On Thursday, I had been assigned the job of helping paint the ceiling in one of the boys’ rooms at Cerecaif. Adriana had drawn stars, the moon, a rocket ship and the star of the show, an astronaut. So we began painting the celestial oasis.
Sitting on the corner of a bottom bunk, flipping through the pages of a tiny New Testament, was Armando. At first, he seemed shy and didn’t really want to engage in any kind of communication. I knew nothing about Armando, but quickly realized that there was something very special about him. In between painting stars, I would peek around the corner of the bunk bed to see Armando looking at me. We began a game of peek-a-boo. Armando giggled. My heart jumped. Then I giggled. Then I’m pretty sure he was laughing at my silly attempts to make him laugh. I could not get enough of the sweet sound. If I waited too long in between peek-a-boos, Armando would stand and look over the top bunk at me. Then I would giggle, which made him giggle.
Armando never spoke a single word to me, but my heart heard him loud and clear.
Friday afternoon brought the 7th anniversary party for Cerecaif. After a wonderful program by the children, there was delicious food and cake. The children were lined up at the cake table. Armando, with his empty cake plate, looked lost and a little distressed at all of the party chaos. I made my way to the front of the line to get him a piece of cake. Then another. Shhh…that will be our little secret. While the other kids played with balloons, dance and sang, and enjoyed having their photo taken, Armando sat quietly observing the activities. Occasionally I would catch him looking at me. My heart heard him saying, “Please laugh with me.” I tried to distract him from the chaos with our special game of peek-a-boo.
My heart was already hurting for the goodbyes I would soon have to say. I fought back tears and kept playing, trying to spend as much time as I could with Armando.
It was time. The tears flowed as I hugged new little friends. I wanted desperately to hug Armando, but I knew that is not how he receives love. Having special attention paid to him through smiles and laughter and a silly game of peek-a-boo in a world where he is often forgotten, is how he receives love. And so with one more peek-a-boo, I blew a kiss to Armando and whispered “Te amo.”
My prayer is that when I get back to visit Armando, we will be able to pick up where we left off. And that in the meantime, when he is alone in his room or in the midst of chaos, he will remember our shared giggles.
Thank you, God, that Armando shared his joy with me.
This is what laughing will sound like in Heaven.
Armando is 14 years old. He is autistic. He has been at Cerecaif since 2004. He enjoys turning the pages in books, cake, looking at Matchbox cars, and laughing. Please pray that he will continue to receive love through the special attention that he needs.
Thanks to the generous donations made by friends and family, Armando will be sponsored for the next year.