|Missionaries Mariah Wondersee and Paty Abreu with children from the village.|
By Erin Rockenhaus
“Pasale. Come in,” Carmen said hurriedly as I
stooped to clear the low doorway. Those doorways were made
for the squat and round Maya people, not for a
lanky gringa like me. My head smacked the top of
the grass roof anyway as I staggered into the dim
hut. “Pasale.” Carmen motioned me into the cooking-and-eating room and
to a cast-iron wood stove.
My visit was unannounced. I
plopped the refrigerated food bags on her table—dinner to be
heated for my group of hungry missionaries who had spent
all day painting and cementing the village Church. She hurriedly
stoked the fire with sticks and logs and poured oil
in the skillet to fry the taquitos. She was used
to these types of visits from strangers who had been
rotating in and out of her village since the spring
for the church building project.
“Carmen, really, I can cook
them. I know you still need to make dinner for
the family, and it’s already almost nine,” I insisted, as
I tried to take over at the stove.
Her plain stare
made me understand that she wasn’t moving. This was her
kitchen, and I was the guest.
The figures in the next
room looked up from the hammocks in which they were
lounging, and slowly decided to expend the energy to move.
I turned to see a large shadow crossing the doorway.
|Missionaries on a day of work in front of the church.|
“Hola, Señor…” I said as Carmen’s husband pulled up a
stool right in front of me on the dirt floor
and smiled drowsily at me.
Mario seemed to have a
placid temperament, except when he was drunk, and usually could
be seen sitting around the house or in the front
“Hermana, I was just remembering a Mayan legend…” A twinge
of fear welled up in my throat. I knew that
I could be here all night if I wasn’t careful.
But, I was curious too.
“Sure, while the taquitos are warming,
but I have to take them to the missionaries for
dinner when they’re hot.”
“Look, hermana, it is an old
legend told by my people, and it goes like this…
A prince was born, the only son of a long
line of kings, but both his father and his mother
died that same night. No other kings could be found
to adopt the child, so the steward looked everywhere to
find a noble person to be the godfather of the
|A little girl invites the missionaries in to a house in the village.|
prince. The steward found no one, so he made a
deal with Señor Death. Yes, Death agreed and had pity
on the little child.
Time passed and the child grew
into a youth and his godfather decided to give him
a special treat for his birthday. He showed him the
door to the afterlife, and they entered a place full
‘Son, each of these candles is the life
light of a person. You see, some are shorter and
some are bigger and brighter. When their candle dies, so
‘But, Señor, which candle is mine?’
‘Here is yours…’
saw a small, dim candle. His heart fell.
Godfather turned away, the boy switched that candle’s place with
another larger candle.
Without even turning around again, Señor Death
said, ‘Changing the place will not change your fate. Each
person only has the life time that is his. But,
let me give you a gift, my Son, you will
have the gift of healing. If you touch a sick
person, they will continue to live, but if you see
my face at the foot of the bed, that person’s
time is up forever. No healing will be possible.’
not long before the young prince found a beautiful princess
and fell in love. When one day she feel deathly
ill, the prince came to heal her. He saw the
shadow of Death coming from below her feet, and quickly
turned her bed around put himself in the way of
‘Wait, you must not take her. There must
be some way to extend her life candle, Señor…’
is a way, Son. I can give her from your
life candle, but you will no longer be immortal as
you were before.’
‘Yes, the candle I showed you before was
not yours. Yours was a candle that never ran low.’
clank came from the stove, and I jerked upright on
my stool. Carmen’s distracted voice interrupted, “The food is ready,
Mario’s eyes flashed intently, “What do you think he
“Of course he gave his life for her,” I quipped,
thinking this was the only right answer.
“Yes, that’s right…”
love is worth it. Love gives meaning to life,” I
blurted out, surprised at the force and feeling with which
the words came.
Mario and Carmen stared at me. These people
are very hard to read, I thought.
I smiled and
shrugged, thanked my host for his very interesting tale, and
got up to give Carmen a hand serving the platters.
back with my steaming load of sweet smelling corn taquitos,
I looked up at the clear starlit night and let
the tropical breeze massage my neck. It’s true, I mused,
it’s not romance. The Mayans knew more than how to
count and look at the stars. I don’t live in
a fairy tale. I’ve touched it, I’ve tasted it. An
eternal life without love would be hell. Love means choosing
to give up your “life,” to give of yourself.
That night, the taquitos tasted especially good, after a day
of hard labor and of many visits paid to the
people to bring them comfort and company. I went to bed
happy for having given a day of my life’s candle
Author’s note: This June and July, I spent
a month on a humanitarian and evangelizing mission to the
Mayan part of Mexico with the Mission Youth Corps
International Volunteer Program. The account written above is true, but
names are changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.