In the lush mountains of Nicaragua, the village of Bocana de Paiwas sits quietly beautiful, red dirt paths pumping toward a plain white church at the heart of it. Maria came to my waist, but made up for her height in girth.  She hosted me in her two-room hut by stretching a hammock across the public room where I slept, swinging above skittering chickens and listening to the crackle of fire when she began her tortillas at four in the morning.  As a delegate with Witness for Peace, I recorded accounts of the violence pummeling Maria and her friends; the random attacks of counter-revolutionaries funded by my government.  Her face shone, that was what I noticed.  As she squatted by the fire, as she patted her doughy hands, as she walked through the green jungled mountainside, a basket of tortillas balancing on her head; her face, and the faces of those I met in her village, shone with an aliveness I could not place.

Fillipe had been shot while on watch, guarding the village through the night.  He was not the first to be killed, but the most recent.  The entire village bore this grief.  On a chosen night, after nine days of mourning, they climbed as one body up the dangerous path to the post where he had died and set up camp.  They unpacked coffee and bread and settled into the night singing, praying, and telling stories.  I hunkered among them, feeling into the cadence of their words that I did not understand; the eruptions of laughter and weeping that I did.  Around the fire, wrapped in blankets, they kept vigil; they kept watch; they kept memory and hope burning into the black sky.  Their faces alive with that shining.

At the first morning light, they descended the mountain, crossed the river in canoes, planted a cross by Fillipe’s grave with gestures of finality, and went on with the work of their day.  More alive, it seemed to me, for having been fearlessly present to this death among them.

Maria’s face returns to me each Good Friday, though it has been 25 years since I was her guest.  Still, I remember what she taught me about being a witness to death. I returned to a world that keeps death anesthetized, behind closed hospital doors, darkness shut out; and faces, numb.   Her village taught me about what happens when you take sorrow into your arms, when you enter darkness unafraid, when you welcome another’s sadness into your own soul and hold it there.  When death and life sharpen one another. And what happens is aliveness.  A kind of shining.  You might even say, by the grace of this imense mystery, what happens is an eastering in your heart.


~ by Susan on 04/03/2010.

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