|Esperanza behind my daughter and granddaughter at our Commitment Ceremony in August|
We were sitting in my car, waiting for her bus on an extremely windy and cold evening. I didn’t know a whole lot about Esperanza. I knew she is from Peru, that she is not married and apparently (as far as I knew) had no children. I would guess her age to be in the late 40’s.
Esperanza came to our house every other week or so to take care of the plants and assist in light cleaning and organizing. She had also been a huge help when we had our commitment ceremony in late August and was now helping us with our move. She worked diligently and quietly and has always carried an air of humble dignity as well as a beautiful smile.
I knew that Esperanza is from Peru, that she was not married and apparently (as far as I knew) had no children. But that’s about it. So, as we sat there in the car waiting for the bus, it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to get to know her better.
I asked how long she has lived in the United States. Turns out she has been here for about 20 years, that she was married but is divorced.
I next asked if she had any children. I wasn’t prepared for her answer.
Esperanza proceeded to tell me a story. A little over 20 years ago, she was living in the northern Mexican city of San Luis Potosi. She and a friend were walking on the street one day when a woman, in obvious distress, approached them holding a baby.
“Will you please take my baby?” the woman cried.
Shocked, Esperanza asked why she would say such a thing. “He is sick and I cannot take care of him. Please take my baby!”
Esperanza replied that they could not take her baby. The woman plead all the harder. Finally, Esperanza told the woman that she would take her and her baby to a hospital and that she – Esperanza – would pay for treatment for the baby.
After the baby had been examined, the doctors said that he was very, very sick and it was unlikely that he would live more than three months. After some discussions, Esperanza said she would pay for the baby to be hospitalized for a month. When a doctor asked her if she was a relative, she replied that, no, she had just met the mother and baby.
I sat spellbound as Esperanza continued her story.
A month later, the baby was not much better. Esperanza described holding the child as he wrapped his hand around one of her fingers. “You must live!” she said quietly to the child. “You must live!”
Esperanza smiled at me. Her face had a glow, even in the darkened car. “That baby boy just turned 21.” There was pride evident in her face. Not pride at what she had done, but pride in her adopted son who is now finishing his education at a trade school.
She went on to say that she has supported the boy, David, for the past 20 years. She has visited him and he has visited her. Wanting to do more for his family and their neighbors, Esperanza was distressed that the villagers had to walk quite a ways for water. The solution? She and some other people organized raffles and bake sales to raise money to have a well drilled so that they could have a local source of water.
I sat there amazed. Amazed. Feeling blessed to have heard such a story. But David wasn’t the end of the story. Esperanza also told me about her nephew in Peru, studying to be a doctor. His mother, Esperanza’s sister, has Lupus. His father, an engineer, has difficulty finding work. So Esperanza, who works as a nanny and light housekeeper and domestic assistant, sends money to her nephew to help support him through school. “Only five more years,” Esperanza smiled.
“That’s amazing!” I said. Over and over again. I had been so moved by her story about David and his village, then by her story of her nephew. This woman, who has comparatively little, had done – and is doing - so much. I felt tremendously blessed to have sat with her in that car that blustery evening.
Suddenly, Esperanza’s bus became visible in the rear view mirror. She hurriedly said goodbye and walked quickly back to the bus stop. Looking in my mirror, however, the bus appeared not to be slowing down. I hopped out and waved my arms at the bus, pointing to Esperanza. The bus came to a stop in the street and she got on.
I got back in the car and waited for the bus to pass before pulling away from the curb. But the bus pulled up next to me and the driver motioned for me to roll down my window, which I did. Silly me, I thought maybe he was going to thank me. I was mistaken. “Hey,” he said, accusatorily, “your brake lights blinded me and that’s why I couldn’t see her.” I felt assaulted, especially after the beautiful story I had just heard. I simply shrugged deflatedly, rolled my window up and waited for the bus to pass.
That very day, I had read some passages from David Richo’s book, Catholic Means Universal, that had a direct bearing on what had transpired that evening:
“Ego and its capacity for limitation and mean-spiritedness reveal us to ourselves … Spiritual practice has as its goal not enlightenment but the state of being in which our first reaction to others is not from our ego mind but from the heart of Christ, the Buddha mind, our higher Self. Thus, the ego’s automatic reaction of conditional love can become unconditional love; ego biases can become expansive and generous wisdom; retaliation can vanish into reconciliation. Our first impulse is not to get back at but to get back with. Through practice that new set of responses becomes habitual. That habit is called sanctity.”
I take it as an indication of my own progress that I didn’t lash back in my mind at that bus driver for being so incredibly petty and ego-driven. I also thought about Esperanza and the day she was approached in San Luis Potosi by that distraught woman. Many, many would have turned away. But Esperanza’s first reaction was from the heart of Christ, the Buddha mind, the Higher Self – and that made all the difference. Therein lies sanctity.