At first glance, it may have seemed to be an ordinary dinner. But to me – it was a dinner beyond compare. I could not have imagined a better celebration!
The table – had been set in what was, truthfully, a bedroom.
The tablecloth – had been a gift from my parents more than 15 years ago.
The chairs – were made from re-bar and had, until two years ago, served as the family’s living room furniture.
The music – was selected carefully to represent what “we”, the Canadian family visiting would have enjoyed. Music that was not available to every Cuban.
The food – beyond compare. Traditional Cuban food with a “zip” of the tastes that the hosts knew we would find exquisite!
The friends – welcoming, warm, hospitable in every way.
It was a scene that, one year ago, I thought I would never be able to enjoy. It is difficult to put into words how I felt about that journey “home” to Cuba. Over 17 years ago, while helping Mom care for Dad on their vacation to Cuba, I met “Felipe”. Felipe had invited us back to his house for a dinner. We, Mom, Dad, and I, accepted. Thank God we did. The house, then was modest. It was located at the back of another family’s house. There were no more than 3 rooms to fit 4 people – and that included the washroom. Marie Helena, our hostess, cooked for us on a kerosene powered stove. They gave their family, their food, and their love to us then – as they continue to do today. My Dad loved the coffee prepared for us and so Felipe packaged half of the very small amount that they had and gave it to Dad. It was only coffee – but it was an extraordinary amount of love that was given in its offering.
It was almost surreal to be with that same family, in the same village, who shared the same memory as me. We shared what, to many, would have seemed an ordinary conversation about my parents, about children, about life. Yet – it was far from ordinary. It was essential. It was powerful. It was life-changing. It was a conversation that would only happen once a year – and one that I had thought I would never have again.
They cried out when they saw us. “Stacey,” shouted Felipe from the balcony of the home he had build with the help of our donations throughout 17 years. This home was build on the top of the home he and his family had occupied originally. It was much larger and grander than the original homestead. Inside, it was actually quite beautiful. The freshly painted walls were artistically patterned. The floor tiles and kitchen tiles were scrubbed and gleamed. The new living room furniture was much more inviting than their previous re-bar furniture. It was a home that would seem to most to be quite ordinary. But – I knew it was extraordinary and that so much love had been built into it.
“Amigo – mio,” I shouted back at him with tears in my eyes.
“Venga, venga,” he shouted back. (Come up, come up!)
It was never such an ordinary greeting – with such extraordinary meaning.
“How can they be so happy, when they have so little?” I remember my daughter asking when she first met this family 12 years ago. It was the turning point, I think for her life. Meeting this family had been a turning point in mine more than 17 years ago. It was an ordinary question with extraordinary results.
No, it was no ordinary encounter. It had been no ordinary visit, nor an ordinary family dinner. We talked to one another thanks to the ability of another good Cuban friend, Tony, since my family does not speak Spanish and our Cuban family does not really speak English. But words need no translation when playing cards, tossing around a volleyball, or dancing. So many memories can be shared beyond language.
I will always remember this visit, as I remember all visits, being far from the ordinary. It was the visit of a life-time. It was a visit I thought I would never have and they thought they would never host again. Every day is a gift.
That time, I learned to never “expect” that something so ordinary will ever come again. It may not. Tomorrow may not come. In that way – everything can be considered a “once in a life-time” opportunity. And that makes everything, even the ordinary, extraordinary.