could hear his wise and guiding voice on every page.
The nightly sessions with Dona Julia seemed the perfect time for prayer. I'd go over to the house about 9 p.m. I would kneel at her little bed, grasp her hand, kiss her forehead, brush her hair and chat a bit. Then I'd settle in a chair to "meditate," if I didn't just fall asleep.
One night I got there pretty late, and Juana, Dona Julia's daughter-in-law looked in my direction and said, "She's been asking for you." She said it a couple times before I really believed it. I was blown away. After that, Julia became a presence in every meditation. She was there as God looked at the world with the desire to save us. She was there at Jesus' birth, his life in Nazareth, his rounds of preaching, his agony and suffering, everything. Dona Julia had become my retreat director.
So a death watch became everyone's Long Retreat. She passed away Wednesday afternoon of Holy Week (April 20), as if to help focus our attention on the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. Indeed, with her daily risings from seemingly impossible depths, she had given us a month of Easter Sundays.
That evening, in the middle of the church service, we heard something we had not heard in five months -- thunder. A pale flash or two of lightning, and soon a welcome rain blew in. The temperature dropped, the air freshened, and you could breathe again. Still later, at the wake, when it came my turn to speak, I said the rain was Julia's sign of her salvation. These are not tears, but kisses. The weather stayed cool the rest of the weekend, through Easter.
The teacher strike finally ended after three long weeks, and the kids got back to class, but just for a week, before the Holy Week "vacation." The teachers piled on the work, to make up for the lost time, and every day came another quiz or test.
Here's a brief excerpt from Carlos Ordonez' poem "La Fiebre," The Fever (with the best I can do, translating it):
Hace frio en el panuelo de sal
que una madre empapa en el calix de la esperanza.
Hace frio en la orfandad
de una mano carcomida por el fuego de la penuria.
Hace frio en ese sueno
de profundo carnesi del que ningun inmortal volvio.
(It gets cold where a mother dips a rag of salt in a chalice of hope.
It's cold when an orphaned hand is shredded by the fires of misery.
It's cold in that blood-red dream where no spirit has found its way back.)
Just before the strike ended, when the violence had subsided, Chemo and I made a quick trip to Tegus to see the poet Carlos Ordonez, who is working on an advanced degree in literature in Spain, with side trips to Brazil, where he works on documentary films with his fiancee Ursula.
I kept asking him about his latest book that supposedly was scheduled for publication a year ago. "I brought you a copy," he said. Still unpublished, it was a bound Kinko's copy, but very elegant. Consisting of 30 prose-poems, it seems a masterpiece. Any attempt of mine to translate anything for you is whimsical, at best, Carlos invents a lot of his vocabulary (you can see little roots of familiar words peeking out), and even ordinary words lose their moorings in so dreamlike a vision. Yet the themes, as I say, are justice, truth, and peace. When I asked him how he followed the news of Honduras abroad, he said, "I just read the newspapers online --and believe the opposite!"
During Holy Week, when there are so many homecomings, I sought out the mother of Manuelito to ask for news. Last I knew, he was still in the U.S., having made it across the border some years ago after eight tries. "He's back!" she told me, deported actually, living with his wife and two girls in nearby Sabana del Blanco. So I went to find him.
Turns out Lito spent part of his time in St. Louis, where he admired, among other things, the Gateway Arch -- which he called "the rainbow" -- without realizing you could go inside it up to the top. In fact, he loved everything about America, and I told him, I'm sorry we kicked you out; you're exactly the kind of person who belongs in our country. He had even begun the paperwork to attain citizenship, but, no. As much as he longs for "the good life," we all agreed that he should stay now, since every day brings more news of migrants slaughtered like pigs at the Mexican border by gangs.
Another reconnection is proceeding apace. Olvin, who got shot in the left elbow last December, has winced and yelped his way through physical therapy and can flex his arm again. His goal is to get strong enough to get a job, he hopes, at one of the big sweatshops in San Pedro Sula. My advice was, "Just don't tell them."
About the Author
Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.
There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor.
For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.