Monday, February 12, 2007

dos besos

I walk Meaghan and Nic to school most weekday mornings (with our dog Lexi in tow). I am a creature of routine, so we follow the same route each day. Out our gate, left up Angel Muñoz, right onto Agastia, one block, then left up Bueso de Pineda. Cross Arturo Soria (a biggish road) and continue straight up another couple blocks.

When we come to the corner of Arturo Soria and Bueso de Pineda, we arrive at a rather significant place in Madrid. Here stands the headquarters for the Department of Traffic. Many people need to come to this office from time to time to do such things as renew their driver’s license or registration. For many, the process no doubt requires standing in line for long stretches of time with bureaucratic materials in hand. Because one can never be too sure that one is standing in the correct line with the correct materials, some people would be glad to have a break from such trials. Enter Blanca.

Blanca is an oldish woman who stands on the corner near “Trafico” (as we call it). Passing by this corner every morning, I witness Blanca shuffling up to total strangers asking them if they are there to “renew the card”. If they answer yes, then she will offer to stand in line for them for a small fee, saving them the hassle of having to do so themselves should they find more suitable business to occupy their time.

Blanca’s skin seems thick like an orange peeling, but slightly brownish and a bit spotted like a ripe pear. Her hair is bushy and unevenly matted. She’s a tad taller than 5 feet, I’d say. She wears stained brown boots and a winter jacket the color of charcoal. On cold mornings, she can be seen blowing warm air into her cupped hands, then rubbing them together. Her eyes squint when she smiles and her lips come together (showing no teeth, yet still conveying a jolly demeanor).

I don’t know if Blanca noticed us first or if we noticed her, but after some weeks she began patting our dog on the head, should we be standing stationary, waiting for the pedestrian light to change. Eventually, she began commenting on how cute our dog was.

Then, she began commenting to me how cute our children were.

So, the kids have gotten used to looking for Blanca when we pass by her customary spot. She’s become an old familiar friend of sorts. Some time in mid to late November, Blanca bent down to kiss Meaghan on both cheeks, in true Spanish fashion. This gesture is dubbed “dos besos”. At first, it took Meaghan quite by surprise, since she had gotten used to saying “hola” to Blanca, but “from a distance”, as it were. Meaghan didn’t know what to make of Blanca’s sudden “dos besos”, so I explained to Meaghan that that was Blanca’s way of showing her she wanted to be Meaghan’s friend.

Thinking of it that way, Meaghan smiled.

From that day on, whenever Blanca was on her corner (which was most mornings), Meaghan and she exchanged “dos besos”. Gradually, with practice, Meaghan got used to it, and developed some proficiency with the rhythm of the two pecks.

Nicolas regarded this action with a small measure of apprehension. While Meaghan walked forward with intention to give Blanca her daily dose of love, Nic would linger behind (often hiding beside a pole or something like that), hoping Blanca would not motion to give him dos besos.

As Christmas drew near, we decided it would be a nice gesture to give a small gift to Blanca (a tiny package of chocolates), since she had become a blessing of sorts for us. Meaghan carried the gift that morning. As we approached the corner, her smile grew larger and her eyes brightened. She held out her hand as we came up to Blanca and said in pure innocence, “Feliz Navidad, Blanca.” We walked away and Meaghan looked up at me, delighted with the wonder of a token given unconditionally.

After the holidays, Meaghan resumed her normal diet of dos besos and eventually Nic joined in. The first time he worked up the courage to kiss Blanca, he looked up at me afterwards with a smile on his face as if to say, “It wasn’t that bad, after all!”

He’s been hooked ever since.

I was thinking about this more today, letting my mind dwell on the life-giving nature of love shared serendipitously and unpretentiously. I know little else about Blanca, but my guess is her life is probably a hard one. Often, her offer to stand in line for someone is met with a gruff response. A man in his forties strides by with determination, wearing newer clothes and finer shoes. He shakes his head and mutters or barks as if Blanca’s presence is an annoyance so great he wished her dead or just someplace else.

Blanca gets very little love. And she has grown used to it. Until Meaghan and Nic. Now, in the midst of what is probably a day filled with rejection after rejection, there is at least one thing that can brighten her spirits: dos besos.

And that got me to thinking, “This is why we’re here. For dos besos. This is why Jesus came. To give us the dual kiss of grace and truth.”

A kiss with no strings attached that says nothing other than “You matter. We see you. We’re glad you’re here.” A kiss of grace.

And then, the other cheek. A kiss, honest and true, without guile or pretense. The kiss of a child. The kiss of truth.

She may be dirty, but I’m glad our kids give Blanca dos besos. Hopefully, their touch whitens her heart.

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