There are certain moments in our experiences that become a sort of “freeze frame” of reference, an event or an exchange that transcends the moment and suddenly represents something bigger, more meaningful. I’ve been privileged to experience more than my share of such moments in Nicaragua over the past seven years, but none were more sudden, more memorable than the encounter last week with an angel.
Mark Lester and I were given the opportunity to visit the Roberto Clemente School in Ciudad Sandino, operated by the education entity Fe y Alegria. Through its Louise V. Nielsen initiative, Winds of Peace has provided funding for a number of key education organizations in Nicaragua, one of which is this organization founded by Father Fernando Cardenal, himself an education force in Nicaragua’s history. This particular school serves some 1400 students, from pre-school scholars through high school. (I’ll have more to report about that visit in upcoming blog entries.) Suffice it to say that the hour and-a-half visit was exciting, energizing, motivating, moving and hopeful. In short, everything one might hope to experience amidst a large group of youth.
When the tour of the school was finished and the conversations with several student leaders had been done, time had come for Mark and me to take to the road again, on our way north to Esteli. We made our way across campus, accompanied by Leslie Gomez, Director of Programs and Projects for Fe y Alegria and our liaison for the visit. By the time we approached the truck, my head was already filled with recollections, of bright classrooms and joyful sounds (that’s right, I said joyful!), of faces evident with curiosity and welcome, of teachers beaming with pride to present their classrooms to visitors. Lost in such visions, as I grabbed for the door of the truck I felt a tug on the back of my shirt.
When I turned around, I needed to adjust my gaze down, way down, to look at the tiny person standing before me. She could not have been more than six years old. The shy smile on her face gave her an angelic look that instantly touched my heart. And she offered up her two hands pressed together, as if in a prayer, seeking some reciprocation from me that I could not immediately discern. All I could do was to look at her and smile.
“It’s a type of greeting, or blessing,” explained Leslie, “just put your hands together over hers to return the good wishes.” My own hands engulfed the fragile hands before me and I gratefully embraced her tiny offering. My response brought an enormous smile to Yareli who seemed to want nothing more than to create an indelible moment in my day. I might even go so far as to suggest that her gift created a lasting moment in my life. Such was the surge of affection that I felt for this little jewel who had come out of nowhere to shine a bright light on my day. She granted me one quick photo and then she wandered off, likely in search of another unsuspecting subject to bless and entrance. Do angels actually come among us in that size? I asked her for her name and she replied, “Yareli.”
Well, there’s nothing else to say about the episode. Like an apparition, Yareli came to me and disappeared within the span of minutes. By the time I was back in the truck, I actually wondered whether the encounter had really happened, so fast and so touching was the connection. But that adorable face was fortunately captured forever in my camera; I looked back at the picture on several occasions during the balance of my week, just to bring a smile back to my feelings. Sharing it with you here is a pleasure I offer with this one additional reflection:
Children are born of biological parents and step into a line of genealogy which, in part, helps to define who they are and where they come from. Sometimes the continuum also shapes where they are headed and who they will become. But in a major way, children are also universal beings who belong to us all. We may not have biological connections to every one of them, but we do share emotional ties and responsibilities to each. We do have an impact on others, whether intended or not. Yareli reached out and affirmed that feeling in me, just as 22 years ago a young Nicaraguan boy named Fernando did when he asked me whether I would adopt him, whether I could love him, and whether I thought he was a good kid. They are moments and faces never to be forgotten because they awaken in us the truth of our shared love and responsibility for children everywhere. It doesn’t matter that eventually those beautiful children grow up to become adults who speak a different language or live in a land foreign to us. Small hands can still be held out for friendship and blessing if we’re receptive.
It was a huge affirmation from a very little messenger….