One of my deepest lessons in Guatemala came like a lightening bolt. Someone came to the camp clinic and described the whereabouts of Bernado, an old man who needed help. Alerts like this were pretty common, leading to almost daily house calls by our small medical crew. Tom and I drove the Land Rover up the rutted dirt roads behind the town center of San Andrés Itzapa and found a gentleman sitting on the earthen floor of his cane hut in front of a small cooking fire. He had a large open sore on his lower leg, full of fly maggots. We asked what happened and he said he had broken his leg in the terremoto and it had never healed properly. Mind you, the earthquake had been at least a year and a half prior. He was perhaps in his late 70s, and lived alone. It was obvious he was unable to care for himself adequately any longer. We asked him to come stay with us at the camp, where we could take better care of him, and he agreed.
But life is change and as life goes, notice of my mother’s imminent passing prompted our family to return to the U.S. I was stressed trying to finish our business and make our move, and felt burdened by our charge. We decided it would be best to bring him to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Guatemala City. There, several nuns cared for an abundance of orphans and handicapped and ill people young and old, raised rabbits, fed hundreds, taught school and maintained an orderly haven of compassion in the midst of the largest slum of cardboard and tin sheds in Guatemala City. Feeling secretly guilty about how grateful I felt to have somewhere else to take Bernado, I apologized to the young Sister, “I’m sorry, we’ve brought you another — we just can’t care for him anymore, and I see how full you are here.” She looked at me, and her face beamed with sincere joy. “Oh thank you!” she smiled, and returned to her work.