As noted earlier, today is a “bank holiday” except all of the banks in town are open for business???
Some of Dennis’ (Martinez – our “coordinator”) grandchildren rode through the Jungle Huts yard this morning… the youngest of the three, Dandree – age 6 (who earlier in his academic career was expelled from nursery school) stopped to chat. I had heard that his mother was pregnant again, so I brought up the topic and asked if he was excited about having a new baby brother or sister – which was met with uncomprehending silence…
“Dandree, ya mudda, she dun hav da baby soon, no?”
“No dd….it wah be only da gas…..”.
+ + + + + + + + + +
With the seventh of the grad students’ arrival this afternoon, we had our first group “go round” after supper tonight. It’s the first of many opportunities for them to process being dropped like an Alka-Seltzer into a new culture and experience. At the end of the session, I did my usual, “so do you have any questions?” And the inevitable question popped out: “How come everyone here calls you, dd?” Instead of my usual mumbling it aside, I decided to answer:
Well, years ago, when I was in Dallas as principal of the Jesuit school, my very good friend and Community Director colleague, Louise, had a mother who came often to Texas to visit: Dorothy Berentsen. Dorothy was an incredible novella- heroine –type woman: poet, writer, originally from Toronto, mother of five that she raised in Mexico, whose umpteen grandchildren all called her “Dee Dee”. During what was perhaps her third visit after our initial acquaintance, I took her and Louise to high tea at the Mansion (hotel) in Dallas. Later that night, at Louise’s home, Dorothy had a heart attack. While I still do not fathom how it happened, the CPR lessons I had learned years before all came back, and we were able to sustain her until the paramedics arrived. Understandably, a special friendship between us arose and continued (for years, indeed more than a decade after the doctors predicted she would survive, without medical procedures she preferred not to endure).
Especially after my own move to California, I was able to visit with her at least once or twice each year in Los Angeles. We talked about everything – her loves, her loses, her blessings, her heartaches… and as she knew her frail body could not keep up with her spirit, we talked about death and a funeral, which I assured her I would conduct. A little more than five years ago, our last few correspondences were about an impending trip I might take – to a place called Belize. I was of two minds about going. But she encouraged me to go – as she encouraged me to always be open to what was new, even if it was unknown.
Shortly after Christmas of 2005, a few days before I was scheduled to leave for Belize, I got the call from Louise.
Dorothy had died earlier that day. As my mind overloaded with the promised funeral, the trip, so many fond memories of Dorothy, I heard Louise’s voice: “Geoffrey, one of the last things we talked about was you going to Belize, and her last wish was that you not cancel your trip, so don’t give a second thought to the funeral- there is a priest she has met recently at the home and we have already talked with him about doing the service… So go…That’s what you can do for her….Go.”
Five years ago, this past week, I went to Belize for the first (of now twenty-one) times. During that first visit, the USF students asked me, during the first “go around” session: “What should we call you? Dr. Dillon? Fr. Dillon? Jeff?”
I think I would like you to call me “dd”; just “dd”.
The children of the school were quick to repeat what they heard the “white people” call me.
The main street of Dangriga has an array of small shops, with second floor family quarters above. Three evenings later, I found myself walking alone from school down that main street, with the last lights of dusk fading over the Mayan hills. As it was also the day of her funeral, so many vivid recollections of Dorothy traveled with me down that street.
Gently awakened from my revelry, I realized the little voices floating down from the balconies above: “good night, dd … good night, dd”.
And so in this place, I am never alone.
Every Friday of Holy Week, the students in Belize at Sacred Heart pray the Stations of the Cross.
When I was there a week ago Friday, I sat in on the service. In typical Belizean time fashion, the Stations for the lower school had been rescheduled several times that day. -Beginning of the school day, after recess, and finally after lunch.
Any occasion that allows the students to dress-up in a costume is quite an event. I noticed there was an exceptionally large group of girls at Station 8. Mary and the women of Jerusalem were veiled in old rice sacks with faded Chinese characters. Below were shiny white satine dresses – their first communion dresses. For you see, a little girl’s first communion dress is one of the few things she gets to keep, as opposed to all her other clothing which will be inherited by younger sisters and cousins. So she wants to get as much mileage out of it as possible, even on an occasion as austere as the way of the Cross. I have no doubt that, were it not for the predictable growth in size, girls would probably appear in their first communion dresses on their wedding day.
For the occasion, little Jesus got to wear a white sheet wrapped around him, a small crown of thorns, and a small stick across his shoulders, meant to represent the cross-beam for his inevitable crucifixion. I am not sure why, but throughout the stations, little Jesus, James, never stopped smiling… I guess it was the anticipated 15 minutes of fame.
But my story this afternoon is not so much about James or the gaggle of Jerusalem, as it is about another kindergartner (what they call Infant II) RAMON
The other central figure is Mrs. Eunice Nunez. She is the vice principal for the lower division and one of many wonderful, dedicated people at the school. She is combination educator, mother, nurse, and judge for the little ones at Sacred Heart.
At the end of the school day, I love to end up in her office, to witness her inimitable interactions as referee/judge about the school day’s events with the children.
Standing at attention in front of Mrs. Nunez were James (that is the former Jesus) and Ramon.
Mrs. Nunez walked out to the porch where I was standing to give me a synopsis of the case.
It appeared James had spent the better part of lunch time chasing (and beating) Ramon with the stick that would later be used for the Stations’ cross.
“o.k. dd, come…” and we went back into her office.
With great gravitas, Mrs. Nunez asked James what happened. James started to explain why he was chasing Ramon with a stick.
Suddenly, Ramon started to cry…. Quite surprised, Mrs. Nunez asked Ramon: “Boy, why are you crying?”
Ramon chocked out the words: “Please Miss, Please….”
Mrs. Nunez said: “Ramon, stop crying…” and tore off a piece of toilet paper (only the very well-to-do actually have a box of Kleenex). “Here, blow your nose…Tell Ms. Nunez & dd what wrong… are you dun hurt?”
“No Miss..”said Ramon.. “Please, please” he pleaded.
Mrs Nunez: “Please, what, Ramon?”
“Please Miss..” and with that he ran over to James and put his arm around James’ shoulder.
“Please Miss… don’t give James da whippin.” (Now Mrs. Nunez would never give a child a whipping, no matter what they did).
Ramon continued: “ Please Miss..don’t hurt James … He hurt enough…“He Jesus… Don’t hurt Jesus…”
Ramon remembered what he experienced during the Stations of the Cross
“He hurt enough…don’t hurt Jesus”
Even though Ramon had been hurt, Even though he had been beaten with a stick, he wanted to protect James….
Because this five year old was able to look beyond what happened to him… to look beyond James, and see the face of Jesus…
Before I left on Monday, I went back to the office to say goodbye. Ramon was there, babbling away to Mrs. Nunez, while she was counting shillings from the morning’s recess sales. I told Ramon I wanted to take a picture of him and Mrs. Nunez.
Without explaining, he immediately ran outside… we waited.
Mrs. Nunez: “Now what, dd?”
“Only God knows, miss”
Ramon reappeared, holding James by the hand. He wanted to make sure that James was in the picture with him.
I am text block. Click edit button to change this text.