I believe that you should never judge a person by his or her circumstances. The richest men and women are often the most misfortunate.
Over my spring break, I traveled to Costa Rica with a group of five other friends to volunteer my time. We were young, naïve, well dressed and spoiled; we were a ragtag group of missionaries comprised of two non-practicing Jews, an atheist, an agnostic, and two Christians who didn’t really believe Jesus was the only way to salvation. For 75 dollars, Outreach Ministries provided us with food, shelter, some religious awkwardness, and an experience of a lifetime.
We visited Luz and her family on our second day in the country. Old and frail, Luz spoke to us in heavy Costa Rican Spanish, telling us all how beautiful we were and how happy she was for us to come visit her.
The home—the hut—was miniscule. Four people would make a crowd. We totaled eleven. As one of the Jews, I preferred to hide my wooden cross under my shirt and call myself “un voluntario.” Besides, we didn’t come to convert Luz or her family. They already had faith in their God; an unshakable, unmovable faith that I soon learned only those in the most abject poverty can sustain.
Luz’s daughter, an upbeat, talkative forty-something, gratefully accepted our gift of rice and beans. We gringos (who had taken some Spanish in school) used what little we knew to communicate and translate for the rest. “Mi madre tiene la depresión”—“My mother has depression,” her daughter told us. With that, Luz began to cry. The owners of the ministry told us Luz loved songs, and invited us to sing a child’s song to make her feel better. After a hearty rendition of “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” Luz began to laugh. Through her senility, we could see that she truly appreciated our concern. Love transcends all boundaries.
Luz’s son was in the corner, lighting up the fire pit for dinner. The smoke emitted from the burning branches bothered my eyes, and Luz grabbed me by the arm to show me how it bothered hers, too. “Lo siento,” I told her—”I’m sorry.” Just as I was beginning to formulate another sentence in my broken Spanish, her son tapped me on the shoulder. His hair was long and oily and he held a permanent airy expression. I learned afterwards that he was mentally ill. He walked me to a hole at the end of the hut (about five steps away from the entrance) that served as a window, and showed me a dog that had just given birth to puppies. Then he grabbed the dog’s collar from the ground and spoke to me in jumbled words I couldn’t understand. He made unrecognizable motions with his wrist, and I wondered if he wanted me to tie the collar onto his wrist for him. He rejected the idea and handed the collar back to me. Finally, I realized it was for me. A gift from a man who had nothing to a teen who had more than enough. I couldn’t accept but he wouldn’t allow me to refuse. I put the gift on a small table on our way out, hoping the daughter would understand.
When we left the hut, I cried. Never before had I seen such poverty, nor such gratitude. I’ve seen my fair share of people bemoan their misfortunes here at home, but nothing compares to the misfortunate I saw in Costa Rica, all of whom treated their poverty as if it didn’t exist. The feeling of awe and admiration lay deep within me, and I had to choke back the rest of my tears before my friends could see. This was our world, in all its misery and splendor.
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