I've been reading so many thoughts about John Lennon and his art and life and death today. Seems that everyone recalls that bad day--like the day JFK was slaughtered. Where were you?

I was in Tijuana. I was in a place called The Barrio of Shallow Graves. Great name for a neighborhood. Bad place to live.

It was night. I have written about this before. There was a young girl whose face was covered with impetigo sores. She lived in a dirt canyon with no electricity or running water. There was a broken refrigerator at the top of the slope with a pile of human excrement inside, sitting on the shelf like some hideous dessert. Gang-bangers filled the dark alleys around the girl's house, and they had tried to explode our vehicle by putting a lit cherry bomb in the gas tank.

I was working for Pastor Von in those days. Translator. Bringing words to the teeming, silenced peopel of the canyon. And medicine. It was pretty direct--the girl's scabs had to be broken through so the medicine could get into the face-mange that was disfiguring her. I held her as the missionaries scrubbed that bloddy patch on her face and broke her heart. It was torture, let's face it. She writhed and cried and begged me to stop them, but I held her against my chest and promised her it would be all right.

Sure, we healed her. But was it all right? Did her world improve? Did her face? Maybe for a while. You do your best, and you hope. Right? Heal the sick, isn't that what the work is supposed to be? Feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Comfort the widow? We were solid on every level, and her mother was a widow to boot. Covered on all the God-chores. My little task was also this: give voice to the voiceless.

Got home stinking of poverty. I had that orphanage stink on me too--pee and dogs and spoiled food and hair oil. Baby shit. I'd be checking myself for lice later. But I walked in my door at midnight and a voice in the dark called out: "Did you hear about John Lennon?"

That's where I was and what I was doing when I heard. The world did not get better. And later, when I went to see family in Sinaloa, I saw this painted on a wall: LENNON DON'T LET ME DOWN. It wasn't Lennon who failed.

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