The Dignity of Don Salvador

The Dignity of Don Salvador

Who knows what he thought those last six or seven years, before he died.

As a young man, he’d possessed options. Now, as an old man, and a blind man, he possessed none. Except for his thoughts. He had the option of what to think, and he tried to think good things.

He, Don Salvador, was poor; and he, Don Salvador, was abandoned. You hear these words a lot. You hear them from Sisters of Notre Dame. You’ve probably heard them from others. Poor and abandoned. Taken together they are as a generalization – often without attachment to names and faces.

But Don Salvador had a name and he had a face, and I want to tell you about him.

In his day, Don Salva, as he was known, had been a cook. He was known far and wide by the families of Tambogrande, Peru, where he was born and where he would die. For marriages, reunions, soirées, celebrations of any kind, the word went out for Don Salva. His specialty was duck, the recipes for which he could recite from memory. But he was known as well for his rice dishes and his cocktails. He was in the know, one of the crowd, respected by all. Years later, decades later, people would say, as with a sigh, “Ah, Don Salva,” when they thought back to his skill.

Don Salvador had built a life for himself. He was not wealthy, perhaps not even of means. But he was solid.

But Sister Evelyn Fitzke did not know him then. She did not know Don Salva when he was young, but when he was old. When he was blind already those six or seven years.

When he was poor and abandoned.

Who could foretell the arc that landed Don Salva into a stick and dirt house on an unpaved alley across from a squatters’ field. But it happened, as did the glaucoma that shrank his vision to a pinpoint, then to nothing. His sister, who lived up the hill, twice a day brought him a food plate and a plastic fork. A battered water jug sat in the corner. Besides the jug, Don Salvador owned only a towel. His sheets were stolen by the squatters across the way, for drugs. The same with a transistor radio. The squatters walked through often, seeing what they could steal. Don Salva sat quietly as they did. He was approaching 80.

Through the day, Don Salva sat on a bench inside his door. An old gray tabby sat beside him. Trucks passed on a paved road the other side of the squatters. They carried lemons and mangos. Men sat atop the crates. Don Salva could not see them but knew they were there.

Then in the evenings Don Salva listened to the violence of the squatters, and through the course of the night to the braying of donkeys belonging of the alley. The cat, curled at the end of the mattress, warmed his feet. He tried to think good thoughts. 

We know this because of Sister Evelyn Fitzke.

It would be correct to say Sister Evelyn works in service to those who are poor and abandoned. But it would be accurate to say she works for those such as Don Salva.

Sister Evelyn is a nurse. She took upon herself Don Salva’s care. She took him to doctors, traveled for medicine an hour and a half away, arranged that medicine such that it could be taken by feel, and at the prescribed times. She bought new sheets, these marked with indelible ink. ‘These sheets stolen from Don Salvador,’ they said.

And perhaps most important, she visited. Twice a week, including Saturdays when she’d bring pumpkin soup. She’d also bring a newspaper, and sitting beside Don Salva would read aloud the headlines, then the articles that interested him. She would spend hours.

Over time, she came to know Don Salva. She learned of his concern for his neighbors in light of the squatters. She leaned of his nephew Leoncio, who was developmentally disabled, and who would come to visit when others would not. She learned of a homeless woman with schizophrenia, who lived on the alley and whom Don Salva befriended. Don Salva gave the woman a safe place behind his house for when her days were particularly bad, or to meet with her mother when her mother brought food.

“In the end,” says Sister Evelyn, “it’s how we treat one another that really counts. Don Salva, at the end of his life, understood this.”

Don Salva died at 84. For four years, Sister Evelyn cared for him, and did her best to be Christ to him.

But there is an important point here: the medicine she bought, the soup she prepared, the visits to the doctors, the change for the newspapers, her very presence – they all were made possible by you and people like you. Don Salva didn’t know any of your names, but your generosity was as a straight line to his small, stick house on that nameless alley in a town so very far away.

He was indeed of the multitudes of poor and abandoned. But more importantly, he was Don Salvador. 

Please make a contribution to the work of Sister Evelyn and to the work of all our Sisters. Pope Francis speaks of going to the periphery. The periphery is where Don Salva resided, and where our Sisters choose to reside, also.