Let me tell you about some sweetness. Because in the midst of challenges, there is almost always some sweetness. Here is mine. Help yourself.
Yesterday was a day of travel and exploring as I accompanied a friend to a new-to-me city, a few hours away. He wanted to buy a pick-up truck and I wanted a distraction, an adventure. I also wanted to check out the famous "car tianguis," an outdoor market just for cars.
Two and a half hours on the comfortable bus, eating tacos and chocolate cookies as vendors walked in and out of the bus at various stops.
Once in the city, the air was cooler than on the coast and we looked at several trucks, me being instructed to walk away if a salesperson approached us so that my accent would not get in the way of financial negotiations.
Deciding to make a brainstorming pause for a lunch of grilled chicken, rice and salad at a little place that shared my nickname, we discussed the merits of the various trucks. For me, it was mainly about the color so I wasn't much help.
The owners of the small outdoor restaurant were eating also - a couple and their little girl - and we exchanged some words and smiles.
The chicken gone (and shared with a street dog), I hear the bell of the ice cream man's pushcart.
For the last three decades, ever since my kids were tiny, I have experienced a Pavlovian reaction to the ice cream cart's bell, no matter which country I am in or what I might be doing.
I am instantly up from my chair and right by the cart, excited to meet whatever ice cream I may have not yet encountered.
I ask for counsel from the vendor and am handed a coconut-covered chocolatey thing of beauty. As I am looking for my pesos, I catch the eyes of the owners' little girl and I recognize the look in them.
She, like me, appreciates ice cream very much.
With or without words I ask her if she would like one and she is immediately standing next to me, picking the same deliciousness as the one I got.
Back in our little plastic restaurant chairs, we are both licking our ice creams while the grown-ups talk about truck stuff.
And then it's time to leave. We pay and we wave goodbye, the little girl sharing a smile of sisterhood with me as we make our way back to rows of cars. She is missing a few teeth and is adorable.
We decide to walk around the block, see if there is something new we have not yet seen.
The block is large and not quite straight and it takes us about 15 minutes to get back where we started. Specifically to the small restaurant.
And there she is, my ice cream sister. Waiting for us.
As we walk by, she smiles really big and hands me a beautiful little cellophane bag with six pink, plump, and perfect marshmallows.
Strawberry marshmallows are my favorite. So is kindness.
She probably didn't know how much I needed this simple, quiet act of sweetness, of connection. This girl time, too.
She surely did not know how much she reminded me of my friend's daughter, my friend's daughter who will never get to hand her mama a pink marshmallow or share a coconut-covered ice cream.
In retrospect I wonder how she knew we would come back this way. I did not know. But she did.
I ate the whole bag and my heart was fuller than my mouth.
Angels every freaking where.
This story is featured in Elephant Journal as an editor's pick.
It's been a rough week over here.
A hurricane, a heartbreak, a couple of accidents, and a fierce commitment to living with an open heart have made for a lot of FEELING.
I hadn't read the news in days until last night.
Then in one gulp, I read about Texas and about Afghanistan. Specifically about women, in both places.
Texas, I had to read twice in order to fully comprehend, and then to believe what was written.
Afghanistan, unfortunately, I only had to read once because the topic of women in Afghanistan is personally, terribly familiar to me.
Both make me sad.
Nah... not sad.
What is it?
Both make me ache.
A dull ache, burgundy-colored and familiar. An ache of helplessness, of despair - with a twinge of rage. Abandonment, too.
What I think when reading all of this is: "We women are so darn sacred that we are scary."
Funny how both words write almost the same. Sacred, scared. Scared of the sacred.
I am brought back to a couple of weeks ago, here in the Mexican village where I live.
Four of us were sitting on a big blanket on the beach, at night. Candles, quiet conversation, the sound of the waves. The sky was very dark. A lot of sweetness.
All of a sudden, one of us pointed at a large shape moving straight towards the water. A turtle! A turtle who having spent the last hour or more laying her eggs was now making her way back to the sea.
I had never seen a mama turtle going back to the sea before, although I had been blessed, one of my first weeks here, with watching a tiny baby turtle (they have to have a more official name), freshly hatched and hauling butt towards the huge waves. It was ... sacred.
