Mario’s Smile

I have spent the better part of my life afraid to really open up and let someone know me because of the losses I faced in the past. I suffered the loss of my world when I left the island of my birth for a world I still have yet to understand. It was faith that kept me then and it is faith that keeps me now.

I went to Peru to work and somewhere in the back of my mind were the people I would meet. I shed not a tear for the work but still cannot stop crying for the people I met and loved. Not because of their condition but because I miss them and because what I did not seek, found me, moved me and touched me deeply. Intimacy, in this case, with near strangers. I cried till I thought my heart would burst and then, (how I do not know), I cried some more.

It was my own fault really. I went to Peru, defenses down, not expecting to be touched in this way. Prepared for hard labor and minimal comfort, not expecting to be loved so intensely or to find people so hopeful, buried in what seemed as hopelessness. Victor (who started the Refuge of Hope) told us, “We may have nothing, but we have hope.”

They indeed had hope and taught me a great deal about hope. How to see beyond the limitations and constraints that life presents. How to fight with what little strength you have and to see no limitation as insurmountable. I am certain that had we not told them they were disabled they might never have know it. And had we not been told they were disabled we may never have noticed.

You could not tell by the fierceness with which they play soccer that some of them were missing limbs. You could not tell by the intensity with which they were willing to love that their lives would be spent in poverty. They love deeply and with full knowledge that at weeks end, they would need to say goodbye.

I think of the children and their beautiful faces. Their acceptance of us and joy in our company before we had driven a nail or sung a song. I think of the tears they cried at our leaving and wonder if they will not forever be changed. I know I was.

I think of the laughter we shared as a team. I think of the oceans of tears we cried as we prepared to leave. I believe none of us were prepared for the intensity of that parting. It seemed a simple thing to say goodbye to people we had just met and would likely never see again. It seemed so easy but they were no longer simply people. They had names, smiles, personalities and a faith stronger than time and distance.

Then I think of Mario and the friendship we formed in just a week. A bond of music, of character and of faith. I think too of leaving him and of the practical certainty that we may never meet again, this side of heaven. I know now why they speak so often of heaven. A time when language would be no barrier to the love we feel. A place where no hindrance such as time or space would keep us from each other.

I am tempted to think our time a waste or a foolish mission to accomplish little more than build a portion of what would take years to complete. I am tempted to think our arrival and quick departure as cruel. Perhaps it would have been better to simply pour the concrete, set the bricks and leave it at that. Ah, but Mario’s smile was so bright and his heart so kind and true. His music was so beautiful and rich and this memory itself so clear.

Mario is still there making music and singing songs. He may occasionally stop and smile thinking of his friend from America. He may feel a twinge of pain, the sting of loss, but soon he will walk on and miles away I will do the same.

Were the moments not so great the pain would not be as deep, and had I not spent so much of myself, I would not be nearly as rich. Missing would be that twinge and absent would be this sting. My throat might not be as tight and I would have no need to fight these tears. But I would also have no reason to smile as I am smiling now. My friend Mario “Tu Vives en me Corazon.” You live in my heart.

Copyright(C)1998 Hudson Russell Davis

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