July 20, 2002
Nevis, West Indies
Greetings from Paradise
Lee and I are winding down our third season as residents living in our own home on this magical isle which we have been visiting since 1991. Nevis continues to hold our spirits as no other place on this planet; its bountiful physical beauty--God's special gifts--is highlighted by the Nevisian people, a subtle blend of all that is right with humanity. Their kindness, wisdom, thoughtfulness, friendship, values and trust are their greatest gifts which our friends and fellow villagers continue to share with us. In return, we become more meshed in Nevisian life, participating in school, family and local functions not as foreigners, but "one of ours" as Lee and I have been called.
Life among our community continues to teach us lessons which took us until our sixth decade to learn; patience, wisdom and common sense. The greatest gift that I have learned is my growing faith and trust in God-almighty which gives me peace of mind and lowers my blood pressure and anxiety. Everything that happens is meant to and every gift is a blessing from God; it is as simple as that! People here don't ask for negative events NOT to happen, but for GOOD things to happen and the strength to endure and overcome when the thorns of life pierce us or the road ahead is filled with obstacles.
Each year, I have been blessed with a life's mentor. The first year, my mentor was Veronica Ferguson who taught me to accept myself as God made me which I shared in my email "But That Is the Body That God Gave You"(July 2000). Last year my mentor was Blind Eileen of Zion whose experience I shared in the email "Touched by Humanity" (February 2001). When I called Eileen from Los Angeles after the September 11 terrorist attack, we spoke at length and she finished the conversation with a quote from the Old Testament, "The righteous shall flourish like palm trees." At 85 years old, she recently suffered a stroke which had left her unable to walk and talk. She prayed from the depth of her heart and soul, massaged the arch of her feet with the toes from the other foot and the palms of her hand with the fingers of her other hand and now walks with a walker and speaks with only a slower pace. She thanked God--and for her Jesus--with each new step she took and prayed just as fervently when speech and steps failed her. There is no physical therapy on the island, only that which the Great Master provides. (She just called to chat; her speech is 90% back to normal; the walker is back in the hospital and she occasionally needs a cane. She bathes herself and washes her clothes. She said, "The people like to help me, but I praise the Lord that I can do it myself. I even get down and sit on the floor and mop it clean. I can now lift a bucket of water. It makes me feel good to be strong again and I praise the Lord."
This year, my teacher has been Hilarena, the woman who drives the van and is also mentioned in the email Mid-November, 1999 "Crash Course 101 in Hurricane as Lenny Arrives." Looking back, we first met Hilarena by fate which has been so much a part of not only our journey here in Nevis but as I look back on my entire life. Four years ago, Lee and I were swimming at our favorite Paradise Beach on Shabbat when it started to pour. We ran for the car and after waiting a few minutes, Lee said, "Let's drive up to Barnes Ghaut," his favorite village, a small, rustic, community nestled in the mountains. If it is anything like something you may be familiar with, it is Topanga Canyon of years gone by. Many of the Rastafarians live in Barnes Ghaut. Here in Nevis, they are gentle, soft-spoken and mostly vegetarians who follow Solomon as their leader. As we slowly drove through the village, a woman was sitting by the open door in her very small wooden home reading the Bible. We stopped, introduced ourselves and started chatting. She was wearing a purple tee-shirt illustrated with writing which intrigued me. When I asked her, she said the shirt had the names of the people in her village commemorating a recent village reunion. As we continued to chat, we learned that she drove a local village-to-town van; we asked for her phone number and told her we may call on her sometime in the future.
Hilarena became a trusted friend, taking us to ferry or airport for departure and welcoming us home upon our return. Over the years, she shopped for us so that after our 21or 48 hour journey we arrived to find nourishment awaiting us. (After my coronary by-pass in 1999, she and the members of her church--along with four other churches--prayed fervently for my healthy return. Often when I awoke in California, I felt their prayers float in on a breeze; now, that's airmail.) When we finally returned in November after a two-day journey to our new home, we made it to within 500 feet of our home and her van sank in the mud during a downpour. I thought, God, I hope she gets out of this because I don't have the strength to walk home down the hill. Well, she started praying to Jesus; the louder her voice rose, the more her van rocked. (Keep in mind that she only had Lee, myself and our four heavily laden pieces of luggage in the van.) Well, lo and behold, with the help of Jesus, we rocked out of the mud and drove the last few feet home. I was unaware at that time that that experience was lesson #1 to Only Believe.
The more that I lived among the local people, chatted with them over the fence and under the moon and stars, went to church with them, the more I gained the sense in my deepest soul the unquestionable and omnipresent connection with God. Although my personal healing and spiritual growth had its birth with my wonderful community B'nai Horn in Los Angeles, most of my life, I had a vague connection with God except in deep gratitude when giving thanks for my blessings, during crises or before surgeries when I truly turned myself to His or Her care but rarely in the omnipotent connection which I now have that is TOTAL BELIEF.
When Hilarena's grandmother died last year at 85, she called us and told us the news and when and where the funeral was to be held. I got off the phone and said to Lee, "I think that she wants us to attend." We attended and heard the wisdom that Hilarena had learned on her grandmother's lap since early childhood. "Only believe and you shall receive."
This year, I have experienced over and over again, the faith that people here have and prayers that are answered. Hilarena's 14 year old son, Richie, lost his father to cancer when he was three months old. She has had a burden placed on her that is greater than anyone I have personally known. This year, she has had to assume the responsibility of not only raising her son, but also her wonderful five-year-old grandson and one- and-a-half year old granddaughter. Their 300 square foot home is sometimes so noisy and crowded that Richie has to study in the parked van outside by the lamppost; he does so and still gets good grades. (Just found out that her son got a 90+ on his exams!) Kellogg & Andelson, the accounting firm that Lee is still connected with in Los Angeles had given Lee a laptop and printer for Richie.
I know there are times when Hilarena could drop from exhaustion; yet she NEVER complains and is mostly in a good mood. The proof is in the pudding as the family is happy. Whenever and wherever we see them, there is laughter, smiles and joy. This is not something that can be "put on for the evening" but I can see in their eyes this is genuinely a happy family. She prays constantly and knows with the help of Jesus, community, friends--including Lee and myself--she will get through this.
Once again as we prepare to make our annual trek to our California home, I take with me the Mantra ONLY BELIEVE and hope that when adversity strikes me, along with the pain, I will still be able to walk the talk and ONLY BELIEVE.
Hilarena sitting in our garden.
Hilarena and her van, "ONLY BELIEVE"
Hilarena and family, son, Richie
Grands: Evan, Lucien and Jay.