A Good Hour


Nicaragua Diary, Day 119

This morning I got up before I usually do, before the rest of my family did, and drove to the vela for my friend Jose Manuel’s grandmother.  I didn’t know her.  She died on Thursday and his family held her vela Thursday night, then celebrated Jose Manuel’s son’s graduation from colegio (high school), then returned to observe another night’s vela before proceeding for the funeral this morning at 8AM.

That means they had not one but two all-night memorial services for her, with a graduation celebration in between.

I’m a gringo.  Not that many people mistake me for Nica, and if anyone does, they get that misconception corrected the instant I open my mouth.  Even though it’s an all-night service, just before 6AM is not the time to arrive for a vela.*  But, I believe, I was given the gringo pass, i.e. I was doing something slightly culturally inappropriate, but I’m a gringo, so my Nicaraguan friends don’t say ,”Dude!  INappropriate!”

Instead, Jose Manuel greeted me enthusiastically.  I was offered me a cup of coffee and a seat.  I’m sure they’d sat up all night but no one else was sitting now, but Jose Manuel sat with me.  About half a dozen people were puttering around, stacking up the chairs they’d rented and piling them on a truck, damping down the dust with a hose, and generally looking busy.  I asked Jose Manuel if he’d slept.  Yes, he told me, he’d returned from the graduation about 9:40PM and slept from four to five AM  Maybe it was 3:30 to 5:30.  It wasn’t long.  This was his second full night up.

But here’s the thing:  he was glad to see me.  Not, “Okay, I can handle one more visitor,” much less, “You’re kidding me, but it’s a gringo so I have to put up with this.”

No, this mattered.  We don’t understand Nicaraguan culture in a lot of ways, but we grasp this:  showing up matters.  We’ve had enough conversations to know that our friends remember who came to a vela.  When being present is all you can give, it counts.

His grandmother raised Jose Manuel; in truth, she was his mother.  She died at 87 years old.   He is grieving.  I came and shared his grief for an hour.  We talked.  I told him about Isaac’s death, about our Miracle Girl, Annalise, and about losing my father.  He told me how having this woman raise him had shaped his life.

He shared a little about her life and some things about his growing up and their family.  We talked about death.  We talked about life.  We talked about what hope in God means, how God is faithful and you can see lives change, yet sometimes babies die and how do you explain that?  We talked about how often grief and joy come together, inseparable, side by side.  I told him how Aria’s birthday is the day after Isaac’s birthday, which means every year we remember our son who is gone and then turn around and celebrate our daughter who is here with us.

I’m not a morning person and last night, like so many nights, I slept poorly.  I promised myself I would get up and go to the vela and then spent hours awake during the night.  Nonetheless, I was awake again at 5:15 and decided it was worth it, anyway.

It was.  It was one of the better hours I’ve spent in a long time.  I don’t think I made a huge difference.  I don’t think I said anything profoundly comforting or insightful, even if you translated it into English.

But I was there.



*Kim went at 5 AM the morning before, after the first night’s vela, and I think got a similar pass.

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