Beauty in Desolation


Clouds at sunset, Florence, Arizona

It is the middle of an August afternoon in southern Arizona and the temperature outdoors hovers, as usual, at a few degrees over 100 Fahrenheit. At the edge of this small town there is nothing to be seen but cactus, sand, and scattered small bushes. The view could hardly be more forbidding.

Sometimes when I come here I wonder if the people who own the large homes in town ever look out their front windows. Do they realize where they live? To a visitor, this looks like the land of saguaro, sagebrush, and scorpions.

And yet . . . the desert has its own stark beauty. It can have magnificent sunrises and sunsets. The open sky overhead at night can be a thing of wonder. And there is always beauty to be found even in Desert 10Au15_1020216the desert when you look closely—in the distant blue mountains, in a cactus bloom, in the yellow and orange flowers on one bush that crops up often, particularly in some of the nice xeriscape yards. (I do not know its name. The truth is that even though I think plants are lovely, I have largely a nodding acquaintance with them.) Where people have planted those strategically, the bush adds a nice touch of life to an otherwise bleak landscape.

I have known people like that—people who bloom in bleak settings, who bring life and hope in places where no one would think it could thrive.

Santa Fe is a very poor barrio just below the airport in Guatemala City. It was originally built by squatters who simply took over the land and constructed adobe houses on it. It is the kind of place where some buildings are combinations of plastered adobe and rusty sheets of corrugated iron. It is the kind of place where many people have no hope because they have no work, and where drug gangs need have no fear of the law. One teenage boy I met there spent months recovering from gunshot wounds after he threw his body over that of a little girl in the neighborhood store to protect her in a drive-by shooting. Santa Fe is the kind of place that seems to have many exits but no escape.

And yet . . . I knew people there whose level of goodness and brotherly, or sisterly, love made me wish I could live so well. Many had next to nothing, but whatever they had, they would share with their projimo—in Spanish, the person next to them. Their concern is not for their own position, their own comfort, their standing in the community, their convenience, or their income. They simply do unto others service and kindness because they can, and because they believe in following the admonition to “love thy neighbour as thyself.”

May God bless those who bloom in the desert, bringing life in an otherwise bleak landscape because their roots draw nourishment from the Source of living water. And may He bless me to be more like them.

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