Thursday, November 2, 2017

Day of the Dead #12: Beauty, grace, and an unexpected hollowness


"If nothing saves us from death, at least love saves us from life."
I am beginning to think I might possibly know why I’m here in Mexico. 

Looking through U.S. eyes, there are many things that fall short here. It is not a place designed by a rational person, perhaps not even a place that cottons to the term design but rather more nearly resembles evolution with it’s relentless drive toward diversity.

Street altar in Ajijic
Trying to find a metaphor, I waffled between rabbit warren and ant colony, but finally settled on the mound-building termites which build complex structures several times taller than an adult human and are now being studied for their ability to maintain a constant temperature in the mound in spite of the harsh African conditions. (If you have never read about these mounds, this article will bend your thinking.)

While the mounds lack blueprints and building codes, the individual termites follow their own paths and, somehow, build a complex, effective and, in its own way, beautiful structure that supports the colony and plays an important role in the surrounding habitat.

Another Ajijic version of an altar
This is somewhat how Mexico appears to me. People each doing their own things, living their own lives, raising their families, painting their houses whatever color strikes their fancies or budgets, and, in the process, creating a village, a town, a culture, a country.

Here in Mexico, fireworks are illegal, yet they are also deeply ingrained in the culture. Yes, some people get hurt, some are even killed, but each person makes his or her own choice and everyone else makes space for those choices. Which means we put up with a lot of rockets, barking dogs, middle-of-the-night crowing roosters, and lots of music ... loud, throbbing music. Apparently, this is the price of freedom: tolerance of individual differences and eccentricities.

Here in the lakeside villages, cars seldom honk at each other. So what if you’re driving the wrong way down a one-way street or stopping to talk to a friend or unload a pickup truck full of stuff? And, only the gringos seem to carp about the piles of trash that come and go on a schedule none of us comprehend.

Here in Ajijic, we live in a boundary land: two cultures swirling together like a river running into the ocean. US/Canadian expats accustomed to rules and regulations, law and order, as well as smooth sidewalks, yearn for peaceful perfection while the locals grab onto the gritty imperfections of life, revere Church and family, help stranded strangers, and mock death with endless color, noise and skeletal costumes.

Mexico is a feeling place. With a long history of death, destruction, and devastation, it trusts only family and has few expectations of government. It would rather dance and sing and make each moment of life as colorful as possible than worry about potholes, killer speed bumps or keeping up with the neighbors.

Having lived a thinking life striving for perfection, expecting the world to be a rational place, and willingly ceding personal freedom to the lure of safety and predictability, I am now looking through completely different eyes and what I see baffles, charms, startles and delights me. Living in this feeling world is changing me.

Halloween morning was announced with endless rockets and church bells. By evening the plaza was full of families, excited children running high on sugar and adrenalin. A parade of devotional neighborhood floats, musicians and Aztec dancers proceeded The Virgen as she was carried through the streets to an open mass and back to the old church, followed by music (loud, of course) and then the lighting of the giant castillo (castle of fireworks).
A quiet morning in Ajijic
Today dawned quiet and peaceful. It’s a day for altars, reflection and honoring of the lost loved ones. Later today tour groups will pass through the cemetery, but I wanted to see it before it was crowded with visitors having no connection to the people buried there. I went early thinking it would be empty, but it was already bustling with families adding decorations to the graves, arranging additional flowers, visiting quietly with each other. 
 
Early morning at the Ajijic cemetery
Walking through the narrow paths between the graves, my heart felt the sorrow, but also yearned for the sense of family and connection that pulsed through the bright flowers, decorated crosses, and murmured prayers. I was clearly an outsider, accepted but not part of the family. Beyond the wonder and grace of the beauty, there was a hollow feeling of having missed something somewhere along the way. 
 
One of the grave decorations.
All of this made me wonder: who would I be if I had been raised in this very different culture?

Caveat: As someone who has been here a mere six months, I do not expect these musings to represent the truth of an entire country or culture. This is only my current take on what I’m experiencing. I’ll try to do another post this time next year and see how much my understanding has changed.

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