Panama 2019: On Gloria’s Faith

If you’re a person of faith, you have to account for the fact that some people really get the short end of the stick in life. What does that say about God, presented by most religions as loving?

On one of our last breakfasts, Gloria launched into her belief that I am a living angel sent to her by God as her reward for keeping the faith through many years of trials. That really hits on all my old Catholic stuff, but I recognize and respect that Gloria has the right to make sense of the world within whatever framework she can. So I smile and nod and stay silent. I’ve heard this story of my alleged angelic qualities several times.

When I first met Gloria ten years ago, she was employed by a wealthy Cuban-American couple who owned the villa I first rented. They were imperious employers, to say the least. Gloria had many family problems: her youngest son’s leg kept breaking, unable to support the weight of his growing adolescent body. The treatment for his club foot had been limited, and did not involve physical therapy. Her mother was aging and not so able to ride herd on three rambunctious adolescent boys while Gloria was away for weeks at at a time, as she was required to do when the Cuban couple or renters were in residence. Gloria’s marido, Luis, worked near the city and was only home Saturday mid-day through Sunday night. They often went for weeks without seeing each other. Gloria herself had many health problems, some related to the extreme malnutrition she suffered as a child. She was miserable, overworked, often in severe pain, and near despair.

That, she tells me now, was God testing her. And she met God’s challenge, because her life has gotten steadily better over the ten years. Now she is a new woman.

Well, she is a new woman — funny, confident, assertive. I wish she would take more credit for the hard work of personal transformation, attributing more to her natural intelligence and resilience and less to angelic intervention. But as I say, people have to make sense of the world in their own terms.

I think Gloria has changed as a result of the role modeling and encouragement of all the strong women I’ve brought to Panama, and whom she’s gotten to know — often without any shared language. Gloria thinks her life has changed because God tested her enough and finally decided to cut her a few breaks.

Here’s my evidence of women drawing strength from other women — Tia Sally and Gloria. Gloria doesn’t need evidence for her world view, because her story is all about faith.

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