February 11, 2000

An Essay:

My Life-Long Reluctant Love-Affair With Death

By Argentina Maria Mendieta Otero

What do you do when you have survived a great, major earthquake that killed dozens of thousands of your own people, and survived a civil war in your country that also killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people? What do you do? How do you go on living? How can you come to terms with the fact that you survived while thousands of others didn't make it?

Being the survivor of both -a terrible earthquake and a civil war that overthrew a major dictatorship- my answer is that you don't, you don't overcome the guilt, the sorrow of having survived. You wonder, why me? Why didn't I die? Who am I, that I survived?

Having lived through the earthquake, and the war, also affected my ideas about God and Life. It is inherent in the human psyche to equate the power of nature with the power of God; primitive cultures have worshipped the god-sun and prayed to the moon-goddess for a good crop, or for rain. (I don't think it is too strange for a nine-year-old - me - to walk away from a brush with death completely believing that God the Creator had a horrible temper and was nasty and angry; that you better watch out with Him or you would be next on His list of victims.

I grew up thinking that it was totally impossible for God to care about anybody, that He was evil and not to be trusted. I grew up terrified of living and of reality. With these kind of thoughts, the only kind of reality I created for myself was one of fear, distrust, suspicion, hatred, anger and a death wish that never goes away. You grow up feeling that you fooled death once, but that eventually it will find you and get you.

What is the point to all of this? Well, the one the thing that I understand about my life now, is that you can't take it for granted. I cry thinking of all the hours and days I have wasted not living life to the fullest. It's true, I had a lot to deal with, but life can't all be joy, life can't all be pain.

In all those years of pain and believing that I didn't deserve to be happy, and that I was stealing the lives of all the people who had died in the earthquake of Nicaragua in 1972, in the many years to come I have also experienced tremendous joy and pleasure in living, through friends and relatives, wonderful music I have listened to, great books I have read and last but definitely not least, God's healing, blessing and my final understanding of how great His love for the human race is.

He loves us all alike, from all walks of life. And I finally realized that when we sin and fall away from grace, God is NOT stomping His feet in rage and fury, ready and willing to hurl us into hell as I grew up believing, but I am totally convinced God's heart breaks and He grieves and hurts for us when we sin because we are only hurting ourselves. We are bringing death and pain onto us when we sin and God knows that, so He suffers when we sin.

I had a need to create an image of God that was more real and compassionate, more living and more caring if I was to believe at all, that he gave a hoot about the human race.

Having witnessed the horrible, destructive forces of Nature that are always spoken of as "the will of God", I had to change my perspective on who God was if I was ever going to heal my paranoid fear of Life.

In the most difficult, toughest years of my life, God slowly and gently entered my life and presented Himself as a Friend to be trusted and with time, a Friend to be loved and be needed.

Now that I am aware of my feelings and how I had interpreted what I saw at the earthquake and how afraid and guilty I felt for having survived, I am now grateful to Life for having spared me even though I felt sorrow for all the thousands of people who died. I am now convinced they are all at peace in the kingdom of God, enjoying Eternity with all the angels and saints and all other members of their family who may already be there. All I can do is to live my life to the fullest.

There is a part of me that feels that I owe it to them all to make myself as happy as I am allowed to make myself, that if I live a happy life, my fellow Nicaraguans wouldn't have died in vain. I owe it to them.

The people who died in the quake and war, their journey ended then and it was time for them to move on to Heaven with their Creator. Like the Bible says, "God is not a God of dead people, God is the God of the living." All the people who died in the quake and in the war are alive enjoying Eternity with a living, beautiful God; we here on Earth are still on the journey, it is not yet our turn. Someday it'll be.

If one thing all this suffering I have lived through taught me is that you shouldn't waste energy and time with things you can't change. Grieve as much as you need to grieve for the things that cause you pain, but when you feel ready and able to, pick yourself up, clean yourself up and move on, go on living, continue pursuing your dreams.

Be graceful, love as much as you can, forgive as much as you can and try to employ all the gifts and talents you have been given from God and live your life to the fullest. Believe me, there is no time to waste, so that when the time comes to leave this Earth, you will feel you did everything you wanted to do, or at least the most important ones. I hope when I die, I won't look back with regrets. Too much precious time has been wasted on things that weren't up to me to change, I hope you don't make the same mistake I made.

If you get lost in the commotion of Life, don't lose hope. Pray to God for wisdom in making choices, when it is hard to decide which goals to pursue, which ones to let go of. Believe me, all the effort, all the work, all the sacrifices you make to have the life you dream about will be worth it to you someday. Just don't let up. As for me, I am 37 years old and I can't wait for my new life to begin. Even with everything that I have been through, I feel the best in my life is yet to come!

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