I have known Maria Ramirez for a while. Her steps are silent, speaks almost in a whisper and is extremely discreet. No one really knows her story; she walks alone at night without fear as if, in a sleeping world, she could regain all the feelings you get when you know you own it. I always admired her kindness and she blushes when I tell her that. She never loses hope, or the will to live, or the joy of being and living.

And one day sitting together on an old bench, punctual to the appointment, dressed in blue pants, proudly wearing her nice bag of the same colour, she gave me the gift of her story, and I could then understand why she had accepted such a hard and difficult life.

Her whole childhood was spent between orphanages and homes of various relatives who cared for her while waiting eagerly for the day when she could be with her mother forever. They tried several times to reunite. Every time she dreamt it was going to be the definitive one, but every time the reunion just lasted a few days. And, every time, given the absolute lack of resources to care for her, her mother had to find a new home to accommodate her. She still remembers how both cried with each separation. Until she turned 16, she prayed every day and every night for a change in their lives. And when she finally found a job they began their life together.

Mary fell in love. It took her some time, she recalls, but did so with all her heart. After 7 months in Spain, her boyfriend had to return to his country. He asked her to go with him, but Mary did not want to leave his mother alone in Spain. He asked her to marry him and she accepted. For 9 years they didn‘t see each other, not once, and their only means of contact were the letters in which they were planning their wedding. Her weekends went by between his promises, her love and her mother. She was absolutely happy.

The time of the wedding comes near and Mary prepares and carefully chooses her trousseau, all excited and happy, as one who is able to see only goodness and sincerity because her heart is made of that same stuff. And amid the streets and footpaths that her imagination has been drawing about the country in which she will be living shortly, and her plans about the future family she always wanted to have, including the love that made the wait for so many years more bearable, slipped under her door, she finds a letter from a woman who tells her that there, in that country that Mary thought she knew so well, she has uncovered the hidden photos and letters from Mary and realizes that Mary does not know that this man that Mary calls her boyfriend had married her and never said a thing to Mary.

Mary cried for months. And nobody else could again come and dwell in her heart.

At the bench, listening to her, I still seem to see love when she looks at me with her clear eyes, and says, ‘but those years were not completely wasted. I could be with my mother every minute of her life. I asked for it, and I was granted it. And for me it was the greatest happiness to be at her side, as she wanted when I was a child, until her ripe old age of 101 years.’ Then I understand that Mary has a gift: her ability to feel love.

Now when I see her walk alone, I see her heart is full. No mourning the loss. She feels the universe gave her a chance and she has lived each day as a new opportunity. Never again did she answer the man ‘s letters, but her fulfilled desire of being next to her mother and giving her all her love was so rich and overfilling that it left her life with no trace of resentment. Today at 81 she is still unable to feel resentment when she regards the gifts that life has given her; even when she was shot at, a few days ago, for no reason whatsoever, by a neighbour under cover of anonymity. And she asks me in a small voice why her presence should annoy her neighbours so much if she only has love for everyone.

Old age serves to make in ourselves a life review in which, without us being fully aware, it reorganizes priorities, retrieves memories and gives them a different worth from that awarded in youth and maturity. Achieved objectives give us, of course, an added satisfaction. But they return us to some specific point in our childhood where you cannot separate that moment in life from the certainty that it was there just to be lived. Old age is not an involution, but a recovery of what we have lost along the way. There is great wisdom in the elderly, as well as in the child. But while adults do not hesitate to approach the young ones, we hesitate to do so with the elderly. Clearly, we do not how to communicate with them. It was with this idea in mind that we decided to create the movement # 1 letter 1 life, being aware that by getting to know the stories of our seniors, they would then appear to us as people with their own unique identity, which we inadvertently had relegated to the invisible group of the ‘elders’ in which nobody is different anymore.

Near the last stage of their lives, many elderly people put he highest value of their lives not in the number of objectives achieved, but in the quality of the affections that they have given and received. That’s their source of nourishment. Never mind that those may just be past loves and affections, as if, at the end of the day, the only thing able to accompany them would be what can be experienced from the heart.

They make you think: how big a portion of your heart could you fill tomorrow with what you’ve managed to reap today?

Before leaving, I ask:

Mary, are you happy?

Very much so, Maribel. I enjoyed what I asked for every day of my life. And that completely fulfilled me. I do not need anything else to be happy.’

Translated by Arturo Guillén.