Coconuts and consciousness

It is a blistering hot day and 8-year-old Cecilia—Cessa is helping her grandmother—her abuela—prepare a meal of coconut rice, shrimp and fried plantains. They are now making coconut milk from a mixture of small pieces of coconut and hot water and squeezing the mixture over a strainer into a bowl.

“Where is my mama?” Cessa asks as she presses the coconut with all the strength of her small fingers.

“What did your father tell you, Cessa my child?” Abuela gently asks.

“He told me that my mama is very sick,” Cecilia replies, her lips quivering. Abuela takes the coconut mixture from Cessa’s hands and gives it a lengthier squeeze and Cessa is surprised to see two more spoonfuls of coconut milk, when she thought it wasn’t possible for it to give anymore. Cessa marvels at how strong her grandmother is and hopes to be so one day as well.

“Where is my mama?” Cessa persists.

“Your mama went to the hospital in the city,” Abuela replies. “This is a place where sick people go to get better.”

“But if they put all the sick people together don’t they all just get more sick?”

“Sometimes it works like that,” Abuela says with a laugh as she begins to wash the rice. “But your mama has a really difficult disease called cancer and it is only in a hospital where she can get treated.”

Cessa had already heard about cancer. One of her friend’s mothers had died of the disease.

She begins to feel a burning in her throat and soft tears fall down her cheeks. “Is… mama going to die?” she asks.

Abuela comes up to her and gives her half a hug, taking care to keep her sticky coconut hands off of Cessa’s back. A few tears also fall down her wrinkly brown face.

“My child, none of us know what is going to happen to my sweet angel of a daughter, but one thing I do know is that as long as we are always conscious of God’s love and unfailing protection, no harm can befall us.” Abuela says this firmly. She says these words with such force that she immediately becomes quiet.

“What does conscious mean?” Cessa asks, squeezing the pieces of coconut again, unconsciously.

“There is a difference between knowing something and being conscious of something,” Abuela says.

As Abuela speaks, Cessa again squeezes the coconut mixture, wondering if she has been conscious enough of the fact that she is cooking a meal, or whether her mind has been in too many other places and spaces. But then she thinks that perhaps this is okay, because the tasks of cooking do not require too much thought all the time.

Then Abuela talks about the larger implications of consciousness. “Maybe someone tells you that God’s love is everywhere and anytime they speak about it, you nod your head because you have heard of it before. But being conscious of God’s love is more than that. It means that you always feel His love and are always seeking to grow closer to him. It means you try everyday to increase the love for him in your heart. It means that you make choices that help you grow closer to God.”

Although Cessa is not entirely clear on the meaning, she feels in her heart that Abuela has said something important and feels inspired to do something.

“What should we do for mama?” she asks Abuela.

“What do you think my dear Cessa?”

“I think we should say prayers because this will help us all remember God’s love,” Cessa responds.

“That is a wonderful idea,” Abuela said. “And perhaps you can invite some of the neighbours as they may also have family members they would like to pray for.”

“Yes,” says Cessa, “I could invite Lucia whose mom had cancer too.”

Cessa washes her hands and leaves while Abuela finishes preparing the meal. Abuela’s neighbourhood is on the hill and she lives at the bottom of the hill. The sun beats down on Cessa intensely and she suddenly feels exhausted. She decides she will go first to her neighbours next door for a little break. They have an air conditioner; many in the village go to their home to keep cool. Cessa walks in and she greets her neighbour Yadira who is outside washing clothes to blasting salsa music.

“Hola mi hija [Hello my daughter],” Yadira yells in response. Yadira has a two year-old boy named Javiar and sometimes Cessa goes over to look after him so that she can spend time on her jewelry business she is starting.

“It’s a hot day isn’t it,” Yadira says, she is outside on the porch doing her washing.

“Oh yes!” Cessa says. “Can I have some juice?”

Yadira makes a really delicious passion fruit juice that many in the village love.

“Definitely mi amor [My love]” she says.

Cessa goes to the fridge and helps herself.

After drinking her juice, Cessa sits with Javier to watch a T.V. show about two brown bears that walk and talk and go to school. A frown is forming on Javier’s face because the two bears are arguing.

“You know the brown bears really don’t talk to each other,” Cessa tells him. “Because they are bears, they don’t talk like us humans do.”

Javier looks a little less tense.

Yadira laughs her booming laugh. “You teach him many good things,” she says as she drops her clothes in the buckets and comes to join Cessa and her son.

“Mi querida [my dear], how is your abuela?” Yadira asks.

“As usual Abuela always has a lot of wise words for me,” Cecilia begins. “She talked about… I forget what the word is… being conscious?”

