This is the story of a little man and his sweet corazoncito – and the power of returning.
Once upon a time in the year 2008, a love story was born. In the corner of a sun-drenched courtyard at a little nursing home called Cabacitas de Algodon (Little House of CottonTops), a little man had set up his small “studio.” He carefully drew a house, his feeble hands holding well-worn colored pencils. This wasn’t any house, mind you. It was an elevation – the type of sketch used by homebuilders. Meticulous and mindful, he focused on his work, oblivious to the team of North Americans who had walked through the gates with guitars and new shoes. His art was his passion.
And it was someone else’s passion too.
Courtney walked over and asked to see the sketch. At first he was shy, but when she shared she was an artist too, he smiled. His name was Don Manuel, and he was a construction worker until an accident sent him to the hospital. Without a family to care for him, Don Manuel and his permanent limp (from a broken hip) were moved to Cabacitas to live out their days. He showed her his other sketches – of mountains and lakes and buildings. He found his inspirations in magazine photos, and copied each one with such fine detail. She asked to see his pencils, and then quickly ran to the bus to get a fresh supply of colored pencils and crayons for him to use. He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. That day, Courtney fell in love in Don Manuel.
The next year – knowing she was returning to Cabacitas – Courtney collected even more art supplies for Don Manuel. Her friend JimBo donated a very handsome case filled with fancy design tools. She couldn’t wait to see if Don Manuel was still there, and if he would remember her. As she walked through the gate of Cabacitas, she spotted the little man with the limp. He was again working on sketches in the sun-drenched courtyard. He saw her and smiled. She showed him a photo of her visit a year before and asked if he remembered. He did. They looked at his new sketches, and she then presented him with his gifts. He wept, hugged her and kissed her on the cheek – then cradled her face in his withered hands and kissed her on the forehead. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she told him of her friends in North America who had heard about his art and wanted to give him supplies so he could do even more. And then she took one of the sketchbooks she had given him and drew. In the middle of a beautiful heart, she wrote the words “Jesus te ama, Corina.”
The next year, Courtney couldn’t wait until the day she could visit Don Manuel. She wondered if he still had his art supplies in the case he was given, and wondered if he would remember her. This time the team included six girls from Evita’s House, and she was excited to introduce the girls to the little man with the limp. As she walked through the gate, he saw her and stood. He held her face in his hands and kissed her forehead – then showed her his sketches. Grabbing his cane, he scurried off to his room, and returned with the case filled with supplies. Courtney wept as she saw how he carefully he cared for the gifts he had been given. She learned that he was now selling his sketches to visitors to Cabacitas, so that he could purchase toilet paper and snacks.
This present year, Courtney again returned to Cabacitas with her team, carrying gifts of toilet paper, pan dulce, fresh vegetables, and coffee. She laughed when she shared with her team that friends had delivered toilet paper and Pan Dulce to Don Manuel and the rest of the residents earlier in the year – and how he took an entire bag of the treats rather than just one. Standing outside the gate, she watched as he chatted with other visitors.
The once shy little man was now proudly showing his artwork to others. He spied her through the bars, and stood. She ran to him and they hugged. Again, he held her face in his hands and kissed her on the forehead. “Corazoncito,” he whispered. She sat and they talked.
For the first time, he shared his story.
An orphan, he had been raised by nuns in the city of Xela, and at one time was married to a lovely woman who had gone to Heaven. He had always wanted to be an artist, but a life as a construction worker provided for his family. Now he was unable to work, but could be an artist. He said 5pm was snack time on construction sites, and he still craved coffee and something sweet each day at that time – he satisfied his cravings with little pieces of cookie or cake that he would carefully wrap in a handkerchief and tuck away under his pillow.
Then he shared something else with Courtney.
He opened a notebook to a picture I drew two years ago. He says he looks at it everyday. He shows me that the three pages following my drawing have been left blank…in hopes of my return. I left him with a new drawing yesterday. He left me with a reminder that when we touch lives in ministry, it is seldom forgotten.