The big, heavy turtle made her way to the sea and I clapped quietly with tears in my eyes. Clapped because she had given birth, clapped because she was somehow wired differently than I am and could turn her back on 100 babies, clapped because nature is one powerful force, and clapped because females are... sacred.
In the distance, we could see a bright, bright light accompanied by the sound of an engine, driving on the sand. The turtle patrol people.
Because many turtles come to lay their eggs on this beach, there is an organization that patrols the beach all night long, looking for nests and hiding them from poachers.
As they passed us by, they waved and we went back to our candlelit blanket.
But close by, something else was going on.
With the light of our phones pointed at the sand so as not to disturb or frighten whatever might be happening, we slowly came to a safe distance from another mama turtle. This one did not have the calm power of the first one as she was focused on digging her nest with her big, strong back flippers. But ... it didn't feel quite right. There was an energy of distress to her task and pretty soon we started to see pieces of broken eggshells being kicked up all around her.
As the patrol car passed by us once more, we flagged them down.
A few women and an older gentleman got out of the car, and someone pointed a flashlight straight at the turtle. Instinctively, I wanted to cross my legs, feeling invaded on her behalf. I murmured something about privacy and one of the women told me that she was just wondering the same thing. This was her first time doing this.
The turtle looked stressed - or heck, maybe I imagined her feeling stressed - and there were more eggshell pieces being flung all over the place. What was going on?
That's when the older gentleman got really close to the now glaringly lit giant mama and poked her a little bit with a stick.
Then he said, in a voice that pierced the night and broke through one more sacred moment: "Go! Go now. Go back to the water. You've made a mess of your nest."
I walked back towards my safe little group. I leaned against my friend.
Why was he talking to her that way?
She kept flinging, the light kept pointing, and I felt sick.
What occurred next, I somehow don't remember but I do remember that a bit later, one of my friends who was born in the village gently explained that what was happening was that the eggs had been coming so fast that she was simultaneously making her nest and laying her eggs.
When I translated what I had heard from the expert gentleman, my friend graciously said: "he doesn't know, that's all."
He doesn't know. Maybe. As a turtle authority, I think that a situation like this one might have come up before. Maybe not.
What he doesn't know, for sure, is what it feels like to be giving birth. Whether as a turtle or a woman.
What he doesn't know, for sure, is what it feels like to have a life - or 100 - inside of us and to have to navigate that, however we need to.
What he doesn't know, for sure, is how much we don't like to get poked or talked to harshly, or shamed, or brightly lit up, or told what to do at any darn part of the process.
What caused the harsh words? It's my turn to say I don't know.
But I am going to venture to say that fear was involved. Fear of something. Maybe a fear of loss of authority, maybe a fear of ... the sacred.
Scared of the sacred.
My friend died, two days ago.
What follows is a story of love, non-intentional arrogance, and humility. Fueled by not knowing where to put the grief.
I may have written a version of this story before, a few years ago. If I didn’t, I thought about it.
Either way, here it is again because as I sit here alone, 5 hours away from where I really want to be, the village where those who love my friend are gathering and hurting together, I need to write this.
I need to visit her, to hear her laugh and hear her say with her smily eyes and her slightly raspy voice: “Aie, La-o-ra!” She said this to me so many times over the eight years of our friendship, always with love and a sprinkling of the mutual delight we found in the places where our different cultures surprised us over and over again.
I need to write this to go visit her mom, too. Her best friend. Her mom whose heart is shattered. I need to go visit her and see her in the sunlight of this story.
I need to write this.
Corazon and her mom Esperanza prepared meals for us, through countless Retreats in Mexico.
Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cooking classes.
Esperanza did most of the cooking while Corazon helped, cleaned and took care of the groceries, receipts and menu planning.
It was a seamless operation and they fed us much more than food. They fed us love, joy and the privilege of watching two generations - sometimes three when the babies came along - working together in a way that is not always seen in the United States.
On the second day of our first Retreat together, I noticed that while the food was delicious, I could give them a little help when it came to planning the day’s work.
This is how they went about it:
Around 7 in the morning, both women would walk up the steep hill to the house, then climb the many stairs to the kitchen, carrying grocery bags overflowing with the ingredients for breakfast.
Corazon would often stop a few steps away from the open-aired kitchen to catch her breath, while Esperanza, always dressed elegantly, would keep on going until she dropped the bags on the counter.
