Scott's Entry #13

"Being There"

If you have been keeping up with the rambling drivel on our website, you've probably run across the story of Josue, the blind boy from my music class in a tiny town near the Southern Coast of Guatemala.  If you haven't read it, check it out.  It's a good way to kill 10-15 minutes.  Besides, it's a necessary pre-quel to this story.  Kinda' like... if you haven't seen the movie "Grease," then you'll be TOTALLY LOST when you see "Grease II."  OK, so I exaggerate a little.

However, if you can't bear to read another far-fetched analogy or obscure pop culture reference, I've included the Reader's Digest condensed version in the first paragraph.

Learning Lessons In My Own Music Class

It's January 25th and I'm scheduled to teach another music class in a tiny village called Los Angeles.  I'm really excited about seeing the gang again, but especially Josue.  He’s an 8-year old blind boy with a brain tumor who has come to my class a couple of times.  The first time he only showed up because the church elders wanted to pray for him.  In a community that is drowning in poverty, no one expects much from the handicapped.  However, instead of a pity party, I brought Josue up to the front of the class and we tried our hand at playing the piano together.  After singing and playing “Silent Night” hand-over-hand, a smile had returned to his face, and the other students were speechless.  I had visions of pulling off a “missionary miracle” and teaching Josue how to play guitar, and one day enjoying a concert from the boy before we head back to the U.S. in August.

Anyhow, enough reminiscing and self-praise.  Let’s get back to today.

After a 90 minute ride in the back of a pickup, I arrive at the church to find the pastor unlocking the door.  I immediately ask how Josue is doing.  The pastor’s face sinks.  He tells me that Josue's condition has gotten worse - much worse.  He won't be coming to class this day.  His tumor has grown considerably, and doctors say that he will be lucky to make it through the week.  I am heartbroken.  Still, students begin to arrive, and we hold a music class as planned.  We learn new songs, we laugh, and we talk. 

When we finish the class, I ask everyone if they would like to visit Josue.  It's unanimous.  They all want to go.  We pile eleven people into an '88 Toyota 4Runner and drive to the entrance of the jungle path that leads to Josue’s house.  We park and walk the remaining ten minutes under cover of thick foliage and calling birds. 

We finally arrive at the house.  It’s a 15' x 15' room, constructed of plywood nailed to four corner posts.  The roof is made of sheets of fiberglass.  Inside is a dirt floor, a cabinet, a table with four chairs, three beds, and seven family members.  On one bed, Josue is laying with his head wrapped in a dishtowel.  I announce my entrance and took my guitar out of its case.  When I sit on the bed next to Josue, I notice that the mattress is just wooden planks covered by thick blankets.  It’s like sleeping on your kitchen table.  Not exactly a "get well soon" kind of environment.  I feel a rush of frustration.  Though I'm now accustomed to the "decor" of poverty, it's still hard to imagine raising a child like Josue (or any child for that matter), without having access to health care, steady work, clean water, or even food.

Josue doesn’t move an inch.  His eyes are closed.  He is breathing heavily through a small tube that a local village doctor has inserted into his throat.  The nearest big hospital is two hours away in Xela.  Still, the hospital wouldn't make a difference.  Perhaps four years ago when the tumor was first discovered, but not now.

Seated next to the boy,  I put my hand on his leg and just look at him.  I have no idea what to say.  After a good 20 seconds of silence, I finally tell him how much we missed him in class.  I think he senses that we're all at his side, but he can't see, can't hear and can't speak.  I pull out my guitar and ask the people in the room what song they would like to hear.  They say that it's my choice.

So, I start to sing every Spanish song I can remember.  Everyone sings along.  We sing about being lifted up on the wings of eagles.  We sing about being wrapped in the arms of angels.  We sing about how great Heaven will be.  I can hear about half of the room crying over my shoulder.  I hold back tears and keep on singing with everyone else.  Finally, I'm out of songs.  I would like to say that Josue joined in the singing, or that his foot started tapping, or even that when he heard our soothing voices his breathing became more relaxed. 

But, this isn't that kind of story.  No jokes or happy endings.  All I can say is that I sat in a room with 17 other people as we sang to a little boy who was fighting to stay in a world that gave him no reason to do so.  I watched a little boy dying. 

I'm sure that many people could find a zillion morals in this story.  For instance, we need to find a way to make affordable health care available to everyone.  We need to find a way to feed the world.  We need to find a way to provide suitable living conditions to everyone on the globe.  But there will be time to discuss all of those sorts of things later.  No matter what we do  to “help” the situation in Guatemala, by the end of the week, Josue won’t be around to hug his mom anymore.  In moments like this, grand ideas for saving the world aren't worth a hill of frijoles. 

I gave Josue's mom a hug on the way out the door.  She was obviously devastated.  I tried to think of something - ANYTHING to say. I had few words, but managed to muster, "God is here",  and "I'll never forget your son."  Others whispered "God will take care of you", and "God hears your prayers and will provide all that you need."  The problem is, she probably won't be getting a telegram from The Almighty to confirm this anytime soon.   Sad but true.

The miracle this day was not a flash of light that would make the boy walk, or a shower of money to buy his family a suitable home.  It wasn’t even the promise of a better future.  No, the miracle was us.  The truth is, we are the hearts, hands and healing words of God.   We were made in His image to do His work.  When things happen around us that we can never comprehend, God doesn't expect us to solve problems or find reasons.  He only needs us to be there for each other - sharing in the joy, the pain, and the everyday.  He just wants us to step outside ourselves and feel what others feel.  Though stubborn, I am learning that today, as with most days, “being there” was the most important thing of all.