A Saturday Caesura
I’ve spent six weeks living in a rural Costa Rican village — three two-week stays over the span of a few years — not long enough for my Spanish to be anything more than embarrassing, but long enough to call many of the community members mis amigos. Since cell phones and internet have become easier to access in the village, we keep in touch via social media and Google Translate. I appreciate that they continue to send pictures of weddings and babies and improvements in the community, the most recent being a paved road complete with speed bumps near the school and village plaza. (Yes, someone sent me pictures of the speed bumps.)
This week the update from Santa Elena was a sad one. One of the key community leaders, a tall, soft-spoken farmer, died from leukemia. I did not know Alvaro well, but I admired and respected his leadership role in the projects we helped with, particularly one that involved an extensive plan to bring fresh water from the mountains to eleven small communities in the region. Alvaro eventually worked full-time as the chief organizer of this project, leaving their farm in his son’s capable hands. When the water project was complete, a community member sent me video footage of the official ceremony. What a celebration that was, a testament to years of labour and a complex system of pipelines and reservoirs — a testament also to Alvaro’s leadership.
The loss of a life always makes me pause, but one of the posted tributes to Alvaro’s life has camped in my mind. In it, there was no shortage of ‘resume virtues’, most of them including the word fundador — founder. That he was intensely invested in his community was abundantly clear. The tribute went on to say that there were many adjectives that one could use to describe Alvaro (I’ve used a few of them), but the one that best described him was SERVER (yes, it was in all-caps). What a tribute.
I doubt that Alvaro woke up one day and said to himself, “My life goal is to be known as a server to my family and community.” Maybe he did. If so, he lived with more purpose and vision than many of us. And if so, he was counter-cultural. A life of service to others is generally admired, but rarely profiled as a worthy pursuit in and of itself. It always looks best on someone else, it seems. Yes, we do promote and applaud the ‘helping’ careers – nurses, doctors, social workers – but the career tends to be the goal, the acts of service a by-product, a means to an end, rather than the Primary Thing. The resume virtue tends to trump the eulogy virtue.
Maybe thinking ahead to how we might be characterized in a eulogy or a memorial tribute is too morbid for us to consider, but if it is in our death that the impact of our lives comes into clearest focus, then we would do well to consider how we are living.