It’s Wednesday morning. Thanksgiving eve. My first two days in Cusco have been oh-so-just-exactly right.
Arriving to the sight and sound of the girls was so remarkable. And even though I had a hint they would be there, not one particle of surprise and joy was lost on me. Their high tiny voices vibrating as they jumped up and down. It was so magical, and I’m so glad I had enough advance warning to think to video them as they welcomed me.
It was also so good to see my friend Edwin. My eyes welled up as I hugged him and he said, “welcome home, my friend.”
The girls quickly took charge of my bags, it seeming to never occur to them how they already lighten my load without needing to carry a single article.
We rode together in a small van where they had reserved my seat in the back so I could be among them. They are so cute. They made fun of me because of my “muy serioso” expression as I was walking through the airport corridors on my way to baggage claim. It’s a little embarrassing to have a van full of little girls mimicking your countenance. My only retort was…well, I had none. Just a smile to make up the difference.
We stopped for lunch together at a restaurant. It appeared it had been cleared out for Elvis, as we were its sole customer base for the better part of 90 minutes. I sat near the end of a long table with Edwin and Sister Ana. The girls spent time in the adjacent playground diving into the ball bin and climbing ladders to slide down poles all under the watchful eye of a dragon. We shared a meal together; some of the girls picking at their food until Sister Ana Yolanda told them it would be impolite to not eat with me. I didn’t feel this way, but boy — I never saw so much chicken disappear so quickly.
I rode with the girls a few miles to the outskirts of Cusco before saying goodbye for the day. It was impossible to hug them all in the van, so I just leaned into them as they said my name and patted me with their hands. After I got settled in my hotel, I took a stroll through San Blas and the Plaza. It felt like I’d never left. I instinctively knew my way around. Such a comfortable feeling to have so far from home.
Monday night I had dinner with my friends Andrew and Maureen. Both are friends from Denver who are in the process of relocating to Peru. Their apartment in Cusco happens to be across the street from my hotel. Andrew has established a nice network of contacts, and it looks very promising that some of the people he knows could take an interest in helping the girls in Anta.
Yesterday morning I visited the primary market to pick up a few remaining items before a planned visit to Anta in the afternoon. Edwin picked me up just after 4 o’clock. We then picked up Karina – a children’s dentist who had agreed to do basic examinations for the girls to see if any dental work was needed. It was Karina’s first time to Anta, so I shared some of the photos of the girls.
They met us at the gate and immediately emptied the car of all bags — including the two giant duffel bags full of pajamas, jeans, and gifts. Karina tended to their examinations in the commons while Edwin, Sister Ana and I sorted through the clothes in the other common room. Sister Ana picked up each pair of pajamas to inspect them and assign them to individual girls. It was so fun to watch her take inventory, and render decisions so matter-of-fact. “Esta para Hermelinda! Esta para Berta!” and so on, and so on.
When the girls began to trickle into the room full of gifts, it was like watching sleepy faced children waltzing toward a Christmas tree. Sister Ana quickly tried to make order of the scene by pointing the girls to their pajamas. But it didn’t take two seconds for all hell to break loose like a scene from Filene’s Basement’s wedding dress sale. Well, okay. Maybe not that intense, but I saw more than one bartering exchange as girls tried to trade pj tops. In the end, I think everyone had on a matched set. Some chose to wear their pj top with their new pair of jeans. But this wasn’t about matched sets and nightwear over daywear. We all knew that. Karina, our benevolent dentist, sat entertained and consulted girls on their outfits. I could see it in her face…another convert in the making.
The girls were so grateful, and so attentive when I shared with them the story of all the people who love them and are thinking about them. I printed off as many photos as I could of all of the friends who have donated pajamas or jeans or money. Without instruction, the girls took the photos and letters and notes and posted them on a board in the Hogar. Now, just as they have become part of your world, you are now part of theirs.
As we left, the girls huddled around each of us to escort us to our car. We each got as many hugs as there were girls, with promises about Thanksgiving. The wheels pulled away, the girls were calling out my name, and Karina’s hand squeezed my shoulder as she said, “mucho adoracion para tu, Patrick! No?”
She was pointing at something. And though she didn’t know it: pointing my way to something.
The thing about adoration is its tendency to inspire questions around worth. This is often encountered in the world of celebrity where we question whether a person is “worth” the adoration of their fans. For us non-celebrities, in the context of something absolutely unequivocally real, it has the potential to pose questions just the same. Some of these are heckled from the corner of the balcony, or from the least part of ourselves residing on our shoulder.
“Whatcha gonna do with all that love, boy? Whatcha gonna do? Huh? Huh?”
To experience the purity of the sentiment fully, it requires me — it requires all of us — to drop the bag of rocks. Unclothe myself of petty insecurities and doubt and fear. And stand there — gorgeously imperfect — allowing adoration upon me; cast like a shower from tiny weathered hands, droplets turning bright and playful on their trajectory, warming and landing upon me like small blankets for which I do not need to account. They would not have me. They would have me just be. Be with it. And be well with it.
I sat there. Her hand fresh off my shoulder. And I allowed it all in. All of it. All at once. And it was okay. I was well with it all. Still, and well. In fact, I was absolutely down with it.
So I turned around to face Karina and said,