Sunday, October 01, 2006


I lived in Central America in the 1980s. Mostly Costa Rica, where I had a teaching post, but I travelled around. I saw a lot of dirt roads, a lot of villages, lakes, pebbly rivers, jungle canopies, roadside shrines.

On this day, we were driving on a backroad through the jungle. It wasn't dense jungle, because I can still picture it -- there was a lot of grass around, so we must have been near some fincas. The memory stands out because we were in a car. Usually, we were in a bus, a cattle truck, or on foot. Alan Dixon from Ottawa Meeting was with me, as were some Friends from the States, someone, at least, who had access to a car.

As we put-putted along the road heading to wherever we were going (and I confess now that I can't remember -- we did travel a lot), we saw an elderly North American woman walking alone along the roadside. We drove up to her and offered her a ride (we gringos tended to stick together). She accepted and we scrunched over to make room for her.

As we drove along, we chatted about who we were, where we were going, etc. She was 75. Her husband had died not too long ago, and she was spending her time travelling around since his death. Alone. I found that remarkable. Costa Rica was a fairly safe place back then, but there was a US-backed war going on in the north against Nicaragua, and Noriega was in power in Panama, not to mention the military repression in El Salvador and Guatemala. She had been to all those places. Alone. There was a serenity to her face that I found remarkable, tinged with grief and maybe loneliness too, but still a remarkable face.

I asked her how much longer she was planning to travel. She answered: Another 25 years.

We had come up to the place where we needed to drop her off, a little dirt road heading down to a remote village, where apparently she had a place to sleep for the night. Before she left, I asked her what her secret was. She smiled and answered: Whatever it is that you are most afraid of, that is what you must do next. Put your fears always behind you.

Then she was gone.

How many times in the years since then I have not known what to do, I have been in a dilemma, I have been afraid, I have known what tasks I had to do but couldn't face doing them -- her words have guided me. I have always known what to do next -- whatever it was that I most feared.

I've told her story many times, in many meetings, to many friends/Friends. And now I pass it on again.


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