Grand Prize: In the Depths of the Heart by Moramay Alva

Read the original version in Spanish.

“Palabras de Mormón” is a Spanish-language Mormon literature contest, which was a collaboration between the incredible organization, Cofradía de Letras Mormonas, and the Mormon Lit Lab. The winners received cash prizes and will be published in the Spanish-language magazine, El Pregonero, as well as here on the Mormon Lit Blitz.

We are pleased to present the grand prize winner of the contest, the essay “In the Depths of the Heart” by Moramay Alva.

In the Depths of the Heart

Moramay Alva
Translation by Elayne Petterson

What determines whether you love someone? How much time should pass for you to start to love? Does it depend on how much time they lived together? Or on the moments when they lived together? By experience I have discovered that you don’t need to know a person for very long to love them. Some connections are almost instant and lodge themselves in the depths of the heart.

I love family history because it allows me to get to know many relatives, so I was very excited when I found out about my father’s family’s—the Márquezes’—family reunion. I had been searching for information about my great grandfather, Julio Márquez, and this was the perfect opportunity to find out more about him. I didn’t have much time the day of the reunion and could only greet a few relatives. It was the first time I saw Mayel, but we barely spoke. I gave him the research I had gathered, he thanked me, and I left.

A few months later he sent me a message. He had looked over my research, the research I had given him when we met, and he wanted my help. His wife had died a few months ago, and he wasn’t feeling well enough to organize the next reunion. I couldn’t believe that anyone could like family reunions like I did or maybe more and I was extremely happy to be a part of it, so I gladly accepted.

The next time I saw Mayel, he surprised me. We had only seen each other once before, and he greeted me with such familiarity, as though we had known each other our whole lives. A kind of fascination rose up in me and I couldn’t stop watching him. He was almost 50 years old and had a sincere smile; his black hair was speckled with gray, and his eyebrows were dense and black. He had an odd way of speaking to me, with a familiarity I had never felt, even from my close family. He loved family history as much as I did, but he had done more. He organized the biggest family reunion I had ever seen. With his characteristic enthusiasm, Mayel had successfully gathered more than four hundred relatives, from different cities, and the event was called the “Marquezada,” or the Great Márquez Party. He treated everyone oddly, speaking with such familiarity and care, as though they had years of friendship, even when they had met two minutes before. He displayed so much friendship that it was startling, but with his warmth it was easy to feel his sincerity. To him it didn’t matter how you looked, where you came from, or what you devoted yourself to; what was important is that you are family and that was enough for him.

The day of the reunion, in August of 2017, I arrived early to help with the final details. Mayel was wearing his characteristic hat, which gave him a touch of sophistication. While we spoke about the reunion, one of my cousins mentioned his son who had recently returned from his mission in Brazil. Mayel unexpectedly said, “I was Mormon.” At first I thought he was joking, but then he spoke about his bishop and the reason why he left the church. “It was silly,” he said. I couldn’t believe it, but I felt very happy. Now everything made sense: this was the reason why he was looking for family! And I started dreaming: maybe he could return to the church, I could help him, I had to. After a few hours, the reunion ended. When I was about to get into my car, Mayel came to ask me something and he hugged me. He smelled of alcohol, a smell I can’t stand, but for some reason this time it didn’t bother me. It was the last time I saw him.

Months later, I opened my Facebook page. One of his children posted a status asking for prayers for his father, and that was when I found out: Mayel had been in an accident and was in intensive care fighting for his life.

Days passed with little news. Not much information was provided about Mayel’s medical condition and I was sure everything would turn out well. One Sunday morning, I remembered how we had chatted about the Church, and after thinking about it a little, I built up my courage and asked his son if he would allow a priesthood holder to give him a blessing. After all, he was a member of the church and I was sure that this could help. His son only answered with a “no.” For some reason I felt a great sadness, as though they had rejected the last chance at saving him. I couldn’t do anything about it, I could only pray that this would turn into a bad memory.

That Sunday, during Sunday school, I felt more uneasy than normal. The answer I had received from Mayel’s son had really hurt me and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much a blessing could help him. I was absorbed in my thoughts, trying to pay attention to what was being said in the class, when my cell phone vibrated. I read the message; I rose as fast as I could and left the room almost running. It was as though the world had shut down. I couldn’t hear anything. I felt a pain in my chest and started to cry. I met my husband in the hallway, on seeing my face, he asked me what was up. I could only say, “Mayel is dead.”

The next days were filled with messages in which the hour and place for the funeral services were constantly changing. I was still in shock; I couldn’t believe it. After a few days, the day and place for the viewing were finally decided. I made the necessary arrangements and we traveled there with heavy hearts. We arrived at the viewing when it was about to end. I started to understand that I had lost more than Mayel. I had lost the family connection that I felt. I realized for the first time that I had only felt this degree of familiarity with him. I was a stranger to every other person, even his children, even when we had the same blood. Now, the same happy faces I had seen at the family reunion were pierced with pain, and even though I had seen seen them more than once, they were strangers to me.

We arrived at the cemetery, that particular cemetery that I don’t like. The air smelled of flowers, the flowers that proclaim death, a combination of sweet perfume and stagnant water. That place had always given me a strange feeling, and although I enjoy going to cemeteries for my genealogical research, more than once I’ve wanted to leave that place running. The graves are so close together that they seem to be on top of each other, and even when some have flowers, they look abandoned, with that strange gray color that stones take on after years. The cemetery looked sadder than ever.

We finally reached the place; it was small, surrounded by other graves and behind a resigned chapel. It was the right place to put the coffin. I wanted to approach, but I wasn’t close family, so I stopped in the back and waited for it to be over. I couldn’t believe it was possible that someone so important to me was in this small space surrounded by cold earth. How was it possible for my hopes to be buried beneath this gray earth that smelled of the flower of death? The sun shined and it was hot, but my heart felt cold and empty. I sat behind everyone else and pretended to be okay. No one could understand my feelings, not even myself. I couldn’t understand how my heart was broken. How was it possible for the death of someone I barely new to affect me in this way? How can I explain that I cried more for his death than for my own mother’s? I felt guilty. I hardly knew him. I didn’t have the right to feel this. It wasn’t logical. But it was real.

There were not other “Marquezadas” after Mayel was gone. Others have taken charge of organizing the food, the venue and the dancing, but no one has successfully brought the warmth from before. I’ve met other relatives, discovered new faces, but I never meet anyone like him. I still cry when I remember and I ask myself why his memory is so deeply entrenched inside of me. I feel love and pain for someone that I barely knew, but the connection between us was deeper than I could have ever imagined. I miss the sincerity in his voice, the warmth when he spoke to me. I miss how I felt at his side. I’ve learned how difficult it is to connect with someone in that way, that some never do. And how much we should treasure it when it happens.

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