Serendipity and Loss

Sheri left Salt Lake City late Tuesday night on a flight to Los Angeles, and after a two hour layover she took a redeye flight that arrived in Guatemala City at 4:30 AM Wednesday. I was at the airport waiting for her with the taxi cab driver who had picked me up in Antigua at 3:50 AM. Sheri was a bit travel weary, but also very happy to be on vacation with me. And of course I was very happy to be with my Sweetie again after being apart for a month, by far the longest stretch we have been apart since we first met nearly 13 years ago.

We quickly settled into our home stay with a Spanish speaking family. Ruth lives in the home with her son who just finished high school, but two older daughters frequently stop by for a meal and to speak Spanish with the Spanish language students staying here. This is a beautiful and very large home with an interior courtyard (characteristic of the homes in Central and South America), where the family lives on the first level and the Spanish language students live on the second level. Ruth has had as many as 15 guests staying here at one time, however 5-10 is the norm. Ruth has been hosting students for nearly 20 years, and she is very good at what she does – this is her primary source of income. To begin with, Ruth is warm and gracious and funny. Secondly, she is an excellent cook who prepares for us 3 delicious and healthy meals every day (except Sundays when we are on our own). Another bonus is that Ruth is an excellent Spanish teacher, who not only requires that we speak Spanish in the house, but patiently corrects our mistakes while helping us to speak Spanish better. Finally, Ruth is a dog lover, and we have enjoyed getting to know her two boxers Rocky and Ruffy. Sheri and have our own room with a private bathroom here at Casa González, and we feel very fortunate to be staying here. Latinos often welcome family, friends, and guests into their home by saying, “Nuestro casa es su casa” (Our house is your house), and that is certainly the spirit in this place because Sheri and I feel very much at home here.

We’ve enjoyed several serendipitous moments since being here, and those moments always make me feel like I am just where I need to be. However, being where I need to be does not necessarily mean that everything is going my way, as I will explain a little later in this blog. Here are some of the fun chance encounters, coincidences, and moments of serendipity that have come our way: First, I kept running into the same fellow student from Xela during my first few days here, I bumped into Stella 4 times over 2 days and each time in a different part of the city. And the other day Sheri and I were wandering through the grocery store looking for granola when we bumped into another fellow student from Xela. Second, I went to a concert here before Sheri arrived and sat next to a couple who just happened to be studying Spanish at the same school where I had planned to start the next day (and there are dozens of Spanish schools in this city). But what’s more, Elena and Mark live in Canada not far from my home town of Toledo … and Elena’s birthday is in November (as is Sheri’s) and Mark’s birthday is in December (as is mine). Speaking of birthdays, a Third coincidence is that I share a birthday (December 20th) with the cleaning lady at our home Casa Gonzalez. (Oh, and Oscar my Spanish teacher in Xela was born the same day that Sheri and I were married, January 8th). Fourth, and back to the subject of my home town Toledo, the name Toledo has been popping up around here regularly … there is a meat distributor here in Antigua named Toledo … one day we met a man from Michigan with his young son, and we learned that the Toledo Zoo is one of their most favorite places to visit in the whole world. Fifth, a few seconds after saying goodbye to the man and boy from Michigan, we looked across the street and saw a residence named Casa Toledo … residences are often given a name here, and often the name is painted on a large square piece of tile that is affixed to the outside wall. Sixth, speaking of tile work, my first day at school I was explaining to my teacher that I dropped my given middle name Anthony when I got married, and that the name Anthony came both from my Grandfather and from the Catholic Saint Anthony of Padua … well, no sooner had I said the name Anthony of Padua when I looked up and saw a multiple-tile piece of artwork on the wall of the ancient convent that is now a Spanish school, the artwork was a painting of – you guessed it – Saint Anthony of Padua. Booga booga. These are all of the coincidences, chance encounters, and serendipitous moments that I can remember right now, but it seems that we have been saying, “Oh my gosh!” and “Can you believe it?” ever since we arrived here.

But sometimes I think that God has to bring us back to earth so that we don’t get too full of ourselves. We get to experience the excitement of serendipity and the feeling that everything is going our way … but we also get to slog along on occasion, to feel that we are swimming upstream, and to think that nothing seems to be going our way. The reality is that all of life is blessed, and we would all do well to accept whatever comes our way knowing that nothing in this world happens that God does not either cause or allow. Even so, we don’t have to wallow in pity feeling that the world is against us and that there is nothing that we can do to change our circumstances … rather, it is far better to do whatever we can to redeem the tough circumstances, to turn lemons into lemonade, to make the most of every circumstance we encounter. So I said all that to say this: Just when it looked like everything was going our way on this trip, that everything would go our way for the entire month we are here, that we had found the eternal spring … we had a tough day yesterday. It actually started out pretty well, we went on a fabulous tour of the city, the tour guide was knowledgeable and funny, and the tour was well worth the money we spent to participate. But then we went to the local sports bar to root for our beloved Utah Utes in their big game against TCU, a game that had national title implications. We got a prime seat right in front of a big screen TV, and proceeded to watch the Utes get slaughtered at home by TCU 47-7. What a bummer. But worse than that, one time when I could not bear to watch the game any longer and was looking for things to do, I went to the bathroom … and promptly dropped our digital camera in the toilet. Big time bummer. The camera is dead, and it does not appear to be coming back to life again. Not a huge loss, I purchased it used for only $80 specifically for this trip, we left our better camera in Salt Lake City. Nonetheless, I had big plans for the camera we brought with us, such as high resolution pictures of the nearby volcanoes (one volcano is active), pictures of this historic city, pictures of the people and markets bustling with activity, pictures of my lovely wife and I having big fun here, pictures posted to the web and shared with family and friends all over the world, etc., etc., etc. But now that there will be no more digital pictures of our trip here, you’ll just have to believe everything we tell you about this place and about what we are doing here. And true to my philosophy on life, I believe that dropping that camera in the toilet is the best thing that could have happened to me at that moment.

One last thing for this week … today we celebrated my lovely wife’s 50th birthday. We’ve had lots of fun today, we started the day at a fabulous breakfast buffet, went to church, had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, and after I finish blogging we are on a way to a have thali at an Indian restaurant, and afterward we are going to play Spanish bingo. So if you get this message, be sure to wish my Sweetie a happy birthday!