Lone sat the man on a plastic chair in the center of a covered pavilion. His son was draped face down over his lap. Everyone else had left. Everyone else had been served.
Flies buzzed. You could cut the air with a knife.
Once or twice each minute his boy would arch his back and become rigid, teeth clenched, and eyes shut tight. He was eight years old, but barely 40 pounds and wearing diapers under his jeans.
Epilepsy is painful to watch.
With patience and gentleness this father held his son, stroked his head, and spoke quietly in his ear. His bulging muscles could have come from working road construction. His soft hands told a different story.
Forty-nine children and adults had been fitted to wheelchairs earlier in the day, shrinking the crowd of perhaps 200 down to a lone man and his son. The second-to-last pediatric wheelchair, which takes longer to properly adjust for a good fit, was holding up the line.
We’d been squatting and running, adjusting and tightening, drilling and sawing, smiling and praying, and of course, everyone poses for a selfie with each overjoyed family. For some, this was the first wheelchair they’d ever received.
Some were carried in. Some scooted in. Others rolled in; wheeling in broken down, warn out, dilapidated chairs. One pulled himself in a discarded janitorial mop bucket. Each of the 50 selected to be given and fitted to a newly re-manufactured wheel chair had been chosen by some unknown lottery. Everyone, but one, had been served. This father and his son were the end of the line.
We were tired. Everyone showed sweat stains on our shirts. Guatemala City can be hot in August.
My station had fitted six or eight adults and I was done. I opened a sports drink from our mission team cold chest, looked up, and saw this lone father. Gathering up four or five unopened bottles and a spare chair, I walked over and offered him one. He smiled and nodded yes. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, but a smile and a cold drink on a hot day is universal.
I sat down with dad and his son. No one should have to sit alone.
The seizures continued, as certain as the sun rises each morning and sets every evening. We waited with patience for his turn, the final turn of the day, to have his son fit to a new chair. I wondered how my friends who were specialists in fitting children would go about helping this child who arched his back so severely with every seizure.
I held the child’s hand, uncertain if he was aware of my presence. Dad smiled at me. He was aware.
Others began to bring over a chair and join together as a group. Two became three, three became four, four became more. One of our team who is bilingual began to learn his story. Mom had left her husband. She couldn’t take the burden any longer. Dad had to quit his job to attend to his son full time. They had lost their house and their home, moving back in with extended family.
Dad was on his fourth or fifth sports drink by the time the specialist team members were ready to start. It was go time.
Using specialized straps and blocks, pads and extenders, and other assorted modifications this boy was perfectly fitted into a reclining specialized pediatric wheel chair. Some of my fellow mission team members are wonderfully talented experts. As soon as his body touched the chair, his muscles relaxed, and he settled in as if he was sliding into a familiar pair of shoes.
Dad cried with joy.
Our entire group gathered around for the selfie. We paused and bowed for prayer.
Thank you God. Thank you for a chair, and those who provided it. Thank you God, for the fit of a perfect chair. Thank you God, for the love of a father. Thank you God, for your love; perfect love from you, our heavenly Father.
This is why we come. This is why I return.
Our trucks were loaded and we saddled up. With two taps on the door we headed home, swirling dust down the parched streets of Guatemala City.