Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mother Teresa Was Right

Mother Teresa used to say that a life could be changed by nothing more than a smile. I wasn’t so sure I believed that until I met eight-year-old Elida.

Two days after arriving in Guatemala, we had the honor of meeting Elida, my dad’s sponsored child. We met her at the Shalom Center, a small retreat along the shore of Lake Atitlan, just outside the village of San Lucas Toliman. Elida arrived at the center with her mother and older sister. They had traveled two hours, waking up at four in the morning, to meet us.

I was excited and apprehensive about the meeting, not knowing what to expect. My dad has sponsored Elida for a few years. What he knew of her came from the words of her letters and the pictures he had received. When she walked into the room, my dad recognized her immediately. If there was any apprehension among Elida and her family, they hid it well. I watched her embrace my dad and I saw the joy on her mother’s face. Her mother hugged me. Her sister hugged me. Elida hugged me. They were so gracious, and they were so beautiful.

Elida seemed to me like any eight-year-old on the planet, until I saw her smile. There is a particularly special thing about Guatemalan children – it’s their smile. They love to smile and when they do, there is an overwhelming joy behind it. You don’t simply see a Guatemalan child smile, you actually feel it. Like a warm pillow smacked against your face, their smiles are a physical force.

We sat and talked to Elida and her family with the help of an interpreter. I sat beside her, transfixed by the smile that so often graced her face.
I wanted to bottle her smile up, to somehow get my hands on whatever it was that made a smile like that possible.

I watched as Elida opened up the backpack my dad had given her. Inside it were the most simple of gifts. Coloring books, crayons, a stuffed giraffe, pencils, a soccer ball. They are the kind of things a child in this country takes for granted, I know I did. She pulled the package of pencils from her backpack and held them in the air for her mother to see, her face blessed with that holy, supernatural smile. Elida thanked us, her mother thanked us, her sister thanked us.

Elida’s mother told us that daily prayers are being said for us and for our family. She let us know that her hope and her prayer was for God to bless us abundantly. Over and over she gave voice to her hope that we would be blessed. Us, of all people.

I felt so insignificant next to this gracious woman and her child. They live from day to day, from meal to hopeful meal. They have so little and yet they give so much. Their kindness is tangible. What thanks can possibly be given to a person who offers you all that they have, literally? So I smiled, and I wondered if they could tell that something was missing, that my smile wasn’t anything like theirs.

Elida gave me a gift that day. For the first time in my life, I believe I saw what a real smile looks like. When we have everything, when our lives are filled with the things of this world, a smile is an easy thing. And it comes from a superficial place. What I saw on Elida’s face wasn’t easy or superficial, it was real. Her smile wasn’t just the result of our visit or our gifts. It wasn’t the result of anything she could place in her hands. Instead, Elida’s smile came from somewhere deep within. I imagine it a peaceful place, a pure place, a place so poor that nothing can get in the way.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” our Lord once said. “For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” For once, I understood.

Elida's smile changed my life. Mother Teresa knew the poor, and she was right all along.

1 comment:

  1. You have said exactly what I have felt. When I just wrote to our sponsored children after our visit to Guatemala, was that in the pictures, there is seldom life. But when I was with them and saw and felt their smiles, it was like a magnificent explosion of color and happiness. Your way of expressing this miracle was so precious and right on.