The old lady who didn’t like seniors very much

We had just arrived, when we went to the Cafayate Cathedral to ask about an anonymous hero, someone who helps his/her community always at the service of others asking nothing in return. They suggested we visit Lila Domingo, just across the park, and we knocked at her door of her ancient house without knowing who we were going to meet. A lady with white hair, wearing glasses and a wide smile opened the door, looking just like any grandmother. Without hesitation, she invited us inside her house, an oasis with a colonial patio full of colorful flowers, legendary hydrangeas and two rocking chairs. We explained to her the reason for our visit and while she starts telling us her story, all doubts are dissipated; we realized again that there is Someone showing us the path and taking us directly to people who dedicate their lives to others.

With her 88 years of age, Lila remembers how she grew up “holding her mom’s hand very tight”, going along with her to the schools, her mother taught in sewing, reading or writing workshops and she would play with the kids during the break. Her life changed when her marriage was broken, she wouldn’t go out in the street, she felt anguish, sorrow and desperation and two small kids (3 and 1 years old). This is how she had to go back to her parents and start working on her family business. She was spiritually plummeting and didn’t know how to go up to the surface. During that time, a friend wanting to help her, invited her to meet Chiara Lubich (founder of the Focolar movement) who was visiting the city of Santa María, Catamarca, Argentina. This exceptional Italian lady, mother and spiritual guide of crowds, who hugged humanity’s pain and prioritazed the poor, promoting the Gospel living experience as the most strong social revolution, was the person who changed Lila’s life forever. She recalls: “Talking to her was like being alive again, I really became alive.” Yeah, she had a very sweet look and wise advice; I remember exactly what she told me: ‘The work you are doing now, you are doing it for obligation. You are going to work for no salary at all and you will do it for Love’. After a while, I was lucky to meet her again on another visit to Santa María, and I was a completely different person. Working for Love was what changed me.”

To carry out the assignment, and wishing to go forward in her life, Lila went to see the Bishop to ask him what he needed. They were in the process of opening the Seniors Home, so he told her: ‘For you, the keys of the Pantry’. Lila remembers with emphasis: “I never liked the old people; I never wanted to be part of anything with them”. Nevertheless,  full with courage she went ahead to fulfil what Chiara had asked her to do. Since then, she has never left it; she continues to go there every day, after the first mass in the morning for the last 43 years.

There was only one condition that she has put to start working there; it was to never be requested to sew. She really didn’t like it, even if she was good at it because her mother has sent her to a dressmaking academy, she repeats: “I still don’t like it at all” stressing the ‘no’. In spite of that, it seemed that life was pulling her leg: “The first day I started to work, I opened the door and in the first bedroom there was a blind old man, Quipildor was his name (I will never forget it) and he was trying to glue the bottons of his jacket. What a message God was sending me!; the first thing you are going to do: ‘Sew the buttons to the jacket of this old man. This is how she started to work at the Seniors Home.

Listening to the tone of her voice we felt moved, her accent from Salta is mixed with the tint that a voice get when older and we are transported to the past with her. She laughs at herself, when remembering that she never liked the seniors, and now she is one of them with her own walking stick. She has an unlimited patience and knows every one of them, with their own old habits, problems and mischief; because they are sometimes like kids. She talks about them with love and she shows us how they are treated lovingly by the nurses.

She is a little helping machine, besides working at her father’s store, she was also Principal at the evening school, mother of two kids (one with Multiple Sclerosis) and she had the “bonus” – like she calls it – of helping at the Seniors Home, doing whatever was necessary (cooking, cleaning, etc). She admits that the strength comes from God, that “when one wants it, God provides for it, just let Him guide you” there is no doubt that working for Love for others changed her life completely. She made a 180 degrees turn, stopped feeling anger, sorrow, anguish and would go out happily in the street to take care of old people whom she has always avoided.

Her pillar during that time, when starting at the Senior Home was Alicia López, a Spanish pediatrician who has arrived to Cafayate to stay. Both were part of a commission of 20 people, of which only the two of them are left today. Alicia, 77 years old, brought from Castilla, Spain her stubbornness, drive and courage; defends the Seniors Home with all her might and with Love dedicating her life to others. She is the Principal of the Home, coordinate tasks and staff, negotiate with suppliers, ask help from the PAMI (Argentinian Seniors Health Care public system), make exchanges of donations for food at grocery stores, and above all these she makes magic with the finances, because the Home is supported only with help from the Cathedral. Again the foundation Adveniat heavily cooperated at the beginnings of the Seniors Home.

Both Alicia and Lila, were very happy when we proposed a morning full of music alive with a group of friends we have met in our road. The following day, we came at 6 with Eduardo, Mercedes and their guitar and violin. They welcomed us some with joy and some with uncertainty, some very lost and others very expectant. But music connects, moves, brings everyone close and makes them happy. Some would clap, others smiled, others just listened, others would ask for more and a tiny, stooped old lady left her seat at the patio to come and dance to the music with her walking stick!. They began feeling more confident and Mrs Inés delighted us with her “box”, playing and reciting funny verses, making us feel we were up in the hills from Salta in an adobe house. With a limited sight, her sapukai with a high pitched voice was a song for life and the moment we were all waiting to sing along her. It was a learning experience for us the young people; open up to their troubles, listen to them and exchange hugs or hand shakes when saying goodbye. Those hands with a thin and soft skin, that the blind ones would use to transmit us what they couldn’t using the other senses. We were deeply moved, with a happy and content heart; with an extra grain of learning but much lighter in the head.

When we said goodbye to Lila, we felt like we had spent a lot of time with her even if it was just a couple of hours. She waves and knows everyone, and everyone loves her and take good care of her. She is still in charge of dressing up the Virgin Mary statue for the festivities, very traditional habit of the rural regions of our country Argentina. She lives in the parallel Cafayate, with the same colorful hills and its vineyards. The Cafayate that lives with open doors matching the centennial houses. Behind the antiquities so many stories we didn’t even imagined.

[Take a look at the dance in the Seniors Home! Complete Joy!]

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