Panama 2019: Without Minga

Some of you have asked how it will be for me to arrive in Panama and not have Minga there. I’ve been the one to come and go for all the years of our friendship. She’s the one who was always there. I found her ten years ago, after a forty year absence, because she was only a few hundred yards from where she and I had lived before, in the late 1960’s.

As I’ve written about in past blog posts, I believe that each of us constructs a personal architecture within which we feel safe and secure. Familiar places are part of that architecture, so are the people we rely on. So are rituals, familiar foods, routine activities. I work out every day, and I write every day. When I have a really bad respiratory infection — something that hasn’t happened for a couple of years — I can’t do either. Not only do I feel physically wretched, but my spirits plunge as well, because I can’t do the things I’m used to and that make me feel in control of my life.

Minga is part of my personal architecture of safe space. Our relationship was uncomplicated. She was always happy to see me — visibly, enthusiastically, reaching out to give me a warm embrace. She always trusted that I would come back, always assured me that she would be there when my annual trip to Panama came around again. She never asked me for anything, although she was grateful when I bought her a rocking chair or a box of hair color or when I brought her something pretty from home, like a necklace or ear rings, or when I left her with a fat envelope of $20 bills so she had some money of her own. She didn’t have sisters, or close friends her age — people in Panama don’t. They rely on family. So she waited for me, to talk about her aging, her worries about her adult kids, her physical health, her thoughts about death and about still missing her mother so many decades after that loss. I sometimes felt, when I first got there, that she talked for that first day non-stop. She had so many things to say, and she had been waiting for a whole year to say them.

I will miss the warmth of her embrace, miss the surprises, like being reminded how political she was and how vigorously she argued with her daughters over whether former Presidente Martinelli was a good leader. She said yes, because he paved the road in front of her house. Her daughters said no, because he was corrupt. Both true. I will miss the living example of how stalwart and brave she was, even though nothing in her life came easily and she was never given very much. I will miss her wonderful belly laugh.

My friend Sally, who has been there for each of the ten years that I’ve gone to Panama, will be there for all three weeks of the trip, and I’m happy about that. Sally and I both used to live in Rochester; now we live on opposite coasts. We both cherish this friend-time. She will miss Minga too.

I’ll feel mixed, I’d say: happy to see Sally, welcoming of her significant other Michael, glad to show my friend Lynn Panama for the first time. And I’ll miss Minga terribly.

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