Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spontaneous Generosity

Guadalupe, Spain (2006)

The woman reached into her basket of plump, burgundy-red cherries, quickly placed some in a bag, and handed them to me. “Take them,” she said in Spanish, “he loves them,” this last sentence in reference to the smiling toddler hoisted on my hip.

He did love them. Dark red cherry juice stained my son’s lips during most of our short stay in Guadalupe, Spain. In a fit of obsessive curiosity, I’d picked Guadalupe as our post-conference destination because it was an important town for both sides of the Spanish-speaking Atlantic world. There, the re-discovery of the small, dark-skinned Madonna statue buried years before energized Catholic troops advancing against Moorish strongholds. Ferdinand, Isabella, and Christopher Columbus all made pilgrimages to her shrine. And the next Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, carried that name, too, because she also was dark.

Obsessive curiosity was enough to propel us —toddler, couple, and friend— in a rental car from central Spain to the mountains of Extremadura. After one last hairpin turn, we’d arrived at sunset in the valley that nestles the monastery of Guadalupe. Breathtaking beauty. The next morning, as we strolled through town, we passed an older woman selling cherries. I couldn’t resist; they were homegrown, and I bought a kilo. My son and I munched them (you get the bite without a seed, I get the bite with; para tí, para mí) while we waited for our travel companions to finish the shrine tour. And for the next two days, every time I passed the generous cherry grower, she thrust another handful toward us, insisting I not pay her. “Take them, he loves them.”

Spontaneous generosity. The elderly farmer in Mexico, standing by the market stall, who selected the best mangos for me to buy. The waiter who made our kids balloon “swords” in Panama. A child in an impoverished Managua neighborhood who, in 1996, gave me a sprig of dusty silk flowers (still on my copy stand).

Spontaneous generosity. Breathtaking beauty. What are you giving away?