Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks Giving

            Thank you for my fingers and my toes.  Thank you for the clock that ticks softly next to me and the sound of the water running through the pipes as Melissa takes her shower.  And for this window that lets me see out but keeps the warm in.  Thank you for the color of the early morning sky – how the edge glows gold while the vast space above shimmers the faintest purple.  And how the trees rise up slender and graceful—intricate dark lines traced effortlessly against the coming light.
             Thank you for my nose that secretes mucus and knows how to sniffle at just the right time.  And for the porcelain mug of steaming tea with silly blue lines around the rim that I am drinking from.  And thank you for the people who harvested the tea leaves and processed them and put the tea in shiny silver pouches in cardboard boxes.  And for the people that worked the ships and planes and trucks and trains that brought the tea from that unknown place to here.  And thank you for the young man who opened the carton and put the tea boxes on the shelf and the woman who took my wife’s money as she checked out.
             Oh yes, and thank you especially for my wife, the one in the shower, and for my daughter, the one in California.  And for my mother and fathers and sisters and brother and nieces and uncles and teachers and friends and colleagues and acquaintances – wherever they are.  And for everyone else who walks or sits or lies down on the face of this earth.  And for everything else that flies or runs or slithers or swims or grows or doesn’t grow in this world and in all the worlds beyond.
             Thank you for this everything that is beyond comprehension.  Thank you for beyond beyond.  For the electric mystery of the human heart and the nuclear wonder of stars and for starlight traveling unfathomable distances to tickle my fragile eyes.  And thank you for my third eye and my fourth eye and for all my eyes and hands and legs and tree trunks and houses and bombs and fighters and prisons and monasteries and whore houses and banks and TVs and couches and fingers—ah yes—thank you for the fingers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crossing Over

It’s late afternoon Sunday, at Naco, Arizona and I’m crossing one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.  Past the ugly metal fence—ten feet high and running off into the desert land as far as I can see.  Past the friendly American guards who ask if we have guns or bullets.  (The correct answer is no.)  Past the Mexican guard post and the speed bumps that would wreck your car if you were going more than two miles per hour.
            Then I’m in Mexico.  The country of violence and corruption.  I’ve read about the executions and the torture—the drug cartels with their own armies—the legions of fear.  Even my mother, usually an advocate for travel and adventure, encouraged me not to cross over. 
I am with a trusted friend who speaks the language and spends part of his life across the border.  Still I am uneasy.  Is this safe?  Am I safe?  I am stepping into the unknown.  But I remember being a high school exchange student in Japan in the spring of 1970.  The anti-war protests were at their height and the Kent State killings had just happened.  Several of my friends tried to convince me not to go to college when I returned to the US.  From the news reports one could plainly see that college campuses were places of danger and violence.
So I cross over.  Into the sleepy town of Naco.  Clearly a third world country—single story shops and dwellings in various states of repair and a large church in the middle of it all.  Down the side streets the open land beyond is clearly visible – where the activity of this small town merges into the great expanses of flatness beyond.   Toward the edge of town we see a man riding a horse by an abandoned building along the side of the road.  Getting closer we see the small boy in front of him.  Both are dressed in their Sunday best.  I guess grandfather and grandson out for a late afternoon ride. 
I breath a little easier but notice the persistence of the fear in my belly.  Different here, but they seem to be people just like me.  But still, what if…
We drive south—into the great Sonoran Desert.  Flat land with nothing more than small brush extend into the distance where great mountains arise—standing row upon row—almost blue against the dusty brown of the plains.  This ancient land.  Harsh and beautiful. 
The road is decent with a few cars going either way.  I begin to feel more comfortable.  At the checkpoint, I reach for my passport but we are waved through by a guard who seems rather bored.  Twice we see cars lined up coming north, each one being checked by armed officers with machine guns.  This is not reassuring, but I remember I’ve also seen armed uniformed men with machine guns in the airport in Rome.  I didn’t like it there either.
After another thirty minutes, we are nearly by ourselves, driving south through vast expanses.  The low sun illuminates a range of mountains to our east.  The sky is big and the land is open.  I am thrilled to be here.  Honored to have the privilege to be in this grand beauty, nourished by its difference and grandeur. 
I feel queasy again as night falls.  But we uneventfully reach our destination by eight p.m. and are greeted with great warmth by our expatriot hotel owners here at Hotel des Arcos in Banamichi, Mexico.  Walking into the courtyard I feel safe, reassured, and ready for bed.
The town square is just around the corner.  Monday we wander the town.  My friend regales a group of high school boys who are pooling their money to buy lunch to eat at plastic tables at Suzie’s outdoor cafĂ© with his humorous questions and repartee.  We hire two horses, which are brought to the door of the hotel, to take a few blocks through the city and into the desert beyond.  Walking and galloping, I wonder about the humans who have traversed this dry landscape for hundreds and thousands of years.
This morning, I sit in the courtyard of the hotel serenaded by a chorus of roosters.  The shimmering stars fade into the clear blue of morning.  Birds sing.  An occasional car goes by in the distance.
Today we head back to Bisbee, Arizona.  I’m looking forward to the drive, but would happily stay here for a few more days.  Already, I feel safer on the streets of Banamichi than I would feel in some parts of my hometown Worcester.  In this town, in this part of Mexico, my experience is of the warmth of the people, the majesty of the land, and the freedom that comes from crossing over some of the walls I have built (and those that have been built in my name.)
I would not wander in Mexico indiscriminately.  Nor would I do so in New York or Boston.  But the beauty and the possibility of this world and of the human heart call me to step across these lines of fear that are both real and illusory.  It is not an easy thing. It is not totally safe.  But I do believe we are all called, in our own way, to leave the familiar territory of the world as we imagine it to be to travel into the vivid aliveness of a life beyond our knowing.