Gracias

“Just to live is holy. Just to be is a blessing.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

We all have our days. Days when living and being feels hardly holy, bitter not blessed. Life piles up. Our work is drudgery. It happens, that, that, well you know: mucky, yucky or even awful stuff leaving disease, disaster, and a sense of dumb-founded disbelief in its wake.

It’s hard to feel the holiness some days.

There is a place – say, oh, about 90 miles south of Florida – where the entire past, ah, let’s say 55 years have been hard, bitter. At least to our eyes. You know it from the terrifying days of missile crisis in 1962, and a fiasco the year before when we were duped into invading that little island, through a village at the very tip of the “Waters of Pork,” as I call them. Our provocation provoked a globe-ending threat, serious such that President Kennedy took a walk on the South Lawn of the White House on (I think) day 3 of the Crisis and fully expected, as he confessed to a friend, “This is our last morning of earth. It will be gone tomorrow.” I remember being (naively!) grateful that we had a bomb shelter in our basement – with a few cans and bottles of food but mostly it was storage for wrapping paper and hidden gifts for upcoming birthdays. Funniest of all: it did not have a door because, “radiation doesn’t turn corners.” We’d have been toast.

Anyway, so this island. Close. But far. Forbidden to us, embargoed, off limits for all these years. It does live in a time warp. They have nothing but sell-off American cars from the 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s.

So one wonders what might happen should a small, happy band of Americans just happen to arrive (coincidentally, for sure!) in that little village at the very tip of the Waters of Pork, in the town of Playa Giron, where 1400 civilians were killed outright by our ill-advised invasion 54 years ago, to the day!

Ooops.
Would they need to lay low, pretend to be Canadian?

Or, would they be, perchance, welcomed with open arms? Cold glasses of refreshing, frothy pina? Pineapple blended with ice on a wicked hot, humid day! Heaven! And hugs! Warm greetings! Exclamations of delight at their presence. And sincere words of gracious, forgiving understanding. The ‘sins of the fathers’ were not visited upon their children. “You didn’t do it!”

After a delightful afternoon with hosts and the typical traipsing through of half the neighborhood, a brother returning a wrench, the guy with the horse-cart who knocked on the side-door to ask about more hay, several nieces and small children – all come to get a look at the Americans – the Yanqui’s ventured deeper into Giron, to the museum of the invasion. Ready for terse, or worse, they were again surprised by a gracious response, patient answers to questions, and sympathy for a certain traveler with Parkinson’s who happened to need to sit a lot. And talk. Lots of talk. Surprising. Forgiving talk. Friendship talk.

Then, with cane in hand, the Americano wandered through the lovely lobby of the newish hotel (for islanders, more than for foreigners, which is very nice), and discovered a gorgeous swimming pool, a beautiful beach of royal palms and smooth sand, cabanas, and was made more than welcome among the locals.

Two old men invited her to sit and talk as they threw down a fierce game of dominoes. Young mothers mugged for the camera. A five-year-old begged to have her photo taken with her cousin. The young men playing volleyball flirted and the boys playing soccer made sure to give the woman a few kicks on the ball. A gay couple sat under a palm tree. Other groups of friends played in the Bay (of Pigs), and the woman left her camera, safely, and went in for a swim.

On the very date, when 54 years ago this place was a bloody battleground. The water on this April 17 was warm, as pristine clear as sea water ever gets, and she felt it wash over her, and it was holy and it was blessed. And so were the living souls on that beach in 2015. Living fully, being blessed and blessing others, especially their guest, with their vitality and joie de vivre. Who knew?

So. Was the prophet prophetic? It sure seemed so. A real ‘swords into ploughshares,’ and ‘spears into pruning hooks’ experience. That goes on every day. It was grace. The raining down of grace!
There was only one word, so she said, who was there.

“Gracias.”

“Gracias a la vida, Senor. Pues si vivimos, para el vivimos… somos del Senor. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life. When we are living, it is in Christ Jesus. We belong to God. Thank you for making our lives holy and blessing us to be a blessing to others. We pray for always-giving and forgiving spirits, so the warm waters of peace and joy may wash over us and all of your people in every place. Forgive us our sins and raise us up anew to be holy and loving always! Amen”

Jan Erickson Pearson

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