The singing was my first clue. I was deep inside my computer – well, actually, deep inside my head while working on the computer. The singing – and my dogs doing their doorbell/alarm system routine – brought me out. When I went to the front door to see what had the dogs so worked up, I was amazed to find the street filled with neighbors standing in solemn rows, hands clasped before them, singing. Their focus was something concealed by the bush under the light pole in front of them.
After they left I went over to check it out. I found a small wooden cross made from bound tree branches planted there, in front of a rectangular tub of local flowers – bouganvilla, hibiscus, and the like. It looked very much like those little memorials you find at back-road crash sites in the States, except that the flowers were fresh.
I was alarmed. There are two policemen living in my block and both have dangerous jobs to which they commute, one in the notoriously violent city of Colon. Had one of them died? Had another neighbor in my block died and I did not know? How could this have happened? Why does no one tell me anything?
I immediately tried contacting my Panamanian friend Soraya, but she was not home. No one was. O dear. Was everyone but me at the funeral or something? O dear. O dear, o dear, o dear.
I knew both possible “widows.” They must be devastated. Should I go to their homes and offer condolences? How was something like this done here? I wouldn’t want to give offense at such a delicate time. This could be the kind of cultural misunderstanding that would leave me a deserved-to-be outsider in the community forever.
The next day I saw the family truck in the drive of a probable “dead policeman.” So I gathered my courage and went over. The “widow” laughed. It was, she told me, just the the neighborhood Catholics practicing the Stations of the Cross for Lent. If I toured the subdivision, she said, I would find something similar in each cul de sac. And, she said, I was welcome to participate if I chose to.
Shortly after I arrived home from visiting the ex-widow, Soraya called me over to the fence between our mutual neighbor’s house and mine to tell me the same thing. She had been visiting her family, so hadn’t gotten my message until just then. And she was laughing, too.
What a relief. Three blessings: the policemen (both fine young men) and their families were safe and sound, I had committed no faux pas of neglect, and I was given a first hand demonstration of how faith enriches the lives of the people here.