November 13, 2013 Casa de Abuelitos (Sharing the Dream’s Elder Center) Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala
Just a few days ago, Sharing the Dream scholarship students were piled into the living room at Casa de Sueños rehearsing their song and dance skit to perform at the annual Elder Center Christmas activity. The Elder Center workers and I gathered into the kitchen and laughed and told stories around the table as we made 350 tamales. Decorations were hung, coffee was brewed, and gifts were purchased and now…today is the day! Our elders from all over Santiago and the surrounding villages make their way to the Center with their spouses, children, and grand-children – all ready to celebrate another year of life together.
After Miguel kicks off the Christmas celebration with words of welcome, Bernavela, the Elder’s Center coordinator, leads the elders and us all in prayer. Incense in the form of Tz’utujil syllables collide and rise and echo in the air, giving God thanks for this year, asking for strength to persevere through hardships, celebrating the arrival of the Christ child. The loud murmur gradually quiets down to whispers and then to “Amen.” There is a light-heartedness that is palpable as elderly women smile and dance their traditional dances with our young men in the scholarship program. The scholars recite a Christmas poem together and then perform a Christmas song while dancing the cumbia and inspiring the elders to clap along to the beat. One of the scholars, Antonio, performs an original spoken-word poem in Tz’utujil as I accompany him on guitar.
Magic happens. Delight appears. Laughter erupts. Smiles burst forth.
Christmas arrives in the form of our scholarship students delivering wrapped gifts to our elders, calling them each by name to receive new guipiles, blouses, and shirts. Thanks to a generous donation made by Jennifer Crist’s organization, Tree For Hope, Sharing the Dream was able to purchase new clothes for the elders this year. Their smiles are contagious as their fingers trace the elaborate threading on their guipiles. The buzz of “thank-you’s” and laughter fills the center with wonder.
To end our time together, we break bread. Traditional Christmas tamales are passed out along with bread and soda for a lunch that is lively and full of joy. The elders depart, slowly, saying their good-byes and expressing their gratitude as they hug us at the door.
As I prepare to leave, the scholarship students I’ve been tutoring these last four months surprise me with a Christmas gift and cards of gratitude. “Just today,” Juan says, “I remembered the rhyme you made up to help me remember my vowels in English. Eeee is ‘I’, ay is ‘A’, ey is ‘E!’” We all laugh. A lump forms in my throat as I tell each of them what a joy it has been to encourage them in their dreams for their future. They are world-changers – each one with gifts and passions that this world is aching to receive.
Bernavela and I depart to hand-deliver tamales and guipiles to our elders who are home-bound. As one of the elder’s grand-children leads the way, he and I make a game of racing to the end of the streets where we high-five each other before beginning the race anew down the next path.
Christmas this day tasted like tamales, felt like kisses on the cheek, and sounded like jokes told with mouths full of cake. Christmas looked like young women and men sharing their dreams made reality and elders grinning in gladness birthed by the company of beloved community…
“The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. And we have seen His glory…full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
The Word became flesh this day and dwelled among us. And we basked in His glory – the glory of His kingdom made manifest in love, in struggle, in laughter, in waiting, in community, in justice, in compassion, in the breaking of bread around a shared table, in expecting Christ to put on flesh in the faces of those we encounter daily…
…The Sharing the Dream staff and I return to the Center in the afternoon for tamales and cake.
“Raquel,” Diana says to me as she leans over the table, “Would you lead us in prayer?”
“I’d be honored to,” I say as we reach for each other’s hands and bow our heads.
Continually Astonished by Word made flesh,
**Be sure to click on the embedded links above to view videos from our Christmas activity!**
This is Don Diego. He walks from the other side of town with his cane three times a week to get food from the center for him and his wife. My name in Tz’utujil is “Ya’quel” but when Diego sees me he’ll grin and yell out “‘Quela!” Here he was saying “Anka, ‘Quela!” which is his way of saying good-bye to me in Tz’utujil.