Tuesday, September 13, 2011

May God Bless and Keep You

Joyful and Awesome, or Not

I once stood in the snow and thunder, at the foot of a glacier. How do I up that one? I don’t, can’t. But I find monumentally insignificant moments that compare. Like when it rains so hard here that I cannot hear the cellphone ring and my mind goes blank. Like when I take a nap and wake up in time to take the bread out of the oven, all by accident. Joy and Awe are not necessarily big and spectacular, more often they are small things. Chile was big. Patagonia was bigger. It knocked me over, and over, and over. But I have realized that I can find joy and awe just as powerful in Panama, or, for that matter, anywhere. It might be the small, old Gnabe woman with a heavy bag strapped across her head, walking five kilometers up the road. I stop.

Donde va? I say. Arriba, she says. I have to open the car door for her because, I suspect she rarely has ridden in a car and does not know how to open, or close it. She settles her pack on her lap and seems uncomfortable.

Como se llama, I ask. Isolina, she says. And I let off the gas, letting the car slow as I have a flashback. Isolina… “isolated woman”. I knew Isolina, an Isolina, in Patagonia. She was a tough, illusive woman. Kind, rough, inside herself.

“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others and let others do for you….”

I think of this Bob Dillon song, then realize that all Isolina May do is have just enough food to keep from starving. That she May have been borrowed or won in a fight, that she May see her children or grandchildren live the same subsistence living. That she May sleep on a bamboo bed, May get medical care once a year, May have three-quarters of her children survive, and most definitely at the age of 55-years, be picking coffee eight-hours a day for eight dollars come season.

I don’t know what Gnabe people wish for. I don’t know what gives them joy. Alexi, the young man who worked clearing some of the coffee field here seemed to find joy in his cell phone, and in making a snare, and in anticipation of returning home to his family in Bocas del Toro. Does Isolina wish for anything? Maybe wishing is the same as finding joy. I hope so…

There is the quiet life of people around us here…without the name-brand clothes, with their gentle, solemn living. When Dylan sings, “May you build a ladder to the stars, and …climb on every rung,” I wonder…what does it feel like to you have nothing to build a ladder with? Maybe if you don’t know there is a ladder to build?

I wonder.

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