The Man Who Prayed
This is the story of Fernando, as it was told to me. I did my best to reconstruct the story with the fragments that were given to me over time, shared in reminiscent pieces as the memories were dug up slowly over late nights and mournful moments.
Many years ago, in the 1940’s, lived a young man called Fernando. Fernando lived in a valley of the mountainous region of Utuado, Puerto Rico. Fernando made his home in a secluded area, residing in a small house on a hill. The elevated foundation of the concrete house was laid with cinder blocks, so as the land receded, one could see right underneath the house, to the very bottom. Behind his humble home was a lake, around which Fernando made a living as a landscaper. A simple man, he would cut the grass and the Thespesia bushes with his machete. No tractor, no mower, just a quick swipe from right to left until the job was done. He would keep the grounds of a summer house that belonged to a lawyer across the lake, and the grassy pasture around it. Every morning, at five AM, he would pack his thermos of black coffee, climb aboard his dingy motorboat, and cross the lake to the lawyer’s house. In the evenings, he would swim back and forth for miles across the vast expanse of the lake. He came to know the lake, with all of its pits and depths and sand traps. A dangerous lake, as it was, Fernando revered it, mapping its ebbs and flows, knowing it like a friend.
Fernando was known as the man of the lake, the only person who knew how to navigate those angry waters. Often, Fernando would be contracted to help police investigators make dives to recover the bodies of those who were swallowed by the wrath of the lake. He needed no tank, no goggles; he would just cross the lake with his boat to the spots where he knew that the lake took her vengeance, and he would jump in, and pull the innocents out.
One afternoon, in the still quiet of the valley, Fernando’s rest was interrupted by a man banging on the door of his house. The man cried for help, as he gasped for breath. A child was drowning. He got stuck in a sand trap, and his body could not be found. Without missing a beat, Fernando ran to the scene, and jumped into the lake. 1 minute under water. 2 minutes. 3 minutes. After almost 4 minutes under water, Fernando pulled the boy out of the sand trap, dragging his body onto the shore. Miraculously, the boy lived. What happened after that is a mystery.
After many years, the lake became dark with pollution, so Fernando no longer swam in it, although he still traversed the waters from the safety of his boat. He met a woman called Carmen, a fiery Pentecostal who held her heart in one hand, and her faith in the other. The two became inseparable, as Carmen and her children became everything that he never thought he could have. Her children were grown, but he raised her grandchildren, loving them like his very own. He loved the grandchildren, saving up every cent in order to pay for their bus fares and their afternoon ice cream. He would hide the quarters and nickels on top of the door frames, where every afternoon, he would reach up, grab a handful, and distribute it among the three children. He brought them to school every day, mounting them on the small boat, and bringing them across the lake to the place where the bus would pick them up. When they grew up, he paid for their college, and would travel for hours across the island to bring them groceries and snacks so that they would not hunger.
As a young man, Fernando was stubborn. He was stubborn in his beliefs, routines, and in all the ways in which he learned to live. Upon meeting Carmen, he was her total opposite. Carmen was the truest kind of Pentecostal, praying every day at five AM, noon, and six PM. She was a pious woman, who never missed a Sunday. Fernando, on the other hand, was a man without faith. Kind as he was, he lacked knowledge of God. He liked to drink and laugh and make mischief. Carmen would drag him to church for every service and prayed for him every day. It took many years, but after a hard-fought battle, Fernando accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. After being diagnosed with a condition which filled his lungs with water, he slowly began to settle down. He continued doing his work, taking a pill every day to keep his body from flooding. It was at this time when he also began to pray daily. He would lay down on his stomach, and stare out his bedroom window, gazing on his beloved lake. With hands clasped above his head, he would approach the Father. Every day, before trekking out to the lake, he did this.
After many years with his condition, Fernando developed a new routine. He would cut the grass on the weekdays, rest on Saturday, and go to Church on Sunday. Every couple of weeks, he would take a trip to the city to go to the store, pick up his pills, and do his grocery shopping. One weekend Fernando made his routine trip to the city to pick up his pills, and unlike all the other trips, for some reason, the pharmacist would not give him his prescription. Whether it was “would not” or “could not”, unknown to me, the pharmacist did not fill his prescription but sent him home empty handed. He was told to return in 3 days- then, he would be attended.
The three days of waiting were painful. He continued his work, trying to keep to his schedule to distract himself from the slow stiffening of his body.
On the third day, when the sun began to rise, Fernando was found dead in his bedroom, laid down on his stomach, facing the window that gave view to the lake, with his hands clasped above his head.
A man seemingly gone without reason, for one pill could have saved his life; But also, a man whose last breath was a prayer. He learned to love his Father, and so the Father loved him. Surely, the conversation that he began with the Father that morning was then completed in heaven, for the Lord is merciful, and Jesus bridged the gap between heaven and earth. This, I’m sure, Fernando knew.
The funeral was held soon after. The whole town gathered at that small Pentecostal church hidden in the mountains. Many showed up, for Fernando was abundantly loved. The crowd gathered and paid their respects; they laughed and cried, sang and danced, and celebrated a life that ended in victory. Life after life, they called it, allowing that hope to ease their sorrows.
But then from afar, a man came running. He ran into the church, weeping bitterly. The guests looked at him, puzzled- nobody was able to identify him. The man sat at the altar and continued to weep. After many long minutes, someone approached the man and asked, “how did you know Fernando?”
The man looked up and said, “When I was a little boy, that man saved my life.”
That night will never be forgotten by Fernando’s grandchildren, for they often recall the moment after long nights of celebration, or when rummaging through old photos.
“Your great grandfather was a wonderful man,” my mother would always tell me, “let his faith be an example for you. For after all the life he lived, Abuelito Fernando will always be remembered as the man who prayed.”