Our late afternoon walks take us across six lanes of busy traffic (no crosswalk), through a neighborhood with high-end and very low-end homes, and beside a tranquil lake, its shores littered with trash. Tim and I enjoy talking about the events of the day, what we’ve been reading, and upcoming ministry opportunities.
Contrasts reign along our route. For example, just before we pass the biggest mansion that boasts a very high security fence and what looks through tinted windows a lot like an indoor swimming pool, we gingerly make our way around a small pack of very mangy dogs who have claimed the spot as their own. Every time I see them lounging in the sun on the bamboo-backed bench I think back to my doctor’s pleas that I consider a rabies vaccine. Their sores and patches of hairless skin frighten and repel me.
Lover’s Lane might be an apt description for the walkway beside the water. Young couples huddle behind umbrellas that block out the bright sun as they sit together on metal benches talking and touching. They often look at us with curiosity, and sometimes laugh when we greet them in the local language. Their physicality reminds us to reach for each other’s hand, and enjoy the connection and comfort our relationship brings.
We join all manner of humanity on the paved walkway: ex-patriots jogging in their shorts and t-shirts, police or military officers with their guns, children dressed in ragged clothes picking up plastic bottles, overweight businessmen in suits wiping the sweat from their faces with towels, buddhist monks in maroon robes, groups of youth sitting together playing guitars, men dressed in fatigues fishing with extraordinarily long wooden poles, day laborers directing water from a bursting spigot as they try to wipe away a ten or more hours worth worth of mud on their arms and legs, senile grandparents being led by members of their family, an older gentleman who walks with a golf club as a cane and seems to hold court, workers cutting the grasses with machete-like tools, friends sharing a laugh, men and women bidding good-bye to the sun. As the ball of fire descends, we are all happy to share time outdoors when the tropical heat is least oppressive.
While there are happy moments of connection and greeting, there can also be tense moments when a band of young men, high on drugs, or passing a bottle, approach. What seems important is to live all the moments. It’s harder than one might think.
After a long day in a culture not our own, it can be tiring to look at the complexity of a society as it manifests itself all around us. We can lose ourselves in conversation, which of course is an enjoyable thing to do, but can also be a defense. Letting in the effects of poverty, suffering and social inequality is never easy. Just as challenging can be making the effort to stop and let the beauty of the moment reorient us. This week the pampas grass is in bloom; you have to look out towards the islands on the lake to notice. The sunsets, gorgeous as they are, also remind us that if we don’t keep moving we’ll be crossing those six lanes of crazy traffic in the dark. There are so many ways to not be present right where we are!
Yesterday, I spied a man sprawled out behind a bougenvalia bush. I found myself wanting to look away, to “give him his privacy” (even though he was passed out!), to pretend that he wasn’t there. Truly “seeing” suffering means feeling its truth. But I was surprised to discover that there was also a temptation to let the magnificent sunset go unappreciated. To look at it meant having to stop and turn slightly, and such intentionality strangely seemed a burden when our rhythm pushed us forward.
The world with all its complexity is our home. It doesn’t seem as if it would take much effort to be fully alive right where we are; but it does. There is the seeing that lets in more than light, it is present with what is real in that moment and space– whom we are with, and what surrounds us. I am trying to see these things with my eyes, but also with my heart. I wonder why I redirect myself when fear or awe invite me to pause.
Question for reflection: What is right in front of you, or all around you, that you would like to see more clearly? What makes it difficult for you to see with your heart?
Prayer: God, for this breath that makes life possible, I give You thanks. May I be brave enough to let both terror and amazement help me to see more clearly and deeply.