Monday, July 7, 2008

Ain’t Human Nature Funny?

One of my hobbies is personally proving that everyone is an idiot in all languages other than their own. Thus, in an inadvertent exercise in humility, I spend some time reading rudimentary Spanish.

I recently ran across a short story called “Carta a Dios” (1940) by the Mexican writer Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes (For those readers who are conversant in Spanish please place the missing accents where they belong.) This charming vignette illustrates a fundamental fact about human nature, i.e. if you know what someone takes for granted or what they accept to be true without question, you know that which is most important about them. Some of you cynics out there will note that this story also shows that “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But on with the story. Our protagonist is a dirt-poor peasant named “Lencho.” The scene: a small house on a hill near a river, a corral, and a small field of corn and beans soon ready for harvest but in need of rain. Lencho’s wife calls her husband, their two sons from the fields, and their youngest boy from nearby to a simple dinner.

Conversation turns to the weather and the clouds descending from the northeast that promise rain. Lencho asserts “Soon it is going to rain” and his wife adds, “God willing.” And so it rains, the harvest is good, and Lencho and his family live happily ever after. Not really!

Instead it hails, the leaves are stripped off the trees, the land is covered with salt-like crystals of ice, the crop is ruined and the family is devastated. No one can help Lencho and his family and they are destined to starve the following year. But Lencho is a man of faith and asserts, “Surely, God will not let us starve.”

Although Lencho has worked like a beast of burden all his life, somehow he has learned to write and so he decides to write a letter to God. He writes, “God, if you do not help, we will die of hunger this coming year. I need one hundred pesos to plant another crop and to live until the harvest comes in.”

Lencho puts his letter in an envelope, addresses it to “God,” goes to the post office, buys a stamp and puts it into the mailbox. Sometime later a postal employee sees the letter, opens it and chuckles. He shows it to his supervisor who shares the mirth and then becomes serious. He says, “Such simple faith is such a beautiful thing to see. We cannot disillusion a man of such faith.” And so the supervisor takes part of his paycheck and asks his fellow employees and their friends for contributions.

Although they cannot collect all of the one hundred pesos they are able to enclose sixty. They put the money in an envelope with Lencho’s name on it. Lencho arrives a few days later and asks if there is a letter for him. He exhibits not the least surprise when he is told yes. Ah, such faith.

Lencho opens the envelope, counts the money and becomes infuriated. He goes to the post office window, asks for paper and pen, and writes the following, “God, the money that I asked for arrived in my hands with only sixty pesos. Send the rest because it is much needed, but don’t send it to this post office because all of the employees who work here are crooks. Lencho.”

Should you want to learn more about human nature, see

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