“Along the Broken Road” – By Andrea Carlson

 I set out on a narrow way, many years ago,

Hoping I would find true love along the broken road.

But I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow and kept pushing through

I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you.

Every long lost dream led me to where you are.

Others who broke my heart, they were just Northern stars,

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms.

This much I know is true:

God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPaU7jJvqRc

 

I’m embarrassed to admit that hearing this song rouses some very intense middle school flashbacks. A mouth full of braces, jamming to my iPod nano on the bus, thinking about the boy who sat next to me in social studies and swaying back and forth with my best friend during the encore of the Rascal Flatts concert, promising to stay friends forever after our 8th grade graduation (even though we were going to the same high school). Fortunately, the past nine months I have spent in Jamaica have given this song new life.

When “Bless the Broken Road” came up on my iTunes shuffle the other day, I resisted the urge to press skip.  Surprisingly, as I listened to the lyrics, I was transported to the roads in Santa Cruz, Maggotty, Barton and Jointwood. I heard Sister Clare Marie praying for St. Christopher’s intercession (patron saint of safe travel). I felt the hesitation in deciding whether or not the van could make it up an impossibly steep gravel road. I pictured the car, dropping heavily into an unavoidable pothole, swerving to avoid a drop-off left by a missing chunk of road. I felt my calves starting to burn after climbing up a steep and winding path made of rocks and mounds of dirt…

Then I saw a house with four walls and a zinc roof. I saw the smile of a friend, felt a hand-hold and a hug, heard the stories of someone with life experiences like you could not believe, witnessed the disappointment when I announced my departure. In those four minutes, my time in Jamaica flashed before my eyes; I thought of my personal winding journey to where I am now, and of all the literally broken roads, blessed by God, that lead me to incredible people every day.

I reflected on traveling into Thornton for the first time for medical home visits. We drove down a bumpy gravel road with residences to the right and seemingly endless sugar cane fields to the left. This was also the first time I met Agnes Coke. She sat up in her bed, squinted at me as if she couldn’t see me, grabbed my hand and demanded that I guess how old she was. In my head I suspected around 90, but for fear of offending a stranger, I said 82. A full body laugh nearly knocked the frail woman back into her bed, but she managed to take a breath to tell me she was 103. Whenever I make a return trip to Miss Coke, she makes me rattle off her birthday so I don’t forget her age: October 17, 1911.

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Andrea with Miss Agnes Coke

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The road into Thornton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After winding down a gravel road, my mind traveled to the long trudge up a steep and rocky hill until I reach the house of Kevaughn, a 10-year old boy with spina bifida, whose smile lights up my day more than the Jamaican sun.  Because his wheelchair is hard to manage and taxi doesn’t often reach his part of Barton, Kevaughn has never been to school. My time with him is spent playing dominoes or Uno (which I usually lose), and learning some foundations of reading and basic math. I am often thanked with fresh coconut water from a tree behind their home, but time spent laughing with Kevaughn and his incredible mother is thanks enough.

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The road to Kevaughn’s house

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Andrea with 10-yr-old Kevaughn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, I am reminded of Miss Lynn.  As I walk up the dirt drive, I am greeted by grazing cows, wandering goats, curious puppies, and an occasional chicken as I dodge the abundance of fruit falling from the trees.  What started as a visit to her bedridden mother, affectionately called “Old Lady,” has evolved into a great friendship.  Miss Lynn lives almost exclusively off her own land.  One day she promised to teach me to make her ‘famous’ stew.  She took me around her yard, collecting yams, breadfruits, sweet pepper, and pumpkin, and led me into her outdoor kitchen.  The zinc roof hung so low that I had to crouch down, and she laughed every time she looked at me, so I was put on vegetable chopping duty instead.  Miss Lynn is always generous, and I never leave her house empty handed.

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Miss Lynn’s Yard

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Andrea with Miss Lynn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just up the road from Holy Spirit Clinic in Maggotty lives Miss Olga, who just might exceed me in sass.  If she’s not hamming it up posing for photos or whacking me with her grabber, she’s sewing bags from scratch, embroidered with phrases like, “I love JA,” and “One Love, Jamaica.” Even though she has taught me many times, she still doesn’t trust my hands to do the work.  Since a fall left her bedridden, she has needed a caretaker.  Fortunately, she has Evadney, and they are quite the dynamic duo.  I can always count on them to make me laugh, and they’re never afraid to tell me if my shirt makes me look fat.

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Miss Olga

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The road to Miss Olga’s yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I think of the drive back home from Maggoty, I drive through Santa Cruz. The road here would likely be classified as a “nice” road, but that makes the occasional surprise pothole all the more dangerous.  I pull up to the St. Elizabeth Public Infirmary.  I have made many friends here, but in the context of broken roads, one stands out: Elvis.  Elvis was the first person to make me feel really comfortable at the infirmary.  Although his thick Patois initially made it hard to chat with him (and for him to understand me), many hours spent snacking on gennip and peanuts made for ample conversation time.  We talk about Savanna La Mar, where he grew up, and also the place where a wrong place/wrong time stab to the back left him paralyzed from the waist down.  After he received the news at age 21, he went straight to the infirmary and was the youngest resident by far.  He’s now 52 and has seen many people come and go, and witnessed the infirmary change over the course of 30 years. He loves talking about America and what my life will be like when I return home in August.

The broken road of life, and the broken roads of Jamaica have led me to these amazing people that I now call friends.  I can’t help but feel blessed very time Agnes shakes her finger at me, Kevaughn beats me at dominoes, Miss Lynn picks mangoes for me, Miss Olga shows me her latest creation, or Elvis shares his peanuts with me.  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band said it best when they wrote, “God blessed the broken road, that led me straight to you.”

 

I think about the years I spent just passing through.

I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you.

But you just smile and take my hand,

You’ve been there, you understand.

It’s all part of His grander plan that is coming true.

Every long lost dream led me to where you are.

Others who broke my heart, they were just Northern stars,

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms.

This much I know is true:

God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.

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