In the evening, when I returned from the music conservatory and pushed through drug addicts crowding the doorway of my parents’ house, I did not understand why Ramona continued to throw them sandwiches from her balcony. Rúa San Miguel in Ourense was one of those narrow, dark streets in the city’s old quarter, one of those streets that in the 1980s served as the perfect hiding place for one of the saddest chapters of Galician history, the chapter of the Lost Generation. Our old neighbor, Ramona, poked her head out her window and threw down a sandwich wrapped in plastic each time someone buzzed asking for money “to buy a sandwich.” And I, as a child, regarded this routine from my window and listened to their conversations—they screamed, and she with a kindly voice responded: “I have no money, but here’s a sandwich.”
Ramona was not the only one—the neighborhood had a bit of everything, but acts of generosity were a daily occurrence. Today, wonderstruck, I remember the way all neighbors were able to create a safe place, silently and without fuss. Life was what it was, but I grew up in a neighborhood where I knew perfectly well that if something happened, someone would help—a neighborhood where people shared food through windows, where one could get things on credit. I grew up wonderstruck by the human condition, even when that condition frightened me.
Sometimes, when I lose hope in our society, I try to find ways to feel wonderstruck again. I don’t know whether time or disuse impair this ability, but in this first day of spring, where nature itself once again shows its capacity for reinvention, I remember that Mercedes Peón song—“I marvel at the elderly. Torrents of wisdom”—and I remember Ramona right along with it.