It's raining here in Los Laureles for the first time in 2 weeks which has given me cause to hole up in my home, drink coffee and take stock of the events here these past few days. It's funny how the heat here just keeps people in perpetual activity. We're constantly looking for water, shade, respite. We don't have time for rumination and reflection - the heat is like a gadfly that won't let our minds or bodies focus and rest. But the rains have come, at least for today, and with it a chance and an excuse to pause and reflect. And so on this rainy, cool day in the second week of 2011 I'm thinking about death. Not in the abstract - I've never been one for that - no, I'm thinking about it in the very concrete and real sense; within the past 2 weeks 4 people have died in Los Laureles. One was a garbage worker who got drunk one evening and was hit by a car, one was a life-long alcoholic, an amiable, quiet fellow and stepfather to our very own Pato (Adonai), who died of liver failure, one was a cousin to Cristian, who while drunk this past Sunday morning was shot and killed in some sort of vendetta as he was walking home and the last was an infant, born prematurely, who died 12 days later. One of the nutty, Pentecostal pastors here has predicted 4 more deaths in the community before the month is through and while I don't put much stock in his words I, along with everyone else in the community, am waiting with a grim expectancy for the next bad news to reach me. I don't like to think that way but with 4 deaths, 4 funerals, 4 long nights of wakes and wailing all in rapid succession you can't help but imagine it. "Who's next?" I wonder sometimes - I've thought about how I might react if it were one of my kids or one of the adults that I love so well...what would I do? How would I handle the news? I try not to dwell on those thoughts for too long.
I've been thinking too about the culture of death that I'm surrounded by here - what drove those 3 men to drink the way they did? What causes so many of the young men in this community to fall into alcoholism and drug use? Yesterday I was talking to a lady who calls me her nephew, her 16 year old son is addicted to crack cocaine and is essentially wasting away to nothing. He spends his days scouring the dump look for scrap metal and his nights stealing from family and neighbors so that he can sell his findings and use the money to to buy more dope. His life, at the age of 16, has become a singular quest for more crack. My Aunt tried not show emotion as she talked but I saw the tears well up in her eyes as she talked about sending him to jail, to the army, anything, to try and turn his life around. What is it that makes so many men here rely on narcotics and alcohol to get them through life? They know it's killing them, they know it killed Fran, Fari and Mario in rapid succession this past week, they beg and plead with the younger boys to stay away from the vices they themselves have become enmeshed in - yet they continue down the road of death and ruin. Is it hopelessness? Is this the only joy they now experience in life? Is being drugged or drunk the one way they're able to feel something?
I look at my group of boys sometimes, especially the older ones (13-16), and I ask myself: "How many of these boys will end up being alcoholics or drug addicts?" Is there anything I can do to prevent it? Will I have failed if Sergio and Cristian turn out just like every other older male in the community? How will I react the first time I see them drinking or smoking or the first time they impregnate a girl? And what about Manuel? These past 6 years he's lived carefree, free from discipline and restraint. He's made his own rules, lived his life as he's seen fit. Surprisingly he's turned out alright and has a host of great qualities but New Year's Eve he was drunk and snorting coke and thought nothing of it. He told me in fact that this is what all the older youth (18-23) do here at the end of the year, it's a fact of life and nothing to get worked up over. How do I react to that? How do I help him and yet let him know that I will not tolerate a repeat scenario?
Death in it's many forms is life here in Los Laureles - I suppose it's that way in most places, it just seems more obvious to me here. It's accepted, overlooked and even celebrated sometimes. Where is that Light that shines through Darkness? Where is Jesus?