A familiar scent washes over me as I make my way toward the large double sliding-doors that lead into my room at this oceanside vista. It smells like my mother’s lavender bushes but thicker and sweeter, laced with a fragrance that is new to me. I’ve never been to Costa Rica before. This is a new fragrance. The waves hit the hardened sand hundreds of feet below the cliff that hosts the vacation home and add their majestic bellow to the sound of a thousand birds, frogs and tropical creatures that scurry from tree to tree all around me. I walk circumspectly around the centipedes, ants, and other native insects that lie lazily on the smooth stone patio. I can feel the salt on my skin from the healing waves of the Pacific and smell the coconut sunblock that attempts to protect me from the relentless sun. I take in a deep breath of ocean air. I love the water.
Yesterday, I was handing boards to Paul while he built a small extension on a shack in a severely impoverished slum that butts up against San José. A thirty-five year-old mother of eight lives there with her children and some of her children’s children. Motherhood starts early in this part of the world. And fatherhood is nearly extinct. She sweeps the floor of her little hut, cleans her dishes, and takes out the garbage. She is taking care of another homeless family. All sixteen will sleep on the floor tonight. She proudly invites us in. The father of her children chose family-number-two, and they don’t live around here.
By the time they begin to resemble women, most of the young girls in this village of thousands will make money the only way they can; by selling their bodies. Some of them won’t be given a choice.
A young man struts past the crudely fenced property. He looks like he hasn’t yet reached his twentieth birthday but he is already the king of his world. He looks like a predator.
A small, doe-eyed girl walks past me with dirty bare feet. She wears clean clothes and her hair is brushed. Maria is a good momma.
Today, I open the large sliding door of the vista and am greeted by an air conditioned room larger than four of the huts in the slum. Intricately cut tiles and brightly coloured paintings decorate the walls. A king-sized bed with clean, fresh smelling sheets sits a few steps up from the entrance and a large jacuzzi tub waits to the right, with windows overlooking the ocean. I think of Maria and her children.
Whenever I see someone in need, I have this deep, involuntary impulse to give them everything I have. Some people might think this is irresponsible. Some might say I’m trying to appease guilt. But I don’t feel guilty. I feel blessed. And confused. And angry.
We could have given Maria money, food, clothes. We could have found her a bigger place to live somehow. But what about the other ten thousand? Ten million? And how could I protect her daughters from their inevitable fate? What would happen when the money and the food ran out while I am back in Canada enjoying my tea and the safety of my community?
Our friends live in San José at a missions base. They have lived there for nine years and watched Maria’s children grow up. They’ve seen them in danger, make bad decisions . . . and make some good ones too. Now, they are training them. They teach the young women to sew and to do aesthetics so they can make money doing something good; something honourable. Something that will not cost them their souls.
My heart aches when I think of them. When I think of their beautiful faces. And it aches equally with sadness and with hope. With hope because someone stood up. Someone laid down aspirations for a profitable future and respectable career and took to the streets.
We live in a broken world. It can be overwhelming. We can anaesthetize ourselves from its reality by keeping busy and entertained, and by focussing on keeping our own demons at bay by clutching onto what we have with all our might. But we were not made for that. We were made to reach into the dark places and to offer hope. To offer love. Because were made in His image. And He is the healer.
I grab my computer so I can work on editing the story I’m working on. I walk out through the cloud of fragrance offered by the jungle and over to the covered veranda. I sit down and, before I start to write, I look out over the beauty that stuns me and overwhelms any thought that He might not be real or loving. His voice washes over me like the song of a thousands birds I have never seen.
I am not living Maria’s story, or the story of our new friends who work every day to bring hope to the slums of San José. But I am living mine. I follow Him, as He leads me, weaving the golden thread of my life through the lives of others and offering, always offering, the chance to affect change and to bring hope to those with whom I connect.
I think of the late Robin Williams, and his epic performance in the film Dead Poet’s Society. He whispers to the eager ears of the next generations of seekers, and quotes the poet, Walt Whitman:
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?