by Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman
On April 1, 2020, Cuba’s borders were suddenly closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For an island whose main entrances are by air and by sea, the effects of the closure were devastating.
Food, gasoline, medicine and products such as soap, detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste were hard to find. Many items normally sold in state-run stores were either too expensive or unavailable in the weeks and months to come.
When the lockdown began, I had a few tubes of toothpaste in reserve. Day after day, I rationed the toothpaste by putting only a little dab of it in the center of the bristles. I began to fear I would run out if the borders didn’t open soon. Eventually, I became very protective — aka, selfish — of the dental cream.
One day, the Lord broke open my heart through an encounter with a humble and guileless friend. Juan directed the music ministry at our parish church connected to the bishop’s residence and diocesan offices where our Sisters still live and serve.
This only child spent the rest of his time caring for his mother with neck problems and his father with cancer. Daily, he stood hours waiting in the lines at the pharmacy and at the various stores and street corners for food and other necessities.
After receiving his call, I greeted Juan in the lobby of the diocesan offices. He told me that a doctor had prescribed toothpaste with fluoride to heal his father’s gums damaged by cancer. With a tiny plastic cup in his hand, he humbly asked for a little toothpaste.
Walking to the convent, I heard the Lord ask me if I would be willing to sacrifice one of my precious tubes of toothpaste, not just a dab, for Juan’s father. He reminded me that the family hadn’t brushed their teeth throughout the many weeks of the pandemic. I admit a struggle within, but the Lord prevailed.
I shocked Juan when I handed him a whole tube of toothpaste. His sincere gratitude melted my hardened heart.
My toothpaste supply surprisingly lasted until the Cuban borders opened seven-and-a-half months later. Not long after that, I returned to my country, the “Land of Plenty,” as I called it there. Afterwards, I often used a dab of toothpaste in solidarity with the Cuban people whenever I brushed my teeth.
Juan unknowingly had opened the borders of my heart that day by his humble request made out of love for his father. May this Christmas be a reminder that someone even greater, born in an isolated stable to poor parents, begs us for our love and waits with joyful hope for the gift of our entire lives.
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