It started with a robbery in my Costa Rican home. The swimming pool worker called me outside saying, “Have you seen or heard anyone?” “When?” “Ahorita” (now)! A minute later we were walking together down to the garage, hidden from the house by the garden, where he showed me his open backpack and empty wallet. He’d been robbed. By the time I reentered the house, my purse had been opened, my money gone. So that was the beginning of an interesting week, stressful goings-on interspersed with bright moments.
On the 3th day of the week, I fired my gardener after the demise of a few beloved plants, and Fernando, a humble, lively campesino, agreed to be my new gardener. (As an aside, the tropical garden, in its tenacious, jungle-like growth, overreaches my abilities, not to mention the complex relationship between flora and insects, especially ants. Ubiquitous and among the more intriguing are leafcutter ants, which march off with razor-sharp slices of leaves, as if donning sombreros, leaving behind long trails through the grass.)
On the 5th day, in the same breath as the big sigh of contentment for water shimmering in the pool again, after a month long repair, the pool and irrigation pumps broke simultaneously. No big deal except that the pool guy left town; with the end of the rainy season, the irrigation guy is too busy; I’m leaving for Colorado, and vacationers are arriving in swim suits. (Before you blink incredulously, as in Oh please! please hear me out.)
What I’m building up to is how God puts things in our way purposefully and constantly for our discernment. On the 6th day I awakened, looked around, and thought, Life is where you put your focus.
I thought about how I take little thing to heart and—shall I say it?—turn them into big things. I thought about how much more important the blessing of life is than the events. How just about everything is transitory: If you need a change, wait ten minutes. And how the one thing not fleeting is the one thing to live for: to taste eternity while you live—to feel alive in the moment and to trust that when you surrender, you will be supported, knowing that God knows you better than you know yourself.
Fernando, my new gardener, lives right around the corner. When I had asked him to work for me, he lit up. He could keep an eye on his cows across the way while gardening. He could come and go as he pleased. He could literally “brincar” (hop) from his house to mine. “I should have hired you a long time ago,” I told him, feeling equally pleased. “But now is the time!” he said, suggesting that everything is as it should be.
On the 7th day, I told God that I was ready to make good on the promise to live in His light, adding “as I can,” just in case…. But truly something within had settled, as if a sunbeam had broken through, awakening trust.
I was sitting down to breakfast when a large, colorful form moving about in the berry tree caught my eye. It was a toucan, scooping up red berries by the beakful— a sight I had not witnessed before on my property. That’s it! I thought. Life really is what you choose to pay attention to. And it was as though God were right there, winking at me. I tucked the experience into a place where special memories are kept, as an omen of good things to come.
After arriving at my second home in Costa Rica, it takes little time to synchronize with the timbre and rhythm of a tropical land, responding to the lure of its charms. Everywhere I see openness, humility, and hardworking cheerfulness—the blessed life of campesinos and “pura vida.”
Recently, a fierce wind toppled an imposing tree against the roof of my open-sided rancho, used for relaxing in the heat of the day and fiestas. My neighbor, Fernando, came to my door, and in his thick, almost indecipherable dialect, commenced telling me about it. He offered to chop down the tree, taking care not to disturb the bathroom window of the rancho, and remove it from my property.
The next day Fernando showed up with a machete, chainsaw, and son-in-law. As they worked, I watched from the edge of the rancho. Once in a while Fernando would look over and smile, commenting on the wealth of animalitas crawling over the limbs—mainly ants and spiders.
Fernando was not going to let the tree go to waste. With his machete he cut sturdy limbs into sections for a fence. The smaller pieces he threw into a pile along with chain-sawed hunks of trunk to scatter in his field, where the cows would trample and grind them into fertilizer.
A few hours slipped by, with the task of carrying off the unwieldy wood heap remaining. I told them I was going to pay. “Muy bien,” they said, but neither had a clue as to the worth of their labor. I drew out 10,000 colones, about $20, and asked if it was enough. “I have no idea; ask Diego” Fernando said. When I asked Diego, he said, “Ask Fernando.” I drew out another 5,000 colones, peering questioningly at Fernando. Fernando yelled up to Diego, who was on the roof of the rancho removing debris from the gutter, “What do you think about 15,000 colones?” “I have no idea,” Diego responded. “Bueno,” I said, and handed Fernando the money. Clearly, being paid for helping a neighbor was as perplexing as it was pleasing. “Any time you need help for whatever reason, call me,” Diego said.
To live on rich, fertile land among farmers who are the salt of the earth, whose days, though much the same, are filled with simplicity and grace, is to inhabit a slice of paradise.
I frequently see Fernando tending his cows. He brings over fresh milk and cheese. We stroll up and down the dirt path, chatting amiably. I feel rewarded when I can break through the dense Spanish dialect and get to the heart of what he is saying. Mainly, I love his sparkle and joy for life. We were coming to the end of the long dry months from November through April. He was bemoaning the fact that it was just so very dry, and his cows were suffering from the lack of edible pasture. With a stomp of his foot as if warding off flies, he shook his head and looked skyward. “We have not received a drop of rain, ni una gota! Ah, Dios, in God’s time,” he reminded himself. “I’ll pray,” I offered.
Soon the rains came, great blinding sheets that flooded houses and streets. Then all was right with the world again—that perfect Costa Rican balance of sun-streaked mornings and afternoon cloudbursts, turning the land emerald green.
I love the pristine spirit of the Costa Rican farmer, whose life, so close to the equator, is attuned to twin cycles of day and night. I’ll take some of it back with me when I return to Colorado. I learn here that life carries on in much the same way as it has for eons, in spite of technology and sophistication. What is worthwhile about life is ageless. It’s the light that shines through our eyes in the simplest of experiences, the native gladness in being alive without greed or design, the willingness to trust—qualities captured in lands where the campesino still thrives. “Pura vida!”—pure life, as the saying goes in Costa Rica.