Letter to the Editor | Friday, September 23, 2016
On our usual walk to Fe y Alegria Elementary in Lima, Peru, my site partner Simon and I were asked an unusual question. It came from a geography professor from the University of Oklahoma, who filmed local stories worldwide for his independent movie projects. “Hey, guys! I’m heading to ‘La Bendicion de Una Casa!’ Wanna come?”
Simon and I exchanged unsure looks. Saying no would mean another exhilarating yet exhausting day at the school. Saying yes would mean potentially getting kidnapped by a foreigner we just met … or an unexpected adventure.
So, of course, we said yes.
After a 10-minute drive in surprisingly minimal Peruvian traffic, we arrived for the house blessing. But where was the house? All I saw was a shack not much larger than my Alumni Hall dorm room, with a mere tin roof for a ceiling and no furniture or flooring whatsoever except for the loose bricks and rocks around the periphery to hold the thin wooden planks in place.
A group of University of Oklahoma college students as well as unusually tall and strong fifth-graders from the local elementary school were already working inside. Simon and I soon joined in, shoveling the dirt-buried boulders in a waste pile out back and shifting the many brick bases together so that the wooden walls would stand and stay sturdy, in the face of time and potentially even earthquakes. As I did my best to dig up the many pebbles and rocks, sticks and stones from barren ground, it hit me:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).
In frantic English and jumbled Spanish, I began to announce all those around me my revelation: Not only did this passage describe this very kind of house with its rock and brick foundation, but it just so happened to be the daily reading I had just heard earlier that morning, at the 5:45 a.m. Spanish mass in the San Jose house chapel that I was doing my absolute best to remain awake, alert and attentive for.
Of course, the reaction I got wasn’t all too jeering. Except for the priest and presider, Padre Alfredo, who seemed taken aback, but equally by the depth of this mysterious “coincidence,” and the fact that I had mistakenly mixed up the word in Spanish which means brick (ladrillo) for the word in Spanish which means thief (ladron)!
Before the official blessing began, the Peruvian students exchanged jokes, dance moves and school anthems with us “gringo” American students. In addition to chanting the Notre Dame Victory March with full heart and voice, Simon and I found ourselves tangoing together yet again with such overdramatic hip swerving and hand flailing even Shakira would have been jealous. After a few more of these ever-memorable moments of unexpected cross-cultural connection, it was time. The owner of the house was standing out front, a beautiful, middle-aged mother who was trying to collect her two tiny kids skipping and scootering to her side. I watched as Padre Alfredo commenced the ceremony in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before the quite considerable crowd that had gathered, including many neighbors and friends down the street or perhaps beyond.
In no time, we were all singing the classic “Juntos Como Hermanos,” one of my favorite Spanish liturgical songs. Then, Padre read aloud the parable. The one that had entered my ears for more than two decades, but could only now finally make its way to my heart. Finally, taking a few white roses and dipping them in holy water, Padre blessed that precarious shack that was built on the permanent cornerstone of love.
Yet just before the hot sandwich and sweet tea celebration broke out, the owner of the house was asked to say a few words. Silence and stillness fell as she started to speak, smiling back tears. She simply thanked all her family and friends, all her neighbors and all of us, assuring us that she and her children would be happy in this little house that was now a home. And I’ll never forget what I saw when she looked at me: the face of pure gratitude. That kind of rare yet radical gratefulness taught me that no matter what rains come down, storms rise and winds blow on the house of my life, each and every supportive stone, robust rock and even precious pebble upon which I now stand and build myself, is always worth being thankful for.
Greg O. Perenich
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.