Yadira instantly looks interested as she has often thought about this word herself. She has often wondered how to help Javier become conscious of his surroundings and those around him so that he would begin to greet people and pick up his toys. “Tia Yadira (aunt Yadira), what do you think it means to be conscious?”

Yadira again laughs her deep booming laugh. “There is a difference between knowing something and being conscious of something,” she says.

“Yes, Abuela also said that,” Cessa replies nodding her head vigorously and shaking her thick black curls. “But what is the difference?”

Yadira looks at Cessa thoughtfully. “When I think of my own life,” she begins, “I can see that there have been moments when I have been more and less conscious of God’s love.” Yadira pauses for a moment trying to think of an example. “Sometimes when I get busy with Javier and my business, I find that I can go all day without feeling God’s love and just thinking of all the things that I have to do.”

Cessa thinks about whether she remembers God’s love all time. She thinks about how sometimes she plays outside with other children in the village and gets home so late that she is too tired to say her prayers. She wonders if this means she is less conscious of God’s love.

“But then a difficult thing happens and I realize that my connection with God needs to be strengthened,” Yadira continues.

Cessa thinks about difficult times in her life, and immediately thinks of her mother’s illness. She remembers that she has come to visit Yadira in order to invite her to say prayers together and that she needs to invite the rest of the neighbours to come along as well before it gets dark outside.

“You have just helped me understand something, tia Yadira,” Cessa says, her face lighting up. “I came here to invite you, Javier, your husband and some of the other neighbours to say prayers this evening, but then it was so hot outside that I got tired and decided to stop for a bit and sit by the air conditioner. Then I was thirsty so I got a class of juice and started watching T.V. with Javier.”

“Yes my daughter,” Yadira says.

“So, then I realized that when I was thinking about my mom’s illness, I was more conscious about inviting everyone to come to say prayers together, but then when I began to think about how hot I was, I forgot about what I had left the house to do.”

“Yes it is easy to become less conscious,” Yadira says gently.

“So then how do I always stay conscious of God’s love?” Cessa asks. “When it’s hot outside how do I make sure I don’t forget about other things when I try to stay cool?”

“I think that this is something we all have to think about throughout our lives,” Yadira says. “Perhaps we can talk about it after we say prayers tonight.”

After kissing Yadira on the cheek, Cessa leaves to go invite a few more neighbours to her home. When she returns, she sees that her Abuela has made the room very beautiful; she had gathered some flowers from down by the creek which give the room a pleasant floral aroma and placed a few candles around the room. The home has no spot of dust to be seen and Cessa notices that even the walls are sparking clean.

After quickly eating her dinner, three families arrive and they sit down and pray, some using the book, some saying prayers from memory. As the sounds of the prayers begin to soothe her heart, Cessa sees her mother’s face in her mind’s eye and asks God to look after her. “O God, guide me, protect me,” she says thinking of her mother. After the prayers there is a silence and the neighbours begin to speak softly together.

Cessa sees that it is a moment to ask the question she had been thinking about that day. “I am wondering how to become more and more conscious God’s love,” she blurts out.

There is a silence for a moment and Yadira smiles knowingly. “Maybe you can explain what made you ask that?” she suggests.

“Can you explain?” Cessa pleads. Her face is a little flushed and she feels a bit shy all of a sudden.

“Cessa, Dona Gloria and I have been talking today about the difference between knowing that God’s love exists and being conscious of it,” Yadira explains. “We have noticed that sometimes it is easier to be conscious of God’s love in difficult times, but are trying to learn how to always become conscious of this love that sustains us.”

There is again a silence; then Maria Sol, the 15-year-old in the village who has recently begun to hold a class for children that Cessa attends begins to speak. “I have learned that when you begin to teach children, you need to help them to develop good habits,” she explains, “and also develop these habits in yourself.” Everyone nods their heads and looks on thoughtfully.

“Maybe you can develop a habit of being conscious of God’s love?” Yadira suggests.

“Yes, yes!” Jesus, Yadira’s husband, exclaims clapping his hands.

Abuela continues, “When you have a habit of being conscious of God’s love, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, even if you are squeezing coconut to make coconut rice for your family, you can be conscious that this is the way you are serving God, that God has created this coconut for us and we are expressing love for God by cooking for our families.”

“What about when I play outside with my friends?” Cessa asks.

“You can be conscious that God has given you friends so that you learn what it means to love others and in this way learn to love him.”

Cessa again remembers her mama and thinks of her bright friendly face. She thinks about how her love for her mother has made her conscious of her love for God and how this love brought some of the neighbours together that night.