As a front gate guard for the Villas California community, Jesús Morales Vasquez is up and down constantly throughout the day and night, questioning visitors, chatting with residents, and raising and lowering a very heavy metal barrier as he lets folks in and out of the neighborhood. He was just shy of the halfway point of a 36 hour shift when I joined him for lunch in the casita a few days ago. Jesús has an inner essence that outshines everything around him; a spirit that makes this 5 feet 6 inch man seem 10 feet tall. His love of life is infectious, and I wanted to catch it.
Born on December 25 in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, Jesús is 68 years old. He is no stranger to long hours or hard work. Jesús left school after the ninth grade to help his mother support his eight brothers and sisters. He worked as a welder and a fisherman, often simultaneously, leaving one job for the other each day. He didn’t dwell on the long hours or demanding, dangerous work. Instead, Jesús reflected on nature’s wonders and her beauty in places like Chiapas, Oaxaca, Bahía de Kino, and the stretch of the Sea of Cortez visible from where we sat. He shared his top-secret fishing spot with me, recalling with pride the day he hauled in 800 kilos of camarónes, some nearly 40 centimeters long.
Jesús has been married to his wife, Rosario, for 40 years. They have three sons and one daughter. Their daughter keeps Rosario company during his long shifts- -he described it as a never-ending talk fiesta. Jesús spoke of his oldest son, who is faced with many challenges in his life at this time. Not easily discouraged by events outside of his control, Jesús is filled with hope that with the love and support of his family, all be will be right again soon.
Jesús’ faith comes from his strong belief in God and involvement with the church. When he was younger and his children smaller, Jesús and his family participated in mission exchanges through their church and parishes in the United States. They traveled to Minneapolis, Maryland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, and Scottsdale. Jesús ministered to teens. After a little sleep at the end of a long work day (or two), he completes items on his Honey Do List and then spends his time reading from The Bible. Unless he is working, you can find him at church on Sunday mornings.
Jesús feels deep pride for his country. His eyes teared up as he described the strength of Mexico’s people. He placed his hands on his heart and talked about their unity and love for one another. He referred to his compatriots as his hermanos. This depth of feeling is not just reserved for his countrymen. In spite of dealing with his own health issues related to diabetes, he focused his attention on my sprained ankle, detailing a family recipe guaranteed to reduce swelling. Noticing the struggle I was having with one verb in particular throughout our conversation, he took the time to write down the correct conjugations in my notebook. I was there to learn more about him… this lunch was about Jesús. He didn’t necessarily see it that way.
“How are you always so happy?” I finally asked. Still working at the age of 68- – long, lonely, physically demanding hours, facing precarious health issues, and hurting for his son and grandchildren, Jesús never fails to have a smile on his face. His response was surprising simple. “La vida es un regalo.” Life is a gift. “Waking up is the very first gift of each day.” I felt the depth of his words in my own soul. Occasionally, we need reminders to give thanks for the precious moments we are granted. Jesús is my reminder. I am forever grateful for the gift of his presence in each of my days.