It presents such a pure distillation of human goodness - kind deeds bringing happy outcomes - free of the adulteration of messiness and unfortunate consequences that sometimes seeps into good intentions in real life.
Back in 2006 my daughter Claire spent a year working with two elderly Maryknoll missionary nuns who ministered to a village in the Nicaraguan jungle that bordered the city of Leon, which the villagers commuted to over the broken-up road that ran between the jungle and the city. They traveled into town by bike (sometimes balancing two or three people on one bike), on foot, by the bus that stopped at the edge of the jungle, and sometimes in the nuns' jeep.
One family especially took her under their wing. This was the family of Lupe*, a woman in her 50's who cooked for the nuns, and her husband Ascencion who did odd jobs for the nuns and around the village. Lupe and Ascencion's 32-year-old daughter, Zorayda, also kept house for the nuns. So Lupe and her family earned their living as the convent caretakers.
One day Zorayda came to Claire in tears. Her uncle was in the hospital in Leon, he was in kidney failure and needed $50 for a blood transfusion. Now, at that time Claire didn't have $50 to spare, so she called me and asked if I could quickly put the money into her bank account. I questioned how a $50 blood transfusion could save someone in kidney failure, but gave Claire the money, which she gave to Zorayda to pay for the blood transfusion. Her uncle died a day or two later.
About a year after Claire returned from Nicaragua and was in nursing school in Chicago she got a desperate call from Zorayda. A charitable group had come and run a water pipe into the village. Ascencion had been hired to guard the pipe, and noticing a leak in the pipe, bent down close to look at it. At that moment the pipe burst and the pressurized water slammed into Ascencion's face, blinding him. The doctor said the only way to restore his vision was with an operation, but in the meantime he needed to protect his eyes with a pair of special dark glasses that cost $150. Claire called me. I sent $150 to the Western Union in Leon.
Claire, in the meantime, organized with her friends in Chicago a fun-raiser night in a neighborhood bar to raise money for Ascencion's operation. Tommy sent $100 he had received as a graduation gift. Maria and Justin sent $100. Claire raised several hundred dollars from her fund-raiser. I pitched in the rest, and Claire sent the money to Zorayda for her father's operation.
But the operation didn't work and a day or two later Ascencion died in the hospital.
The hospital required the family to furnish a coffin before they would release his body, and an unscrupulous coffin salesman talked them into buying a $600 coffin instead of using a wooden box from the village.
Again Zoyada called Claire in a panic. When the bill came due she didn't have the money to pay for the coffin and the coffin company was going to throw them off their land if she didn't come up with $600.
Claire called me in tears. Where would the family live without their little farm? How would they eat? What would happen to the children?
I sent $600 to pay for the coffin.
A few months later Claire called me again. Zorayda's 4-year-old daughter, Camila, had had several bad seizures. The family took her to the hospital in Leon and found out that she had a cancerous brain tumor. They needed money for the operation, which would cost about $1,000. (Yes, I know - imagine brain surgery costing $1,000 in the U.S.).
But now we faced a dilemma: If Camila survived the brain surgery, she'd also need all kinds of post-operative care and chemotherapy. How was her impoverish family going to manage all that out where they lived in a clearing in the jungle?
One of Maria's friends contacted the St. Jude Hospital to see if they could possibly transport her to the U.S. for treatment but it turned out that St. Jude doesn't deal with foreign transactions.
I sent Zorayda the money for the operation.
But the surgery failed and Camila threw a blood clot and went into a coma and was put on life support.
Zorayda, who'd already lost one child to dengue fever, begged the doctors to save this one but they said there was nothing they could do. She told them she could pay them, whatever they wanted. After several days the doctors finally told her that although there was nothing they could do she could take Camila to the children's hospital in Managua where she could be cared for by specialists. But she'd need to provide $150 for the medical transport. And she'd need money for the treatment in Managua.
So she called Claire again and Claire called me. This time Claire was skeptical. The child was in a coma. She'd been on life support for days. Was there really anything the doctors in Managua could do?
I have three brothers who are doctors so I called all three. None of them wanted to make a judgement call without knowing exactly what the child's situation was. I talked to a neighbor who was an oncology nurse. Her reply was the same as my brothers'. I didn't know what to do.
Then I received a distraught phone call from Zorayda. She'd found my phone number on a Western Union receipt. Even with my meager Spanish I knew she was begging me for the money to save her baby's life.
I sent her the money. I sent money for the ambulance for Angelica and money for Zorayda to take the bus to Managua and some money to pay the doctors in the hospital and some extra money for Zorayda. Hundreds of dollars.
So Angelica and her suffering mother were transported to Managua where Camila was admitted to the Mascota Hospital for Children and Zorayda, who had never in her life been anywhere beyond her village and Leon, was left to fend for herself, exhausted, disoriented and almost penniless, on the streets of a big frightening city.
And from there the story turns into a nightmare.
To be continued...
* I've changed all the names of the family members.