It all began as most things do with a confluence of forces., and as is typical of these things, it is hard to pinpoint when the forces began to gather.
I have this friend….
She is a Pedro Pan like me, orphaned of home and country by the Castro government. Like myself she found herself on an airplane headed for the States with a day’s notice. I came alone. She came with her little brother. We were both taken to the same camp when we came to the U. S. but by the time she arrived there I had moved on to a boarding school in California. Her name is Yolanda, the same as my birth name. In Cuba when you share a first name with someone it is said you are “tocayas”. We met on the Miami Herald Pedro Pan site, created for Pedro Pan children to locate one another. A few years ago she welcomed me to the site. We got to know one another and found out as time went on that our families knew each other in Gainesville FL and we had heard of one another from our families decades before we met. I call her my Tocaya del Alma, the tocaya of my soul. Our families are linked by friendship now and I love her deeply.
When Yoli heard that I was to have open- heart surgery that coincided with her trip to greet her granddaughter’s entrance into this world, she immediately volunteered to come and help out during the first days of my recovery. Little Thalia arrived and with her a joy that filled Yoli’s heart to the brim! When it was time for my surgery Yoli came as promised but my surgery had to be postponed because I became ill the night before. After a few quiet days with us catching up and enjoying each other’s company, she returned to Seattle to be with her daughter and baby Thalia and made plans to come back in a couple of weeks at which time we hoped my surgery would be rescheduled. As things turned out, she landed in Medford as another confluence of forces gathered, this time in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina.
It began when a storm reversed direction along the Atlantic Seaboard. Then a strengthening non tropical storm in the South, a strong area of high pressure in Canada and converging tropical moisture from Hurricane Joaquin near the Equator joined forces, and Richland County, South Carolina received between sixteen and twenty one inches of rain from Friday October 2 to Sunday morning October 4. It is the heaviest rainfall in recorded history in South Carolina. The chances of it happening calculated as once in a thousand years. No one was ready for it. As we dealt with the postponement of my surgery once again, Yoli watched her beloved Columbia drowning from far away.
Fortunately Yoli’s husband Tony was home and reported their home was safe. But all of us know that Yoli will be going home soon to a place that will be far different from the one she left. In her generous spirit she came here to be with us. Circumstances have made it possible for us to be present to her as she grieves the loss to her city, the losses that her friends have experienced, and the helplessness that invades us all in the face of personal and collective disasters.
I was moved to write this blog tonight because of a quote I read on Yoli’s Facebook page by Shell Suber, Columbia SC Political Director to Senator Lindsey Graham:
“My family spent most of the day on nearby Burwell Lane and Rickenbacker Road helping neighbors in Cross Hill. It’s numbing. Things that were possessions five days ago are debris today. The blazer with the brass buttons someone’s dad had as long as they can remember. The sofa from grandma’s. The photo album. The daughter’s wedding dress. Someone’s diploma. Someone’s yearbook. The new stove. The old Buick. A lawnmower. Lamps and chairs and rugs and tables and beds. Wet and ruined things in pile after pile-some as big as a school bus- grow along the street. Volunteers young and old covered in foul mud going from house to house dragging someone else’s life into the yard, into the grass, into the sunlight. Every corner is a makeshift restaurant where donated food and water are dispensed. Each person’s face reveals the unexpected gift of renewed perspective. You wish a day like this would never come. You wish every day was like this. “
And so it is. We live our lives as if we were indestructible. We forget that nothing material we own is permanent and sometimes it is the material things that own us. We work umpteen hours a day to keep our houses, our cars, our little luxuries. And once in a while we are shaken to our foundation by an unexpected challenge, an unexpected disaster. And it is at those times, when everything seems lost that love finds us in the kindness of a friend who travels to be with us, in the face of a volunteer that feeds us, in the strength of a community that supports us, and hopefully we reassess our values and vow to be conscious of every blessing in our life and invest more time loving one another than things that don’t exist once we close our eyes.
Thank you Shell Suber, for allowing me to share your post and letting us see ourselves at our best through your eyes. And thank you Yoli, my Tocaya del Alma, for your generosity and willingness to support me when I need it and for sharing the joy and the drama of our existence.
Yoli and Thalia. Welcome little one!