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Jorge Cervantes

Unconventional Christmas Story

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Here is an e-mail I received from my physician, Dr. Ron Kennedy. It brings forth memories of similar experiences in my life and reinforces my belief system. Please read and pass it on.

I used to be a young man (hard to believe), and a medical student (my mother could hardly believe that part) and I managed to secure a non-paying job in a hospital in Huehuetenango, Guatemala (look it up, there really is such a place) in 1965.

I lived that summer in the guest house of a Catholic convent operated by the Sisters of Charity and they were kind enough to give me a bit of food thrice each day. My job was basically that of a nurse's assistant.

That summer I saw the worst poverty you can imagine, even babies dying from malnutrition. Their mother's could produce no breast milk because they themselves were starving. Very often babies would arrive at the hospital too late to be saved and they simply died. If they arrived soon enough they received blood transfusions and baby formula, drop by drop so as not to shock their little bodies (because this would kill them).

There are moments in life which a person never forgets and there are several such moments from that summer 48 years ago. Sister Stanislaus, standing beside a starving child, voice trembling and tears flowing, confessed to me these words: "When I was a young nurse here I killed a baby. I did not know that you could not give a blood transfusion rapidly to a starving child, that it had to be given very slowly or the child's heart could be overwhelmed. God may forgive me Ron, but I can never forgive myself."

Sister Stan gave her entire life to helping the poor and suffering. She died in Houston, Texas at the age of 98 in 2004. She remains a tower of conscience in my heart and if she is not with God, there is no God (and there is).

Also, that summer I arose one morning to walk to "El Mercado," the central market place in "El Centro," the central square of the city of Huehuetenango. I was walking slowing when a very small and very old Mayan woman passed me on my left. She was draped in what could only be termed colorful rags. As she passed me she opened her right hand and looked down as if to remind herself what she had to spend at the market that day, and there I saw two copper coins. I remember that as if it were happening now.

Flash forward 48 years and last night I had the pleasure of a gourmet meal with friends and family at the La Rosa restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa. As I surveyed the seven people at the table I thought back to Huehuetanango, Sister Stan, the babies in the hospital, and the Mayan woman.

I am not a person to feel guilty, but there is another feeling that grips me in such moments and that is a sense of responsibility.

So, here is the bottom line. Do not wait for the "Christmas spirit" to track you down and give herself to you. Carpe diem! Seize the Christmas spirit for yourself. Here is how you do it. Do something for someone else. Forget about getting and GIVE something to someone else. Be generous. Give until it hurts. And as you do, contemplate the luck that you have that you can give, that you are not dying of starvation, that you are not walking to the market with two pennies in your hand hoping to get something to make it one more day, because somewhere on this earth someone, many someones, are in exactly that circumstance. Do what you can. Give what you can. Call it what you want, "Pay it forward" - or something. And when you do, your reward is the Christmas spirit. Feeling lonely? Feeling sorry for yourself? Have some anger in your heart?

Jealous of someone? Maybe a little depressed? Here is the beginning of the road to salvation. Do not wait to "feel like it" before you act.

Just act, and then comes the "feeling like it" - and much more. And there is your (unconventional) Christmas Story. Merry Christmas. I love you George. Pass it on. Ron Kennedy
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  1. GWHinCA's Avatar
    What a great story & Christmas message Jorge...

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Merry Christmas Jorge & Felice Ano Nuevo (sp)!!
  2. jerrylucien's Avatar
    Thank's Jorge for sharing this story!
  3. blackdog's Avatar
    it put things in perspective for sure. sad story...and it shows how really fortunate we are.
  4. Smokey's Avatar
    In 2005, I was a 22 year old naval sailor. We left Norfolk, VA. Sailed the Mediterranean, the Suez canal, gulf of Aden and north through the straights of Hormuz, dropped off some Marines, headed south and were operating off the coast of Somalia, we came to the aide of a cargo vessel. a 75 foot wooden ship. The "Bandir FF" was flying an Indian flag had been carrying coal, goats and primates north along the Somalian coast. The crew (was there 5 or 6 of them?) had been taken hostage by a group of Somalians. As a junior person in my department, I was tasked with watching our Indian guests, some of my time was spent with the Somalians in the brig, but they did not attempt to make much conversation with us, though the Somalian captives did play Hearts and Spades very well. The Indian sailors and I also spoke very few common words but over the course of a week we came up with a rudimentary language that consisted of drawings, sign language and confusion. I felt very close with the crew, particularly the first mate, a man about my fathers age and with similar features, a jolly man with greying hair. He looked me in the eye when he spoke, he thanked me for the food we brought and the comfort we provided. I don't remember the mans name but I do remember thinking that If I were born on the Indian coast, I could see myself one of his sons. Another stood out, His name was "Ch Yantakis" we called him Michael jackson because he loved the pop star and wore his hair a similar way, he could moonwalk and had some pretty good dance moves. There was one more that I recall was very grateful for our dental department which helped treat an abscess he was suffering from for some months. The doctor was reluctant to do anything given the limited time, but I think the look on my face had much to do with his decision to operate. I purchased Cigarettes and Skoal cherry dip for them out of the ship' store, took them to the mess deck and showed them how to use a soda fountain. Secured a part of the smoke pit so they could enjoy some outside air a few times a day. I went down to the laundry room and convinced the storekeeper to give me some clothing from lost and found. We found jeans, t-shirts, overalls, some decent shoes, many pairs of socks which they had been without when we met and hospital style blankets that had a little life left in them. We joked about giving them needle scalers and paint brushes and putting them to work. I joined them for dinner the eve before their departure, a crew member lent us an Indian language musical film that luckily had English subtitles. We watched the musical in a small lounge that was attached to the berthing they were set up in. They enjoyed large plates of rice and vegetables, Texas Pete hot sauce was a big hit as Tabasco was not palatable to them. The next morning we set them free. I was standing next to an accommodation ladder, eye level with the wheel house of their battered wooden ship. The first mate was signaling for me to come closer to the edge, he was trying to give me a handful of coins and a small folded piece of paper. I looked at the man and I shook my head "No". I put my hand over my heart and then I opened my arms as if I to embrace him. He understood.

    I check google maps periodically trying to spot the Bandir FF's green wheel house and red trim along the shipping lanes near India and the African coast.

    I have no Idea what religion those men practiced, but I pray that my god has taken care of them.
  5. Redbud's Avatar
    This was a very nice story.
    I can see why your books are so good, keep up the good work and GOD BLESS.
  6. netforall's Avatar
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