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Witness to the Life of Jovnio Óreas

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

A celebration of the life of Jovino Óreas was held at the Copal town plaza, a large grassy area surrounded by more pasture, graced with large trees with a marvelous canopy under which had been placed tables and chairs for hundreds. The sun shone brightly, it was a beautiful beautiful day.

As we approach, it’s amazing how many people are there. It looks as if the whole town showed up – it looks like a church picnic. There’s a pick up truck with giant speakers in the back pumping out great Salsa and Cumbia and making it very festive indeed.

Central to it all is Jovino Óreas. Seated across from the entrance (fence with gate, no walls) and surrounded my his immediate family – his wispy somber wife at his left – Sr. Óreas is not looking well as all. I didn’t catch his age, but it’s got be to 80’s or 90’s and he’s clearly dying. We knew this was the case, nevertheless it’s rare for me to see someone that close to death attending a party.

A death mask upon a listless body, struggling for breath, surrounded by many many people who were there for him. I couldn’t take photos, so disrespectful it seemed to me. But I couldn’t figure it out at first — it was a puzzle — how so many people were there for a dying man.

I’ll admit it. I had the thought, “what if he dies right here?” Funnily enough, we were seated with our new friend Don Pacho, 95 years old and doing just fine.

Cirrhosis of the liver. But judge him not, because according to the speeches made in his honour, this man was a huge, huge, huge figure in the town, a founding father of sorts. Roads, school, electricity. Perhaps even the formation of Copal itself. (I’m still only able to catch bits and pieces of anything anyone says here.) The speeches were a remarkable outpouring of love and affection and respect. It is indescribable the effect it had on me. It certainly had the same unspeakable effect on the crowd, most of them. Their faces betrayed a complex mixture of emotions. [Of course there had to be one drunk youth who couldn’t keep his mouth shut — who loudly tried to impress a pair of teenage twins at the back with rude jokes and other ridiculous shenanigans]

In general, the expression of emotion was stunning. Jovino threw this party for the town. He wanted to say good bye. He wanted to give them a BBQ and music and to have his funeral before he died. His family had a hard time containing themselves. Sr. Óreas was also moved to tears, as he spoke a few words of friendship and thanks.

He earned witnesses to his life and impending death. Created a shared experience. It was a moving experience. I was so humbled to have been invited.

Originally published September 17, 2012

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