Monday, February 17, 2020

Love Letters to my life #20: Grow where you're planted

Follow Your Own Path
by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.) 

Consistency is not an innate trait for me, so I find myself surprised that this is the 20th monthly Love Letter to my life. That thought prompted me to walk back through my journey as documented by these letters. 

I generally ponder my next letter for a few days,
trying to catch the thought that has the most heat. Fragments for this letter have been stirring around in the Reno winds but nothing was sticking … until I reread Love Letter #9: What Am I Supposed To Do? which focused on the dark side of Mexico. 

Every thing, every person, every country has a shadow. However, Mexico’s shadow is a little more visible than some. For expats, Mexico is mostly a safe country, some say even safer than the US with its all-too-frequent mass shootings. However, for Mexicans, especially poor Mexicans, and most especially, poor, indigenous Mexicans, life is lived on the edge of poverty and violence. 

Corruption is woven into the fabric of daily life of Mexico. Disappeared is not a word used for lost keys or missing documents. It’s a gaping, black hole of tears where children, loved ones, and hopes for the future disappear without closure or certainty.

Mexicans celebrate life and death frequently and with great exuberance. They hold family close as the only completely trusted bond. We talk about living in the moment and savoring life; they actually live that way because the real possibility of death and persecution walks beside them every day. 
Mural from Cherán
One of my favorite stories from Mexico is about the town of Cherán. Told more fully on México Stories, it is basically about a town where kidnappings, extortion, murders, and illegal logging of the local forest--the lifeblood of the community--were part of daily life, until one day Cherán took back its power and kicked out the cartels and corrupt politicians. Today, to visit the town, you have to go through an armed checkpoint and declare your reasons for entering Cherán. 

One of the reasons I fell in love with the story was because the change happened when a posse of old women, armed with sticks and brooms, attacked a cartel truck and kidnapped the driver who was stealing their sacred forest lumber. Out of this rebellion came a democratic process of self-government that has been successful for almost a decade.

When I went there with two guides to take pictures of some of the amazing murals in the town, the spirit and courage of the town made me weep. It hasn’t been easy, but they have been so successful that the Mexican government has now recognized Cherán and several other indigenous towns as legal, self-governing communities.
People leaving tributes to the 43 students
Rereading this and the story from 2014 when 43 students were “disappeared” from a small town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, gave me a clue as to why I felt so called to return to the US. I thought it was a sudden decision, but now I understand that it had been festering for over a year. 

The visit to Cherán triggered thoughts and feelings about what is happening here in my country. I thought my move was about being close to family, and it was, but also, it sprang from a desire to come home and be part of the solution to our present crisis.

Being in Mexico reminded me of how privileged I’ve been to grow up and live in a democracy where the rule of law was the norm. We have never been a perfect country. Nor have we ever reached our vision of what a country could be. However, we have declared our aspiration to a vision of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.

As that aspiration has become severely challenged, I felt like I needed to be here, doing my small part to help return us to a more perfect union. Mexico was my teacher: it is an amazingly beautiful country with wonderful people being strangled by corruption. It helped me understand how fragile our systems are in the face of greed for money and power. 

Mexico showed me a possible future story that I don’t think any of us want for our children and grandchildren. Recently the Mexican government reported almost 62,000 people “missing” since 2006. It's hardly comprehensible that the unofficial reports are even higher. 

Corruption is a cancer that kills people, institutions, and countries.

Cancer is also a hidden disease that grows beneath the surface until it reaches a mass large enough to disrupt everything. It’s easy to not see its beginnings and to ignore the early signs. However, once seen, it can no longer be ignored as it will eventually be lethal.

Mexico helped me see the early signs of cancer in our political systems; now I can no longer look away. My job, as I see it, is to help others see these signs so we can treat the disease. It’s not a job I wanted or even feel prepared for. 

Lake Tahoe rather than June Lake
I once received a message while kayaking on June Lake in the Eastern Sierra. Across the peaceful blue water was a dusty green and twisted juniper. The message that came was: Grow where you’re planted!
This is where I am … trying to grow where I am in this strange and frightening times of the United States where competing forces of good and evil battle for the future. I think I’m on the right side. I just hope I have the strength and courage to stand up for the vision of this country and our people.
About the image: Follow Your Own Path
Focusing on the ugliness of current politics depletes me and leaves me feeling depressed. One of the few things that helps is art. I've started reworking some older pieces of art in hopes of getting them into a portfolio book. 
I've always been fond of this piece because it represents so many pieces and places of my past ... a garden arbor in a Minneapolis park, a bright painted sidewalk in Coronado, California, a sunset from the Sierra foothills, and a rooster from Mexico who has insisted on being in so many paintings. 
Even though I don't know what's behind the door at the end of the path, I know it's where I'm going ... that it is my path.


  1. Written beautifully and from the heart, Joyce.

  2. Thanks, Maureen, and hope you're doing well during this strange time.

  3. Your mission statement is heart-warming. If only more of us were as attuned to the happenings around us and to how we can make a difference. Maybe my desire to do SOMETHING is making me create work here on the ranch, that I see as beneficial to the future on this ranch for others, as well as my obsessive need to clean up other people's litter along the road and on the nearby parcel where one man's stuff was abandoned and then shredded by the Entergy mulcher/shredder owned and run by Asplundh. That view is a huge leap. Most likely, I just wanted to create a pond and thin my pines. And I clean the roadside because it bugs me. Hopefully, though, we all try our best to make life better, not just for ourselves, but also for others.

  4. Judy ... that's all any of us can do ... what calls to us and what we think will help.