Truly good people live their lives as though every moment could have a far reaching influence on someone else.
Angels in Guatemala: Excerpt from Rest In Places: My Father’s Post – Life Journey Around The World
I climb uphill from underneath the ledge on Lake Atitlan where I’ve been photographing my son Asher jumping into the lake when I see two younger American men standing near him. Asher had just yelled that he probably wasn’t going to jump again because his ear hurt, so I’d tucked my camera under my arm and begun the hike back up to the ledge. As I approach I can hear the men praying aloud for Asher so his ears won’t hurt anymore. Touched by such a kind gesture, I inch close enough to hear but not close enough to interrupt their prayers. Asher catches sight of me and gives me a hand gesture that says to stay where I am. This touches me deeply, and I feel honored to witness the male camaraderie he has been needing. Being raised without an active father in his life has been difficult for my son. “Father in heaven, please protect our brother Asher and heal his ears so he may have no more pain. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
As they finish I move forward and we introduce ourselves. McKay, the tall brown-haired man says he and Isaac, a similarly tall blonde man, are in Guatemala because they’ve just finished building a chicken coop. Only it isn’t quite that simple. McKay works with a Guatemalan farming population in rural North Carolina and had found his heart touched by one of his clients who had come to their farming clinic with an eyesight problem. Pedro was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. McKay learned more about Pedro during his clinic visits and his compassion grew as he learned Pedro had not seen his family for the ten years he’d been working in the United States while sending money back home. McKay explains it’s unusual for many of these men to return to their families at all. Often the male immigrants leave their Guatemalan wives and children behind in search of a better life in the US. As time passes they take up with a new woman and leave their old lives entirely behind. The wives and children back home are left to fend for themselves when their husbands eventually stop sending money. Pedro was different. Now that his eyesight was failing, Pedro was at a loss. How would he provide for his family now?
McKay put together an indiegogo campaign for Pedro and quickly raised over ten thousand dollars, surprising even himself with the ease in which McKay’s circle felt inspired to donate. They used the money to return Pedro to Guatemala for a reunion with his family, and then quickly got to work building a chicken coop so Pedro’s family would have a source of income. Now that it’s finished, it will provide not only a way for Pedro’s family to make money, but will provide eggs for the entire village where Pedro’s family lives.
Chicken coop construction completed, McKay and Isaac have a few days left to see the area around Lake Atitlan, and Asher and I consider ourselves fortunate to cross paths with these mannered men. We talk and laugh for an hour on the ledge above the lake, sharing travel stories with the ease of old friends. I listen with joy as they easily include Asher in the conversation, asking his opinion and engaging him as if he were an adult and not an oft – excluded teenager. No age barriers exist in the safe little space where we speak together; not for Asher, and not for me, although I am old enough to be a parent to any of them. Soon the mosquitoes descend upon us, making conversation difficult and we slap at our legs and agree to meet later in the evening for dinner.
As we return to our hotel room Asher remarks that the men have inspired him to be a better man. I ask in which way, and he says he would like to be in service; to be part of a project to help other people. I think of a remark I’d made earlier in the week that most of his business ideas were centered around skirting laws and finding ways to make the illegal obtainable. McKay and Isaac seem like a pair of angels to me now, arriving at a time when Asher is still open and impressionable enough to shift his perceptions of what defines a real man.
McKay and Isaac arrive at the restaurant, freshly showered, and I feel touched by the attention they’ve paid to themselves on our behalf. Their food is delivered first, and although Asher urges them to begin eating they of course do not. They continue speaking until all the food is delivered and when they ask to pray over our meal, we are honored and safe. During the meal they engage in polite conversation with not only us but with our server. They ask questions of Asher that indicate they truly care about who he is and are interested in him as a human being and a young man. They listen attentively, and they cease speaking if Asher or I even open our mouths to speak, urging us to go on instead. The absence of alcohol at this meal is perfect: the dulling of senses, or releasing of inhibitions would not fit with this high-level pair. The clarity, attention to conversational detail and clear-eyed engagement is new for me: there is no need for alcohol to ease this friendship into places that skip over time and circumstance. These men build and create slowly, steadily and properly.
The bill is paid before my wallet is even out, and it would be ridiculous to say something like ‘you shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘let me reimburse you.’ We are in the company of gentlemen and it would be an insult to say any words other than ‘thank you.’
During our walk back to our room Asher utters, “Wow,” and when I ask what he means he says, “They are just so nice.” It simultaneously touches and hurts my heart that he is so moved by the kindness of these men, these veritable strangers. He continues that he’s never met men this nice before, not ever in his life. I marvel that perhaps I haven’t either.
While we spent many months traveling different countries together, the positive impression upon my son never dulled. The appearance, although brief, in his life at a time when he was searching for male role models was perfectly timed. Even now they write to him occasionally and ask about his life and how he is doing. Though subtle, their connections to my son are gentle reminders to stay on the right track. I’m happy to say it is working.
A man should never underestimate the opportunities he has to make an impact in the world.
Rest In Places can be purchased here.
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