Richard is a physician in Los Angeles.
As Lauri and Abie and I wandered down the narrow streets of our town, we seemed almost desperate to find a place to eat. It was getting later and later and everything seemed closed. Were we that hungry? We had eaten dinner only a few hours earlier, so I think not. But we were so very determined. Looking back, I am certain it was not about food, but rather our little quest to capture a few more moments of quiet thoughts together. There it was, at the very end of a dark and winding road...we found it - The Sunset Café. We were seated just outside the restaurant on a little balcony overlooking the lake. We could see the volcanic mountains in the distance, and noticed the twinkling lights from the little village we had just visited earlier in the day. The night sky was filled with stars and a beautiful moon that looked down on our little piece of heaven. We drank and ate and talked. Talked of our wonderful week's journey, the gracious people of Guatemala, their strength, their never-ending faith, and of course their smiles. We also talked of our incredible Xavier team, amazing people, so caring, so respectful, and even wise. Our very special new friends, our family. It was getting late, time to return to our hotel. I closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
I awoke the next morning with the excitement of our final day in clinic. It was a perfect day, filled with laughs, and of course, some tears. These were our last moments to touch and be touched by the wonderful people of our village - a little bittersweet to be sure. In the blink of an eye, our week's special journey was coming to an end.
Back at the hotel, I cleaned up, put on some shorts and flip flops, and got ready to shop in the town. I walked out of the hotel, and for some reason turned right instead of left, and in a few moments found myself at the lake. It was truly beautiful. I sat and watched a few families with their children, playing and smiling. It was such a peaceful moment for me, a happy moment, but then, it all changed. A young girl, maybe 8 or 9 years of age, stood in front of me and asked if I wanted to buy a bracelet that she was selling. Her little voice was really only a whisper. In a polite way I tried to explain that I didn't really want to buy the bracelet. She then sat down next to me and asked once again. But then, before I could even answer, she placed her arm with the bracelet on my lap. She did not ask again. She just looked in my eyes and waited. I noticed how very tired she looked, such sad eyes, none that I had seen in awhile, maybe never. There were no smiles in this little girl. I am not certain what happened next. I found myself a few feet away, confused, not sure what I could do for this little girl. Buy her bracelet? Give her whatever money I had? Maybe try to find her parents? Did she even have a mommy and daddy? My heart sank further. I gazed across the lake. The noises around me were silent; time seemed to stand still. Looking up at the sky I noticed a bird, alone, gliding in the wind, high above the earth, back and forth, circling back as if to tell me something, but then disappearing in the distance. I wondered what the bird could see that I was missing, and then, at that moment, I realized the little girl was gone as well. I tried to find her, but didn't really know what I would do if I did - she was gone.
That night, the final night, our medical team went back to the Sunset Café. The evening was a little cool. I went out to the balcony to look out over the lake again. Then, it suddenly hit me. This beautiful little spot was only a few feet above the wall that I sat on by the lake with the little girl. I felt paralyzed. The lights were still twinkling across the lake. The stars were still shining and the moon was still beautiful, but now I wondered, was this really a piece of heaven? Did my little friend ever notice the lake, the stars, the moon? How does a little child notice those things when hungry or cold or lonely? I do not know. I do not know.
Home. I feel blessed to have made such a journey. I feel blessed for my family, my wonderful new friends, for the beauty of nature, and God. I know I will return to Guatemala. I think of the little girl every day. I wish I knew her name. I am certain it must be a pretty name. I think about what I will do when I see her again. How I might somehow help her. Still, I am not sure. I pray that I might be able to make her smile, to somehow make her feel a little better. Maybe just a little hug. I know that would help me.