April 7, 2000


"A Man I Shall Never Forget"

Written by: Argentina Maria Mendieta - Otero

Can you please tell me where Dario City is? The man in the olive green uniform asked me as I was about to cross the highway that divided the sleepy town of "Las Maderas."

"I think you keep driving straight ahead until you come to it. The next town you come to after `Las Maderas' is `Dario City,'" I said as I accidentally made the gruesome discovery of a bloated corpse lying on its back in back of the military jeep. Without being able to take my eyes off the dead man, I asked, not wanting to assume the man was dead. "Is he all right? What is wrong with him?"

"Oh, he's all right, he is just sleeping," the man who had originally talked to me said he burst out laughing, turning his head away from me to look at the other soldier who was driving with him. When the other soldier who was on the driver's seat started laughing as well, then both turned their heads and with mockery in their eyes and crooked smiles, looked at me and I felt them both studying my reaction. By then I think they knew I knew the man in back of their jeep was dead. I could not believe it. I, only sixteen years old and on a literacy campaign in Las Maderas, was actually looking at a murdered human being. I stood in shock, staring at the dead man as the two soldiers in the front seat laughed some more, turned around in their seats to face the road ahead, and with a loud roar, the jeep took off, leaving me frozen in place, watching the back of the jeep as it disappeared in a brown cloud of dust and dirt.

All I could think of that day and for many to come was that murdered soldier, for the dead man was a soldier, too. The reason I assume the dead man was murdered and not just dead of natural causes is because the two men driving the jeep were Sandinista soldiers and if the man in the back has also been `one of them,' I feel the men wouldn't have made fun of me because I was shocked to see a corpse, they would have been upset too.

What do you think of when you see a dead person? What thoughts come rushing to your mind as you stand in the presence of a human being who no longer has the life energy that make you and me alive. What I kept thinking about when I thought of the corpse was, of course, who was he,? What really killed him? Was it a horrible, painful death,? What were his last thoughts as he was dying? His thoughts were probably of the people he was leaving behind, people he loved. His children and wife if he was married; his parents, his friends and how they were going to be wondering where he was and whether he was all right. I kept wondering, was he a good person? What was he like? Was he a good son? During wars, of course we see the person we are fighting as the enemy, the person to kill, to destroy so we can win the war, but in reality who you see as your enemy that you have to destroy is somebody's lover, father, son, brother. Somebody loves that man you hate.

I couldn't believe his whole existence had been reduced to lying swollen with death in the back of a jeep, in the company of people who hated him. He was dressed in green fatigues, both arms swollen and stiffened in mid-air, eyes half-closed, mouth half-opened and purple. I could not see any blood but he wasn't covered up, so I got a very good look at him.

For years I wondered why I was so shocked when I saw this corpse when I had seen hundreds in 1972, after the December 22nd earthquake. I was 9 years old and we had to walk several miles to my grandmother's house, who lived in an area that had been greatly affected by the earthquake. Because of all the rubble on the streets, we couldn't drive to my grandmother's. On our way to her house, I saw bloody, damaged corpse after corpse, there were so many, we had to continue zig-zagging around them to advance to my grandmother's house. I don't remember being particularly horrified when I saw so many dead people; the only clue I have as to why I did not react immediately to the macabre scene is because of my lack of experience with actual suffering and death. Up to that day the only dead relative I remember having was my material grandfather and I don't even recollect his funeral or hurting because of his death. Also, I think I did not react in shock at the time because I was in the company of my own family, I was under the effect of the safety and protection of my parents. With them by my side, I felt nothing could hurt me.

When we finally arrived at my grandmother's house, we were very glad and thankful towards God to see my grandmother not only alive, but chatting away with other people on her block. The situation was serious, though. Everybody in the neighborhood had whatever they had been able to get out of their homes, out on the sidewalk. These houses were very old houses built with adobe and wooden frames. None of them resisted the earthquake, everybody had to stay outside. As it happens, when the earthquake struck at midnight, my grandmother and my young cousin Guillermo ran to the front door to get out, but the convulsions of the earth had made the front door stick and it wouldn't open. My grandmother kept trying to force the door open, but it wouldn't budge. Suddenly, a great hole burst open in the neighbor's wall, which was also the wall in my grandmother's house. When the neighbors saw my grandmother and little five year old Guillermo trapped inside her own home, they yelled for her to get out through the hole, into the neighbor's house and out the neighbor's front door. And that is how they did it. That hole breaking open at the same time my grandmother realized they were trapped saved her life as well as my cousin Guillermo's life.

It wasn't until almost thirty years later that, trying to write this essay that I had a strong reaction to my memories of the earthquake. I am almost thirty-seven years old and everytime I started writing this essay I would burst into tears remembering the dead soldier in Las Maderas and remembering all the cadavers I skipped over after the earthquake.

I have been exposed to a lot of gruesome situations in my earlier years and I think that, coupled with other things in my childhood, plus genetics, account for the fact that I have suffered depression since I was fifteen years old, and I have been on medication for depression, plus other symptoms, since I was twenty six years old. I hope you won't feel sorry for me. This is going to sound odd and hard to understand, but I am grateful for depression. It has been an interesting companion in my life for the last twenty years. With depression I have learned not to take life for granted, to be thankful for the happy, good, healthy moments and to pray for strength in the difficult ones. It is as if depression had carved out in me enough space in my heart to feel love, hope, faith, kindness, patience and gratitude to Life, people and my Creator. I have a lot of things to be grateful for and I am sure I wouldn't feel that way if I hadn't lived with depression for the last twenty years. Depression, as hard as it is to live with, is a great teacher. I also think depression prepared me for the gift of joy and peace I experience very frequently in my life now. I don't think I will someday be so perfect that I won't need depression to teach me new things and help me grow as a woman and as a human being as it has done these past years. I only hope, with God's help, I will be receptive and open to depression's message of Love. I know it sounds very strange to describe something that makes you live with a perpetual broken heart and a strong desire to have somebody take your life away, as something that could have goodness in it. While you are experiencing the depression, it's hard, you want it to end already, but now, when I have a depressive episode, I just wait it out and I know that with time, depression in its infinite wisdom will reveal to me what I am supposed to be learning, how I am supposed to be growing and in what direction.

Having been so close to death so many times has made me appreciate Life even more. I am grateful for my own life, my friends, my family, my work, even very grateful for the many experiences that have shattered my heart into many little pieces you wonder if you'll ever stop crying. But you do. The tears do stop and so does the pain; all you are left with are the wonderful gift of love, appreciation and excitement for what amazing things God your Father has in store for you.

My wish for you is that you look around yourself and see all the things you can be grateful for, things or people you took for granted before, things you never saw anything good in. Look again, look closer, listen harder. Everything has beauty, everything has a gift to offer. Please, don't let Life pass you by. I think we all possess the God-given ability to be happy, if you think about it I am sure you won't have to look very far.

If I had been asked if I wanted to be born while showing me all the things I was going to live through, when I would see all that I'd gain from the experience, I'd shout a very emphatic "YES"!!! I only hope God will show me how I can best serve God and people with what I've learned. My Mission Statement for my life is to live it well, employing all my gifts. But more importantly, not to have any regrets at the moment of my death. I hope what I take with me when I leave this Earth is, "I loved as much as I wanted and desired to love, I laughed as much as I wanted to laugh, I cried as much as I wanted to cry and I delighted in and relished every minute of it. I hope I have shared enough of my story with you to entice you and provoke you to love yourself and your life with all the strength you are capable of. Try it, it's worth it. If it also happens for you, I'll say: "Mission Accomplished". God Bless You.

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