For the next hour or so, they would chitchat and laugh as they hand-made tortillas, squeezed fresh juice, and cooked whatever yumminess was planned for the morning.
By the time we all showed up, everything was displayed beautifully on the counter, ready for us to devour first with our eyes, then with our mouths.
While we ate, they cleaned up and as we began our classes, they did the last of the dishes, swept the kitchen, leaving it impeccable. Then they waved us goodbye and sometimes puppy in tow, walked down the steps, down the hill, back to town where they would soon go buy the groceries for lunch and repeat the process all over again.
Buy the food, Carry the food, prepare it, serve it, clean up and leave.
As I said, I knew how to make this whole thing way easier, and boy were they going to be relieved when I presented them with “a better way to do this.”
My Spanish was not so strong back then but I felt that I could get the message across. Right there in the kitchen, as they got ready to leave for their midday shopping trip, I presented my improved plan. It all fit tidily within just one line. A one-line, fix it all simple plan.
Twice a week we would get them a cab so that they could shop for several days at a time.
That was it. Simple, elegant, efficient.
They waited for more.
So I said: this way, you don’t need to go up and down the hill several times a day.
Still no reaction. It was as though they were waiting for the punch line.
I added: so it will be easier, you know? Not so many trips. More convenient.
Corazon was the first one to show that she might have understood, as her mom looked to her for some missing translation.
I noticed she was uneasy. I wondered if I had said a bad word.
All she finally answered was: “O, no. Esta bien.” Oh, no, it’s ok.
It’s ok? I am offering to cut their walking time in half and completely remove the heavy lifting and it’s ok??
I looked at Esperanza as Corazon was explaining this to her. She smiled her beautiful smile and then the two of them looked at each other and they started to laugh, not completely comfortable.
It was Esperanza’s turn to tell me that it was ok, not to worry about it.
I was puzzled. Did they not understand? Did they think I wouldn’t pay for the cab? Did they not see the brilliance of my plan? Did they actually LIKE walking up and down in the sun, carrying bags of food? Did they know how much time this could save them?
My intuition told me to leave it alone, so I just said something about the invitation being open if they changed their minds. They made their way out of the house a little more quietly than usual, and class started.
Class that day was about Essence. Being aware of what Essence we wanted to bring into our lives, not just our Core Essences but also the Essences we might want to bring to a meeting, a conversation, a vacation.
As I finished explaining the concept of Essence, I heard laughter and rapid-fire talking approaching. Chiquita the Chihuahua was leading the way by the swimming pool and the two women were once again walking up the stairs, bags full of vegetables, fruits, and fish, laughing. Their energy was contagious and it instantly infused us with Levity and again, Love.
They cooked while we finished the morning class, and then having cleaned up the kitchen and left us snacks for the afternoon, they waved us goodbye and started to leave once more.
AND THAT’S WHEN I GOT IT.
Hearing them laughing together, kidding each other, deeply relishing each other as they walked away, I got it.
ESSENCES OF JOY. COMPANIONSHIP. OF LOVE.
One step at a time, one slow, enjoyable moment at a time. Mom and daughter sharing life together.
I had proposed to replace these Essences with the Essence of EFFICIENCY and they had gently declined. When I had pointed out that they could save time, they probably thought I was nuts. Save time… to do what? What could be more delicious than what they were doing with their time?
Knowing what I know now, what Esperanza knows now, these times were deeply sacred, holly, not to be touched - ever.
For the next many years, no matter where we had classes, they showed up the same way, laughed the same way, and left the same way. As many times as it took.
And rather than try to change that, I tried to help myself to that Essence. Especially after my mom died, especially when my heart was broken returning from Greece where I had seen families torn apart.
There is much more I could say about what I learned from my friendship, whether when I was in Mexico or when we shared bits of our lives from different countries. What I continue to learn as I communicate with Esperanza these past few days, too.
But while full from having visited this time, I hurt right now. So I must take a break and let grief catch up, or maybe me catch up to it, heck I don’t know.
Here’s to daring to bump into other cultures as humbly as possible, ready to learn, not to teach.
Here’s to love.
Here’s to Corazon and Esperanza. And to the babies.
SCARED OF THE SACRED