A Brief Encounter

A few years ago a new family moved onto our cul-de-sac. They were a friendly bunch who fit right into our neighborly traditions. On New Year’s Eve 2019, they hosted a party that was filled with dancing to music from each decade starting with the 1940s. It was lots of fun and the best part was that we finally got to meet the patriarch of the family who did not get out much because of his bad health. Augustus Barnabas Cabrera may have sat through the festivities, but his feet were tapping away to the music the whole time while a smile lit up his face showing his delight at seeing every enjoying the evening. 

Mr. Cabrera was born in Trinidad where he spent most of his adult life working for Texaco/Trintoc and raising a large family. He was a union man who quietly worked for good working conditions for his fellow employees and he was also a faith-filled man who put God first in everything that he did. He loved his Catholic Church and served on the Parish Council as faithfully as he did his work for Texaco. His children speak of the many sacrifices that he made for them as he guided them to be productive and compassionate adults. 

I did not see much of Mr. Cabrera after that New Year’s Eve party. The Covid pandemic hit with full force and he mostly stayed inside his home where his daughter, Christine, faithfully cared for him. His health began to further decline during those long days of isolation and he became mostly bed bound. We often witnessed ambulances arriving to take him to the hospital for emergency procedures, and on one occasion his parish priest came to administer the last rites. Somehow he rallied again and again.

Once Covid was not as worrisome as it had once been, a home healthcare worker would push his wheelchair around the neighborhood so that he might enjoy some sunshine and the well wishes of the neighbors. He always had a beautiful smile for anyone that he encountered. It was truly a delight to see him once again, but his time on this earth would not be for much longer. He died at the end of August this year. 

There was something special about Mr. Cabrera that I can’t quite explain. I mostly only knew of him, not about him. I was taken by his smile and the love that his family had for him. I only interacted with him a few times, and yet I felt that he was someone quite special and that I had been fortunate to spend those brief moments with him. When I went to his funeral mass at St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church I had a remarkable spiritual experience as though I had somehow been in the presence of a saint. 

I learned that Mr. Cabrera had been a determined advocate for justice and fairness. I heard that his faithfulness to his family and to God was exceptional. I realized that the frail old man with whom I had felt so comfortable had led an extraordinary life that was filled with hard work and great joy. His foot tapping at the New Year’s Eve party was no accident for he had always been a fan of Calypso music and dance. He had a balance in his life that kept him focused on the good of others. Somehow I felt his story calming me and urging me to keep following my own pathway in life. 

It’s funny how the small moments in our lives often turn out to be life changing. As I sang the hymns and prayed with Mr. Cabrera’s family I felt as though in his story I had found the true meaning of life. He was a quiet and unassuming man when I met him and yet I had realized that he was far from ordinary. Even in his pain and the slow dying of his body he was focused on being a light for the people around him. I know that he brightened my day whenever I had the privilege of seeing him.

Mr. Cabrera loved working the soil in his native Trinidad. He enjoying doing organic farming on his land, growing tropical fruits and vegetables. He raised ducks and chickens all the while entertaining his family with his endless sense of humor. He devoted his life to his wife and children and at the end of his own life his children and grandchildren were devoted to him. 

Mr. Cabrera truly lived. His legacy will be remembered not just by his family members but by the oil workers for whose rights he battled, and by the neighbors like me that he so impressed. Surely he was a man of God in every sense of that idea, a kind and compassionate soul who understood how to sacrifice for others and how to love. 

I feel fortunate to have had my brief encounter with Mr. Cabrera. He was a reminder to me of the goodness in humanity that is sometimes hidden by those whose ugliness steals the headlines. It is in the quiet but determined souls like Mr. Cabrera that our world moves forward towards fairness and love. Knowing that there are people like Mr. Cabrera calms the fears of my soul. May he rest now with the angels in the heavenly home that he most assuredly earned.  


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