The Gift Received

“We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them, but by waiting for them.” Simone Weil.

A shadow, a glimpse—some moments are fleeting, never to be thought of again. Others stay with us and imbed themselves into our very being. The summer of 2017, while sitting in a café in Antigua, Guatemala, I experienced one of these particular enduring moments. (You can read the story in the piece I wrote on this blog, The Gift Bestowed,dated October 13, 2017. To read it simply scroll back).

What was it about this encounter with a complete stranger that caused me to think about him for days, weeks and even months after I first saw him? In the eyes of the world, he was nothing to notice. Even I dismissed him. Small, quiet, bowed down with a bundle on his back, like so many other Guatemalans selling their wares. And yet, there was something about him that kept pulling me back to that particular summer afternoon, wondering just what it was that I had missed. What gift had I refused from his outstretched hand?

In reality, his wooden carvings were not really anything spectacular.  In fact, they were rather crudely carved. If I’d seen them in a shop, I’m not sure I would have given them much heed. And yet, strangely enough, thoughts of his carved angels and my missed opportunity haunted me throughout the year.

This past summer, on my very first day back in Guatemala, this man, whose name I still don’t know, presented himself to me once again. My husband and I were walking down the uneven sidewalk of 6 Avenida Norte, towards our favorite restaurant, Café de la Sopa, when I saw him. He was walking ahead us, in front of la Iglesia de Merced, with the familiar bundle on his back. I tugged on my husband’s arm with urgency and said, “It’s him. We have to hurry.”  We caught up with him as he rounded the corner near el parquet (the park). “Señor,” I said softly, while touching his arm.  He turned to face me with his kind brown face, and I realized how much I had longed to see him again and receive his offerings into my own hands.

I look at the photo snapped by my husband. I see that this man and I standing close together, my arm around his waist, his arm around my shoulder. We pull in close and both display his craftmanship.  My right hand clutches a Virgin Mary. He holds the angel I had chosen.  I am happy.

As I study the photo more carefully, I can see he is wearing at least four layers of clothing. He has a woven bag slug across his chest. What’s not in the photo is the bag that usually loads down his back. It’s laid open on the concrete ledge next to us.  From this bag, which is really just a large square of burlap and plastic, he proudly displays all the holy items he has crafted with his leathery hands: angels, The Virgin Mary, and a large crucifix—too big to carry home in a suitcase.  I look at each creation carefully, for each one is slightly different.  I choose an angel and Mary, asking if he has other crucifixes which are smaller.  He does not. Then we pose for the photo.

Does he remember me? I think not.  To how many people does he offer his gift, only to hear, “No, gracias,” or simply be ignored?  How many other people like me are too distracted to see—really see—what he has to offer? I tried to explain to him in my limited, broken Spanish about our encounter a year before. I don’t think he understood. But in the end, even that doesn’t matter, for on a warm, sunny day in June, I finally received his benediction.

O you who are everywhere present, filling yet transcending all things, ever acting, ever at rest; you who teach the hearts of the faithful without noise of words: teach us, we pray you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen                                                                                 St. Augustine

Gifts received: In our room, a Bienvenidos (Welcome) sign and flowers from our host family, alongside the angel and Virgin Mary.

Our Guatemalan family. Reunited again!

Deliciousness from Café de la Sopa. We ate it all!

Always Mercy,


via Always Mercy

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