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Expat Life

The soft afternoon glow of dreams

By Robert Bradley

The holiday season can be daunting. For some, there is a false impression that happiness is required, for another, it might be the prevailing weight of the loss of a loved one, the debilitating crush of depression.

I recall a restaurateur in Portland, Oregon calling me during the height of the U.S. recession. I was working for Meals on Wheels.

He said, “ Never have I struggled so hard. My business is down nearly 40%. The only way…the only way I can endure this hardship is to focus on the suffering of others. In order to do so, I will cook lunch for your clients one day a week.”

It has been nearly twenty years. He feeds 130 people every Tuesday.

The lesson is a simple one: Through purpose, you can find your way through hardship and grief.

I’ve been casting about to see where I can best be of service and had the good fortune to be invited into a rest home for elderly and compromised folks the other day. The facade of the place is not imposing at all, a place one would hardly notice, but the treasures inside were astonishing.

The courtyard was abounding in vitality with fruit trees, a neatly laid out vegetable garden and flowers everywhere, creating a place both joyful and vigorous. I was captivated.

The scent of roses came first, the introduction of honeysuckle, dusty parrots, musty garden soil, soup stock broadcasting garlic and carrots, chicken bones and thyme leaves, damp shawls and sweaters of alpaca, the sweet scent of fresh sheets hanging on the line, and the complex fragrance of age followed in slow succession.

I was early. Mass was just ending. The murmur of call and response prayer, unchanged since the first prayers in the first church in Cuenca, hummed in a mesmerizing vibration aglow with ardor and purpose. These old bodies, bowed as they have done their entire lives, were chanting a mantra the rhythm of which is far beyond my comprehension, but not my appreciation. I felt privileged to be among them.

When Mass was over, the residents each went about their routine. A couple of women rewound a conversation about a cat, knitting needles were pulled from large cloth bags and put right to work, somewhere, someone put on a record of scratchy guitars and a wheezing accordion while others shuffled in moccasin-clad feet to their rooms or took to dozing in the parlor before dinner.

It is 1947.

A couple is riding horseback up to Turi (remember how much fun!), others might be attending dances, working the land, or renewing that first blush of love. A few, with eyes closed and when the warmth of the sun is just so, visit with dear friends from long ago, who meet only here, sitting quietly in the soft afternoon glow of dreams.

We all have much to learn about love and loss.  Fortunately, the road has been marked beforehand by generations of friends and family who scouted long before our arrival. The way forward is clear, the task well defined.

Our path is smoothed through service to others, pausing long enough to smell the roses, and by sitting quietly in the soft afternoon glow of dreams.

10 thoughts on “The soft afternoon glow of dreams

  1. Oh, Robert. These are even more than the ones you already sent me. I will continue to rave about and appreciate your work as long as you keep producing it.

    Hard to pick a favorite, but the one of the small man in front of the door touches my heart. Thank you.


  2. Wonderful, insightful, heartfelt. Love your photography, writing and observations. You see with your heart. God bless you.

    1. This one can really touch deeply the heart, we are all on that road of getting older, some of us with joy and no worry of how we will live because we have families that take care of us, that is a good way to grow old, with love ones around us. But some of us that have no families no close friends and depend on strangers to look after us, that is where the loneliness and sadness will take over. Many times I wonder, many of us Gringos that live here in Cuenca and decided to be here till we die, no family, just a hand full of friends of the same age, not much we can do to help each other at the old age but to be there (where ever the place will be) in presence. How do we face that.
      Keep writing great articles about this, you will be helping many Gringos as Ecuadorian to see and plan on our road to getting older.

  3. Robert, you continually amaze me with one great article after another. I will be visiting for the first time in February, and cannot wait to meet you in person. Your photos are so evocative and add so much to each thoughtfully written article.

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