Seeds of the Word - My neighbor who lived in his car

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Really, do count your blessings

Back in 1985, on Sept. 19, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake devastated Mexico City. Thousands died under the ruins of a horrifying number of buildings that collapsed. This situation put the resilience of all citizens to the test as they joined forces in a moving act of massive solidarity in the face of a calamity of such proportions.

A few days later, one man parked his car across the street from my home. He parked it there forever. Appearing from nowhere, always surrounded by mystery, he became our neighbor.

Years passed and this man continued living inside his automobile. We could see him through our kitchen window. Every morning, he grabbed a broom from his trunk and swept the sidewalk as if it was his own driveway. He asked everyone he ran into to spare a peso for him. Collecting pesos, he managed to live. I was impressed by his tidiness — his black hair perfectly groomed, always wearing a suit and a tie whose fabrics became shiny with time. I always wondered where he cleaned himself up, as he never smelled bad.

Even though his conversation made sense, his stories were rather fantastic and he ignored the date we lived in.

Every evening, he grabbed a blanket from his trunk and slept in the back seat. We invited him over to spend Christmas Eve with us once, but he declined. We offered him a meal another day, but he refused. Some vandals broke his windshield, leaving him exposed to the weather. He survived for weeks covering his car with a large piece of plastic while he managed to have his windshield replaced. The car never left its spot — I’m not sure it even worked.

We ran into each other often and he asked me to spare a peso for him. The first time he did, I was waiting for the university bus. Not thinking, just the way one does when so many people ask for money and you can’t help everyone, I told him I didn’t have any. I instantly realized I had just refused to help my neighbor who lived in a car. I felt like a first-class heel. I never denied him a peso again.

Years ran by and this man continued living in his car, in a world of fantastic tales. He surely lost his house and his family during the earthquake and was left alone with his car. The traumatic experience made him lose some sense of reality and sank him into the waters of the unreal world where he lived now.

He was well educated. His manners were polished and he was very kind when he spoke and asked for a peso.

All his neighbors lived in comfortable houses, surrounding our neighbor who lived in his car. We all changed our clothes, while his suit became shiny.

One day, he fell sick. A lady who lived next door brought him chicken soup in the morning and found him dead, sitting in the back seat, hugging his pillow, with a peaceful smile.

Police arrived, took his body, towed his car, and nothing was left. Another car came and parked on the spot that for more than 20 years used to be the “address” of our neighbor who lived in his car, erasing forever all traces of the existence of one man who lived among us having nothing but a car. He didn’t have a home. He didn’t have a family. He didn’t even have a sense of reality.

We got so used to him that we forgot to think about his limitations, until the day he died.

Thirty-two years later, this past September, and ironically, also on the 19th, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake brought down dozens of buildings in Mexico City and surrounding towns. It took the lives of hundreds of people. Many lost everything and are forced now to start all over again.

Do count your blessings. It is so common to forget we are alive and we have someone to love and someone who loves us. We like to nag about everything and yearn to have more and more, when only a few things really matter: always fulfilling the will of God, keeping our family in love and harmony, and giving thanks to our Creator for every day we can wake up and see the light.

Be passionate about our faith!

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - November 2017

Mauricio I. Pérez

Mauricio I. Pérez, a member of St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island, is a Catholic journalist. His website is www.seminans.org.

Website: www.seminans.org