Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Blessings in Disguise

I settled into a routine that worked for both Winston and me. He could not be let off leash at the campsite, so I would walk him in the morning and then after breakfast we would walk to the local tiendas for groceries. After that we would hang around the campsite with forages to the beach and local parks. The campsite is busy and we have plenty of people camping around us. The one good thing happening is that my Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds. One couple Daniel and Ana, after learning that I was alone invited me to an assado at their campsite which was really enjoyable. I spent a delightful evening with them over a wonderful meal that Daniel cooked. Nahuel and his wife Sofia, Val and Alexandra, the workers at the campsite and Juan the owner are all solicitous in checking on Winston and me and making sure I do not get too lonely. Mariano and Marcela called and let me know that there is vacation time approaching. Carnival, the five days before Lent is a huge holiday in Argentina, so they have time from work. Their intent is to go to another town in the mountains, San Martin de los Andes and Winston and I are invited. They emailed and called the campsite for me to be ready. They will arrive Saturday and after spending the night we will travel to San Martin where they will rent a cabana for all of us, dogs included. I checked in with Juan to be sure all is ready for their arrival. During that week, a group of five guys arrived at Petunia and set up their site next to mine. From their car I knew they were from Chile and they seemed good natured and introduced themselves to me. A couple of days later I needed to go into town to the post office to collect a new electricity converter that Tom had sent from the States. My new Chilean neighbors offered to drive me. Luis Felipe and Cristobal would take me while the other three stayed at camp with Winston. Driving to town we chatted about family and background. They knew about Tom and asked if I had children. I said that we have two, a son Daniel and a daughter, Nicole. Making conversation, I then commented that I presumed they were single since they were vacationing with friends. There was a distinct silence and then Luis turned – he was also driving, by the way – and said “yes, I guess you could say we are single, we are priests”. More silence while I took a few seconds to mull this over. “Um, priests, like Catholic priests? I finally asked. Luis laughed and then said “well yes, though actually not all of us. I am a deacon with a parish in Santiago, Cristobal will be a priest in a couple of months and the other three are friends from the seminary”. Now, I am trying to think back and hope to heck I haven’t cursed in their presence. “But seriously, you are priests, I never would have guessed” I think I was stuttering. In all sincerity, I have never hung out with priests before and they definitely did not look like priests. They are young and dressed in shorts, T-shirts and well, are just like regular young men. After assuring me they were indeed truly priests, I admonished them. “You guys have to give people warning, like wear a priest collar or something, just to give us lay people a heads up”. Both Luis and Cristobal were laughing really hard by the time I was finished with my warning spiel. And so was I. And so started a great friendship. Both Tom and I are Catholic and over the next few days I broached many subjects with my new friends – the role of the church with our young people, the evolving nature of the church and the controversial issues of Catholics who choose to live together but not marry (of whom we know many), gays who are committed to one another and who are Catholic but trying to find their place in our religion (being from the Bay Area we know some) and on whether priests should be allowed to marry. I can only say from the responses that these are dedicated, reasonable men whom the Catholic Church should be honored to have in their midst. They are smart, educated and tolerant and understand that changes will likely happen within our religion albeit slowly. That Saturday, Marcela and Mariano are due to arrive and I will barbeque for everyone. Now, in a country of barbeque (parrilla) cooking, Tom has always done the outside cooking, so it was only after I grandly announced my intentions to cook that I realized I was not even sure how to light the fire. Priests to the rescue. Cristobal, as it turns out is a master at the grill. Thank goodness. After the grill was lit and we had opened some wine, they asked if I knew what time Marcela and Mariano would arrive, “Not sure”, I replied. They are coming from Comodoro Rivadavia, and that is 10 hours driving time, or so. It was then Luis shyly came up and said “We have a gift for you”. They then presented me with a small statue. “It is blessed,” said Luis Felipe, “and also we would like to bless you and the motorhome”. He produced a small bottle of water. I am not going to blame the wine but before I could stop myself, I started laughing “Gosh Luis, thank you but to bless me and the motorhome maybe you should bless the lake and run a hose here and douse us both” In my defense after all the mechanical problems we have had, the lake seemed more apropos. Luis also laughed but assured me more was not better and proceeded with the blessing. And so it was that as I was standing still and with Luis Felipe doing the blessing and incantation, Mariano and Marcela arrived. “What’s going on?” asked Marcela as she checked out Luis and me. “Shh!” I admonished her “Me, Winston and the RV are getting blessed”. Nonplussed comes to mind. Maybe she thinks I’m losing my mind with Tom being gone. I then introduce her to Luis Felipe, Cristobal and the others and explained the situation and the circumstances leading up to the current events. A glass of excellent Malbec also helped her – it had been a long drive. “Well, that kind of explains it, I guess,” she begrudgingly gave me. In the meantime Mariano was helping Cristobal at the grill. Pretty soon, everyone was chatting and behaving as comfortable friends should, although Marcela could not resist one last dig. “Only you”, she said, “only you could attract such a diverse group of people and by the way…are these really priests?” I could only laugh. We enjoyed a fabulous assado accompanied by plenty of excellent Argentinean Malbec. Tomorrow, Marcela, Mariano and I, with the two dogs will go to San Martin de los Andes and so will Luis Felipe and the others but since we will be staying at different places, we may not see them again. Well not this time but soon. Luis Felipe will be ordained in April at the Cathedral in Santiago to his new parish and I have told him that we will try to attend. In the meantime on this beautiful star-filled night I can only truly Thank God for providing me with the gift of returning friends and the meeting of new ones. Friendships really are life’s blessing in disguise.

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