Close Encounters and Near Misses


Plazuela de la Rogativa. Faith-filled torch-bearers save the city.

A truly magical place is likely to be a little odd. Old San Juan is magical in the way I mean. There’s no artifice to its effects –- no hidden wires or circuitry behind the unexpected.

This morning I was walking down San Justo and a very large dog fell from the sky –- THUNK! — onto the roof of a parked car. He must have been running and gone over the side of a rooftop. The row houses there were all three stories high! As if seeing a dog fall from the sky wasn’t odd enough, the shaggy fellow wasn’t even dazed. He jumped down, and a young boy spirited him back into the house nearest the car.

Maria believes the universe talks to us through chance encounters and unusual occurrences. I don’t know what she will make of the dog incident, but four years ago when I was here last, she interpreted an experience I had that moved me deeply at the time.

I happened to be hanging out by the graveyard near del Morro, the old fort by the sea, thinking of my Dad and feeling pretty bad, when a limping, unwashed boy of ten or eleven came up to me and took my hand. To this day, I don’t know why I let him lead me where he did.

We walked into the barrio of La Perla, along a strand of coast outside the city wall. We went up makeshift steps and around corners. He could have been taking me anywhere. When we came out onto an open rooftop, the boy let go of my hand and pointed. To the west on the horizon were three colonial ships –- galleons, I think they were -– under full sail.   The boy had only wanted to show me. I still remember how his dark eyes lit up when I thanked him. I cried real tears, not knowing why. Maria would explain:

“Will, you miss your youth, now so far away. God sent you a boy to console you. God wants you to feel free as a ship captain at sea. The Spirit of love is moving you full speed ahead.”

This afternoon, not far from the old Bombonera’s, I saw an old woman Maria and I had noticed outside four years ago, looking into the front window at restaurant’s pastries and cakes. We had bought a cake and given it to her. She had smiled, danced, and blessed us. (I see Bombonera’s is now closed.)

This afternoon when I saw her, the woman was walking much more slowly than before, as if her feet pained her.  Remarkably, she recognized me. She clasped my wrist, smiled, and said something to me in Spanish I didn’t understand. Then she turned and shuffled off, looking back at me to follow. I didn’t follow her though, because I was supposed to meet Maria.

When I met up with Maria at the Rogativa sculpture, I told her I’d seen the old woman again and she’d remembered me and motioned me to go with her somewhere. Maria thought about that a few moments, then said, “She might have had something important to give you.”

Sure, I could have had an adventure, learned something profound, been moved to tears — Maria’s right. I can’t believe the old woman remembered me! Maybe God had something to do with that.

–Will Gray

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