Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I've mentioned that in my early twenties, I spent several years living in Mexico, Guatemala, and some of the worst streets of Philadelphia. My first husband and I would act as 'house parents' and we'd be joined by 10-15 college kids for a few months at a time and get them connected and working with the orphanages, health clinics, and soup kitchens in the area. Amazing, the lives I saw changed...hearts softened, souls healed. Sometimes there was joy so pure it felt like flying.
Sometimes there was darkness so black it felt like the end of everything.
I dreamt the other night of Guatemala. While some of you may have vacationed in the lovely parts, there are villages still without electricity, towns full of families that scrape food out of the dust...children who have never seen a refrigerator. I learned so much when I was there. About myself, my fears, my expectations. I learned to long for toilets that flushed....craved brushing my teeth with tap water...sprayed the legs of my wood and rope cot with raid to keep the tarantulas from climbing into my blankets.
One day, we took a trip out to visit an orphanage that had asked us to come sing for them. Something so simple; our rag-tattered gang of off-key, couldn't-carry-a-tune-in-a-bucket, sunburned loons--and those children were ecstatic. They giggled and laughed and danced--it was a holiday, a treat, the best of presents. Such fun....but the van was silent that night as we trundled back over dirt roads towards home, such simplicity and gratitude drapes a cloak of conviction over privileged shoulders.
Driving in another country is staggering. The fact that there are no car inspections, no rules, no lanes--insanity. Often cars run without operating lights, making night driving perilous. We almost didn't see them. The smashed little car, the larger one less so. There was a drunk man passed out in the dirt. And a sobbing, hysterical man that came running towards us, his face streaked with tears and blood.
His new bride was pinned in the car.
Our interpreter, Debbie, called for an ambulance, it was on the way. We were about ten minutes from the closest city. Meanwhile, the man I married the first time around was not good in emergencies and was slightly panicked. I left him in the van with the crew and asked them to pray. Debbie and I were nearly drug over to the smashed vehicle, the husband frantically gesturing at the car and pointing to his nose. Oh God, I could smell gas. We didn't have tools, but between us, were able to pry the door halfway open. Finally able to hold his wife's hand, he calmed down enough to tell us her name was Maria and his was Carl. Headlights in the distance...the ambulance. I stood, waving my arms to get it to slow down.
It was a pick-up truck with a piece of plywood in the back.
I was dumbfounded. Shocked into silence....this? This was the ambulance? The driver was efficient and soon produced a crow bar and wrenched the door the rest of the way open. Carl seemed unable to let go of the unconscious Maria's hand so I found myself attempting to support her head and shoulders as we gingerly pulled her from the twisted wreck. Debbie had drug the plywood over and we carefully laid her down. There was so much blood. Maria's head was cradled in the palm of my hand and it shifted slightly as I knelt in the dirt....and then the tips of my fingers felt the bones of her skull move.
In glare of the headlights I suddenly understood why Maria's head didn't look right. My heart nearly stopped. Debbie reached out as I inhaled sharply, drawing Carl over to the other side of the board, sparing him the sight of his bride's broken body...and his shattered dreams.
We carried the board to the truck and slid it into the back, Carl climbing up to sit next to her. I could hear him telling her he loved her over and over as he clutched her hand. I stood there, frozen, as the tail lights vanished down the dark road. Debbie had checked the drunk and said he was fine. He'd been tossed from his car when it t-boned theirs. Aside from some scrapes and bruises, he would be alright. She helped him to his car and then gently led me back to the van. I don't remember the rest of the ride home. I do remember getting into the shower with all my clothes on, watching Maria's blood wash down the drain, and sobbing till there was nothing left.
I didn't have children then. Years later my boys would enter my life and I would understand a love that literally was cell and bone and sinew deep. Tomorrow is my fortieth birthday. I suppose it's only natural to find myself today sifting through what I am thankful for. Since that night, kneeling in the dark, I have never heard the wail of an ambulance and not closed my eyes for a moment, desperately grateful to live in a place where such a sound is only a phone call away. That my children live here. This gratitude is nearly overwhelming, immeasurable.
It's an ocean.