Today is the one year anniversary of Linda's El Salvador Blog. When I settled in to write this anniversary post, it didn't take me long to decide on a story to share.
This is the story of my first secret friend.
It was the week before Valentine's Day. We were all staying in our sister church community for the annual Mission of Healing. We were a small group back then - a few nurses, a nurse practitioner, a lay pharmacist and a couple of people to teach the kids about healthy teeth. At the start of the week during Sunday worship we were all invited to put our names into a little hat. Then each person drew out a name. My turn came around and I pulled out a tiny slip of paper with a name on it, the name of my amiga secreta, Josefina. What a special surprise! I loved Josefina, really, like a grandma, and she loved me back with those big long hugs and face squeezes that only grandmas can get away with.
Because we did not know anything about this community tradition of secret friends ahead of time, we rummaged through our suitcases to find anything we could to make valentine cards or create little gifts for our friends. Luckily I always travel with bits of colored paper, tape, markers and a scented candle or two, so that each day I was able to sneak over to Josefina's house and stick a small surprise insider her door when she wasn't looking -- always signed "from your amiga secreta."
Each of our group had a secret friend, and each of us was a secret friend to someone else. So every now and then a mysterious little note would appear on top of my backpack or on my pillow, from my amigo secreto (this was a clue that the friend who chose me was a boy).
All of the secret amigos and amigas waited with great anticipation for the Big Reveal, when everyone would learn the identity of his or her secret friend and we would all have a great big Valentine's Day party together. When evening of the Dia de Amor y Amistad (the Day of Love and Friendship, or Valentine's Day) arrived, my name was called by the the boy who had chosen me, Edwin! We hugged and his mom gave me a gift bag with 4 glasses of various designs, a snow globe with a purple flower inside and a brightly colored sugar bowl with a little bunny on the lid. I still use that sugar bowl at Easter time and I drink from the glasses whenever I stay at the Lutheran guest house.
Then it was my turn to call my amiga secreta, "Josefina!" I think I had prepared a little gift bag with my photo album and flashlight inside. I don't really remember. What I do remember is that she shuffled over in her little slippers, with her face smiling brightly, and she grabbed my face and gave me a big kiss. She pulled me down onto the bench beside her and would not let go for the rest of the night.
Each year, when we happened to be in our sister community for el Dia de Amistad y Amor, I figured out a way to end up with Josefina as my amiga secreta. Throughout the year, whenever we saw one another after a little time apart, we would smile and hug each other saying, "Aaaahhh, mi amiga secreta."
Last year, Josefina was very sick. On Valentine's Day we visited her home, where she lay in her bed with an infection which was slowly moving from a blackened foot through her body. I sat down by her bed and took her hand and whispered, "It's your amiga secreta." She smiled. We sang and prayed and hugged for the last time. A few weeks later, Josefina went to live with Jesus.
Some day it will be my time to go and live with Jesus. I imagine the welcoming committee will include my dad, my grandmas and grandpas, and a little lady who will be holding out her arms and greeting me with, "Aaaahhhh, mi amiga secreta!" and a big squeeze.