Letter from Honduras: Mission continues
My annual visit to St. Louis threatened to fall to pieces under the hammer-blow of young Stephen Willey's sudden death the day before I arrived in a head-on collision on a country road just a mile from his family's home in Greenville, Ill. The restoration began even before the funeral when his mom and dad, Mary Ann and Dave, sought out the truck driver, a neighbor with a young family of his own, to calm his feelings of shock and guilt and assure him that they bore him no ill will, they did not blame him: it was an accident, nobody's fault. Can you imagine that embrace!
Honduras was never far from my mind, especially when I thought (and often dreamed) of my own teenager, Chemo (pronounced "Shay-mo"), living in the newly designated "murder capital" of the world . I called often, but one day Dora, who was taking care of Chemo while I was away, called me: "Good news! Chemo passed his Social Sciences test," 26 out of 30 points. Music to my ears, since the school year ends in about three weeks. When I got back, Chemo showed me five other tests that he passed, including math! And Chemo's aunt Alba, so "very pregnant" in my last newsletter, had her due-date revised to late October. I really did want to be back in Las Vegas for the birth.
About the Author
Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.
There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor.
For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.
And I talked about Honduras. John Shannon, a former colleague from Parkway North now teaching at Vianney High School, arranged with their wonderful Spanish teacher Barb Fullenkamp to have me "teach" her classes for the day. She had prepared them well, and they had excellent questions, and the students listened so kindly with open minds and open hearts.
At Parkway South High School they even had tickets printed up for my talk! And the Diversity Club presented me with two enormous banners: HONDURAS IS BEAUTIFUL and WE LOVE YOU, MIGUEL. Well, that last one is a little embarrassing, but I hung them both up on the balcony of my house in Las Vegas, and I sent the photo back to South. After my talk, one of the teachers had said that a couple of her "tough" kids came back to class with tears in their eyes. I don't know that I can take any credit for that. The pictures do most of the talking. And the photo with the most impact seemed to be the 'pieta' of Petrona in the lap of her cousin Mariana.
It is the theme of our life together. In the last stages of diabetes, Petrona was in such pain that she could only sleep cradled in someone's arms. I told the students that's what they were doing with Honduras, because they have a heart for the poor. I titled my latest photobook DETALLES, with Petrona and Mariana on the cover. I defined the word on the first page: "Detalles are simple gifts, lovely gestures, kind words, special remembrances, sweet thoughts, signs of loving-kindness. In Honduras, these 'details' abound among the poor."
Another teacher at South High put it this way:
"I believe wholeheartedly that this is what we are called to do -- walk together, listen and share, shelter one another in the storms of life, offer one another hope -- build a relationship. What does it take to face adversity and still be able to smile? What does it cost to have so little and to still be able to offer a hand? The violence and the suffering are sad, but it is not sad to think that life goes on, love lives in Honduras, and that we all have the capacity to be mindful and caring in the ways we reach out to and impact one another. And we all leave a mark -- even when we think we have tread gently or were unnoticed."
The Cardinals' run in the playoffs gave me another perfect entry for my talks, since the red souvenir shirts the kids were wearing are made in Honduras, including the Rally Squirrel! A shirt sold at the stadium for $30 covers a week's wage for the Honduran who made it, and they make thousands of shirts a week. The exorbitant profit goes to ... Albert Pujols, I guess. "Cheap labor." But human beings are not cheap. If you let the poor clothe you, let them inspire your spirit as well. Poverty, though it deprives us of so many material possessions, does not diminish us as persons when it reveals our common humanity.
The "out-reach" in St. Louis was very generous. For sheer firepower, the biggest leg up for Las Vegas may come from Eric Greiten's "The Mission Continues" (missioncontinues.org) A Parkway North grad, Eric's everywhere now, especially since publishing his New York Times best-selling autobiography, "The Heart and the Fist" (theheartandthefist.com), which narrates how Eric transformed his competitive, even combative, spirit as a Navy SEAL into a nonviolent conquest of world poverty and injustice. He has gathered around him a group of veterans, many of whom found themselves drifting and even drowning after their service, to continue the "mission," this time without guns and weapons, an overflowing heart their only ammo.
Eric hooked me up with Mike Pereira, some of whose experiences in Iraq no one would want to repeat. Now Mike wants to "invade" Las Vegas! Plans are for him to come around Christmas time. And get this, he wants to bring another buddy from the war, who was a little busy at the moment. "He's at another meeting...at the White House ... in the West Wing ... with Obama." OK! So I picture us down by the river in December and we get on the satellite phone or something: "Mr. President, they need a new bridge down here in Las Vegas." How's that for "stimulus"?
Steve Jobs grabbed me from the grave, like the ending of "Carrie," when I could no longer make photobooks on my "old" (2007!) MacBook and I had to buy a new one in St. Louis. I practically threw a fit for what the "upgrade" cost me. But death got even closer when I tried to give the used computer to Neysi, Elvis and Dora's daughter now studying at the national university in Tegucigalpa. I thought I would surprise her. "Ah, Miguel, we have a ... problem here. I don't know how to tell you." But I was already in the taxi. The "problem" was her 65-year-old neighbor Digna Esperanza shot dead, her bloody body lying in the gutter right in front of the house, a swarm of police standing around. Neysi hurried me inside, and closed the door. The danger only starts with the shooting; anyone who talks to the police is the next target. Lily quickly helped with the computer, finding a happy picture of their family to put on the screen-saver.
But life will have its say. Alba just had her baby! She DID wait for my return. ... A little girl they are calling Natalia for her grandmother.
To reach Voices authors, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.