Brandenburg 21: Guadalupe
When I think of Mexico, I think of this true story that
happened at the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The company I worked for had a windfall and gave each of the
employees thousands dollars to give to charity as we saw fit. I was sent to
Mexico City to help with a project. I had some particularly deep and important
events (first kiss, and presence of God) occur to me at Church of the Virgin of
Guadalupe in Mexico City when I was a teenager. I decided to quietly leave the
money in the collection plate at the Church for their work in helping the poor.
I changed the dollars to the largest peso notes I could get.
When I lived in Mexico City in the 1960’s the Church was
open twenty-four hours a day. In the 1990’s, when I arrived after a long
workday it was almost midnight. I
found the Church closed and ringed with fences and gates.
Two emaciated street kids maybe seven and ten years old,
wearing rags, begged me for some money. I looked at them a moment. I thought of
my father, who was desperately poor and equally emaciated growing up. I thought
of myself living on the streets of Los Angeles in my mid-teens. I gave him all
the money. It was enough to feed a
family for years.
Without looking at the money the older boy and his young
friend thanked me, and walked down the stairs away from the Church. About half
way down the stairs he looked at the bills and stopped cold. He stood there a
moment, clearly stunned. He thought about the money and struggled with himself.
He turned around and walked slowly back up the stairs to where
I stood watching him. He put the bills in both hands, extending them out to
return the money to me, thinking I had made a mistake. He needed to do the
right thing despite his impoverishment. His dignity, born of the great kings of the Aztecs and
Mayans, demanded it.
I said, “I know how much it is. It is for you.” (“Yo se, es
He offered me the money again. I smiled. He smiled.
He ran skipping and laughing down the stairs and into the
I know bad things can sometimes happen in these
circumstances, but I hope and pray and trust he did something special.
For me, it was a privilege, an honor to be schooled in dignity
and integrity by such a person. I
got more than he did out of it.
I don’t have any picture of this young man, so on the
website and videos I will be using pictures from my time volunteering at the
Vernon Elementary School where I saw something of similar inspiration. I included this in my Keynote Speech at
the California State University, Monterey Bay 2013 Commencement: