“As the blossom cannot tell what becomes of its fragrance, so no one can tell what becomes of his influence.” Anon
There is a painting on our fireplace that at times I stop and think about. Other stories then spring to mind. It is not just the painting that grabs my attention, but it is the memories that tag along with the name of the painter. A whole life is reborn in my mind as I think of Maria at her easel in the part of her living room that Doris and I know so well. But before I am washed away with the flood of memories and feelings that go along with the painting, I shall be more cold and factual, telling you about the painting itself.
The brush strokes show two jangadas that are leaving the shore to sail out into the vast Atlantic Ocean. So what is a jangada? It is a raft tied together of balsa logs and since balsa is an extremely light wood the poor have used them instead of boats. But there is more to these rafts than balsa for there is a sail fitted to those logs that will take each raft out into the ocean. The purpose is to fish. But this fishing is not a sporting adventure for these jangadeiros. This jangada is such a small adversary facing these waters for tropical winds can hurl huge waves at these rafts that would destroy any small, defenceless boat. Behind the jangadeiro who sets the sail and guides the raft out into the deep waters there is a family that depends on his catch. This fisherman hopes to haul in enough fish to provide a meal for his family he imagines is hungry at home. Yet some of those fish will be sold so that he can add rice and beans to his table.
You might find the jangadas anywhere along the great hump of Brazil that pushes out into the Atlantic. But there are two contrasting pictures that come to my mind. The painting on the fireplace tells the story of the beauty of the land. Then there is the courage of these fishermen who have given their bodies day after day to be burned black with the sun. But they have no choice but to face the dangers of the winds and the waves
Yes, Maria has set my mind to wandering among the balsa rafts, the sea and the poor who find a living on the water. But now it is the lady who painted this picture that becomes my focus. So many Brazilians are so like Maria in her ability to be an artist in one way or another. Maria not only paints but she plays the organ that is placed between her “painting” corner and the light from the front window of her living room. I recall one day—perhaps a Sunday she gathered her hymn books and began to play. The music gathered her husband Alzenir, Doris and myself and the four of us sang those wonderful old hymns that give us hope for an eternal life beyond this one. It moved me deeply for I love the Portuguese language and I am sure we learned quickly this Latin language for it was tied to the music of hymns. In this case the music we already knew. We learned those new words and they perhaps grew more precious to us than the English from our childhoods.
It was in a simple brick church in a new poor area of Sao Paulo that we first met Maria. My wife Doris had begun a youth program and Maria along with her future boyfriend Alzenir began to attend. But since help was needed to run the program these two young teens began to help out. They later married, raised a family and Alzenir eventually directed this same youth program across the country. For many years Maria suffered with seizures and though medication helped yet it took some sharpness from her personality. Just a few years ago she had brain surgery and is so much better. Still through it all Maria was always the perfect hostess, always had a smile though it was occasionally with a twist related to her illness.
Ah Maria! If by some strange fate we should travel once again to Brazil, you with your family would more than likely meet us at the airport and insist that we spend a few days in your home. What wonderful stories we would share with smiles as we recount events nearly forgotten over many years. We might have to wipe away a tear before we say our ate logos ,our goodbyes. I’m almost sure you’d pick up another painting hidden close by your easel and put it into our hands before we step out your front door. One thing is for sure—we will not forget you Maria and the jangadas you painted into our hearts.
There is a paradox in all that I have written. On the one hand the painting on the fireplace has stirred up memories of friends and places from days past. But I might suggest this; we are still ministering in a small way in the Brazilian church through the people we love. But there is also the future that is totally hidden. Both are God’s gift to Doris and me—the nostalgia for people and places we have touched that are now fading into the fog of history. Then there is the hope He gives that looks beyond this world and its struggles. We live now in the present—content in the eternity that is now with us. And we are content as we consider the coming eternity when we shall meet our friends and no doubt some of the jangadeiros. Our faith affirms the Eternal Father in one way or another. He will continue to bestow good upon us.