My friend died, two days ago.
What follows is a story of love, non-intentional arrogance, and humility. Fueled by not knowing where to put the grief.
I may have written a version of this story before, a few years ago. If I didn’t, I thought about it.
Either way, here it is again because as I sit here alone, 5 hours away from where I really want to be, the village where those who love my friend are gathering and hurting together, I need to write this.
I need to visit her, to hear her laugh and hear her say with her smily eyes and her slightly raspy voice: “Aie, La-o-ra!” She said this to me so many times over the eight years of our friendship, always with love and a sprinkling of the mutual delight we found in the places where our different cultures surprised us over and over again.
I need to write this to go visit her mom, too. Her best friend. Her mom whose heart is shattered. I need to go visit her and see her in the sunlight of this story.
I need to write this.
Corazon and her mom Esperanza prepared meals for us, through countless Retreats in Mexico.
Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cooking classes.
Esperanza did most of the cooking while Corazon helped, cleaned and took care of the groceries, receipts and menu planning.
It was a seamless operation and they fed us much more than food. They fed us love, joy and the privilege of watching two generations - sometimes three when the babies came along - working together in a way that is not always seen in the United States.
On the second day of our first Retreat together, I noticed that while the food was delicious, I could give them a little help when it came to planning the day’s work.
This is how they went about it:
Around 7 in the morning, both women would walk up the steep hill to the house, then climb the many stairs to the kitchen, carrying grocery bags overflowing with the ingredients for breakfast.
Corazon would often stop a few steps away from the open-aired kitchen to catch her breath, while Esperanza, always dressed elegantly, would keep on going until she dropped the bags on the counter.
For the next hour or so, they would chitchat and laugh as they hand-made tortillas, squeezed fresh juice, and cooked whatever yumminess was planned for the morning.
By the time we all showed up, everything was displayed beautifully on the counter, ready for us to devour first with our eyes, then with our mouths.
While we ate, they cleaned up and as we began our classes, they did the last of the dishes, swept the kitchen, leaving it impeccable. Then they waved us goodbye and sometimes puppy in tow, walked down the steps, down the hill, back to town where they would soon go buy the groceries for lunch and repeat the process all over again.
Buy the food, Carry the food, prepare it, serve it, clean up and leave.
As I said, I knew how to make this whole thing way easier, and boy were they going to be relieved when I presented them with “a better way to do this.”
My Spanish was not so strong back then but I felt that I could get the message across. Right there in the kitchen, as they got ready to leave for their midday shopping trip, I presented my improved plan. It all fit tidily within just one line. A one-line, fix it all simple plan.
Twice a week we would get them a cab so that they could shop for several days at a time.
That was it. Simple, elegant, efficient.
They waited for more.
So I said: this way, you don’t need to go up and down the hill several times a day.
Still no reaction. It was as though they were waiting for the punch line.
I added: so it will be easier, you know? Not so many trips. More convenient.
Corazon was the first one to show that she might have understood, as her mom looked to her for some missing translation.
I noticed she was uneasy. I wondered if I had said a bad word.
All she finally answered was: “O, no. Esta bien.” Oh, no, it’s ok.
It’s ok? I am offering to cut their walking time in half and completely remove the heavy lifting and it’s ok??
I looked at Esperanza as Corazon was explaining this to her. She smiled her beautiful smile and then the two of them looked at each other and they started to laugh, not completely comfortable.
It was Esperanza’s turn to tell me that it was ok, not to worry about it.
I was puzzled. Did they not understand? Did they think I wouldn’t pay for the cab? Did they not see the brilliance of my plan? Did they actually LIKE walking up and down in the sun, carrying bags of food? Did they know how much time this could save them?
My intuition told me to leave it alone, so I just said something about the invitation being open if they changed their minds. They made their way out of the house a little more quietly than usual, and class started.
Class that day was about Essence. Being aware of what Essence we wanted to bring into our lives, not just our Core Essences but also the Essences we might want to bring to a meeting, a conversation, a vacation.
As I finished explaining the concept of Essence, I heard laughter and rapid-fire talking approaching. Chiquita the Chihuahua was leading the way by the swimming pool and the two women were once again walking up the stairs, bags full of vegetables, fruits, and fish, laughing. Their energy was contagious and it instantly infused us with Levity and again, Love.
They cooked while we finished the morning class, and then having cleaned up the kitchen and left us snacks for the afternoon, they waved us goodbye and started to leave once more.
AND THAT’S WHEN I GOT IT.
Hearing them laughing together, kidding each other, deeply relishing each other as they walked away, I got it.
ESSENCES OF JOY. COMPANIONSHIP. OF LOVE.
One step at a time, one slow, enjoyable moment at a time. Mom and daughter sharing life together.
I had proposed to replace these Essences with the Essence of EFFICIENCY and they had gently declined. When I had pointed out that they could save time, they probably thought I was nuts. Save time… to do what? What could be more delicious than what they were doing with their time?
Knowing what I know now, what Esperanza knows now, these times were deeply sacred, holly, not to be touched - ever.
For the next many years, no matter where we had classes, they showed up the same way, laughed the same way, and left the same way. As many times as it took.
And rather than try to change that, I tried to help myself to that Essence. Especially after my mom died, especially when my heart was broken returning from Greece where I had seen families torn apart.
There is much more I could say about what I learned from my friendship, whether when I was in Mexico or when we shared bits of our lives from different countries. What I continue to learn as I communicate with Esperanza these past few days, too.
But while full from having visited this time, I hurt right now. So I must take a break and let grief catch up, or maybe me catch up to it, heck I don’t know.
Here’s to daring to bump into other cultures as humbly as possible, ready to learn, not to teach.
Here’s to love.
Here’s to Corazon and Esperanza. And to the babies.
SCARED OF THE SACRED