“You can only chase a butterfly for so long.” ― Jane Yolen, Prince Across the Water
From a very early age, butterflies and moths have been my totems. I have always been enchanted by their graceful movements and their vibrant colors. Although they symbolize different things to different cultures, universally, they represent change and transformation.
“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.” ― William Makepeace Thackeray
I have often wondered why mirrors are a prized possession of the poor in Latin America. We all have mirrors, but in Nicaragua mirrors are a luxury. They are very expensive and there are many mirror salesman that travel the dusty, cow manured roads in search of buyers for their precious portals. My neighbor has a large, faux gold framed mirror in her living space. It hangs high on a dilapidated wall, the only shining adornment in her dirt-floored shack… if you don’t count the picture of Jesus beside the TV, which is wobbling against the cement block wall.
In the Mesoamerican culture, mirrors were used as a portal to another realm. I imagine them gazing into this mysterious portal, unable to interact, yet performing time-worn rituals to call forth the gods of love, health, and riches. This venerable tradition evolved from their early beliefs that the smooth surface of water could be used as a potent tool for divination, seeing the unknown, portals to the sacred caves, conduits of the supernatural forces, and as synonyms for the power of the sun. Before mirrors, bowls of water were used to examine the reflections of sick children. If the child’s reflection was dark then his soul, or tonalli in Nahuatl, had escaped from his body. I wonder, were the ancient ones frustrated because they couldn’t enter nirvana…constantly chanting “Beam me up, Scotty?” Or, were they satisfied in the powers of divination only with the ability to see the unknown?
This novelty of reflection continues in my little community. Peering into the mirror, the children let out a burst of giggling glee. They have the same reaction when I show them the digital photos I’ve taken. Then, I begin to realize that for people who have next to nothing, a mirror is an unattainable luxury. I am dumbstruck. It is hard for me to imagine a world where self-reflection is an unattainable luxury.
But, mirrors, as well as digital photography, can change that. They enable the poor to see the world through different eyes. I experience a moment of pure bliss in watching the children look at their reflections in the mirror and on my camera. They laugh at it and with it, considering it to be a kind of jolly companion. Pity and sympathy for their impoverished lifestyles vanish with the revelation that they are truly happy. This family chose to look at the world with optimism and joy. The world is their looking-glass, and gives back to them the reflections of their triumphant faces. This simple moment changed my perspective of poverty. Their looking-glass reflects hope for this troubled world in which we live.
“Why does every road eventually narrow into a point at the horizon? Because that’s where the point lies.” ― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
“Hope is the moonlight filtering through the trees, Hope is the silent prayer that we make in distress, Hope is the promise that we make to ourselves, Hope is the happiness that we visualize, Hope is the horizon that we reach, if we try!” ― Balroop Singh
“…my heart rides the wind and my thoughts sail away – to a land below the horizon where I know you hide from me…” ― John Geddes, A Familiar Rain
“Broaden your horizons. They’re the only ones you’ll ever have, so make the suckers as wide as possible.” ― Jennifer Crusie, Anyone But You
“If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything. ” ― M. Scott Peck
Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. ~ Dalai Lama
Francisco’s 85-year-old grandfather, Don Cabo, is one of the happiest people I know. When Francisco visited us last week he said, “Oh, I have many problems. I wish for to have happy like my grandfather, Don Cabo.” Then he told the following story about his grandfather’s ancient bull horn. (Told in Francisco’s words to me.)
The Bull Horn
My grandfather is the happiest person I know. He never get angry like my grandmother. In December, Mayans come to visit us. They stay in our houses. My grandfather was very happy to share his life with them. He played his old bull horn for the Mayan people. He like to share his customs with the Mayans. The Mayan people enjoy my grandfather. After the Mayan people go back to their country, my grandmother look for the bull horn and discover that it was lost. She tell my grandfather and they look in all the places for the old bull horn. My grandmother discover that the Mayan people take the bull horn and she become very angry. But, my grandfather, the happiest person that I know say, “I am so proud.” “Why are you so proud for the Mayan people take your old bull horn?” my grandmother shout in very angry voice. My grandfather say, “I am so proud that the Mayan people put value on my old bull horn to steal. There are many things they could have took, but they choose my old bull horn, which is of great value to me. For this, I am so proud.”
I wish for to have happy like my abuelo,” said Francisco.
“Me, too, Francisco,” I responded. I was touched by his story. There was a lesson to learn here. For happiness does not just appear. Instead, it springs from our actions and our attitudes about life. Don Cabo understands happiness. He understands compassion, lives a positive and giving life, and enjoys every minute of every day. I hope the Mayans are happy with his ancient bull horn. ( I printed this photo for Don Cabo. I took it in 2004 when we attended his granddaughter’s birthday party.)
A carefree child loves with reckless abandon, trusts completely, and is free from anxiety or responsibility. A carefree child is freedom from the ties that bind us to reality. A carefree child runs, splashes, giggles, skips, builds forts, and finds delight in every moment of life.
A carefree child loves dressing up….
and getting down and dirty!
I used to be a carefree child once…easy going…happy-go-lucky…laid back…and radiantly free. What if I unleashed the carefree child within me…let her run free, love with reckless abandon, and throw caution to the wind? I’m going to ponder that for a while. What if?
“Because teachers, no matter how kind, no matter how friendly, are sadistic and evil to the core.” ― Heather Brewer, Eighth Grade Bites
Normally, I wouldn’t post a sarcastic quote about teachers, but this is different. Walter White was a milquetoast chemistry teacher who broke bad when he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He turned to crime by producing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to leave his family financially secure when he died.
Breaking Bad is a popular television drama series, and I am addicted to this show. Walter is: a protagonist turned antagonist, a nerdy middle-aged high school Chemistry teacher turned murderous drug lord, a villain seeking redemption by ignoring his past sins, and a monster because he has rationalized it all.
Shrouded in his crystal meth, Walter represents our dark sides. I often ask myself, “What would it take to break bad?” A terminal illness? A diseased brain? A fight with a family member? Do we all have the potential to break bad? How would I respond if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness?
Breaking Bad brings out the best and the worst in me. The best, in that I can ponder the philosophical questions about life….the really important questions like; Are we human only because of chemical equations in our brains? When is it justified to kill another human being? What baggage do we carry on the road to redemption? What governs my life choices? Is it emotions, personal motives, or consequences of my actions? Without memories are we still human?
On the other hand, Breaking Bad can bring out the worst in me. I can rationalize poor decisions, react impulsively out of revenge, justify my wicked thoughts by blaming others, and cuss like a hurracca when my feathers are ruffled.
Simply put, I’m human. My dark side stays safely tucked away most of the time. Unlike Walter White, I don’t expect to break bad anytime soon. But, the potential is there. When Hank (Walter’s brother-in-law) confronted Walter and said, “I don’t know who you are anymore.” Walter responded, “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe the best course would be to tread lightly.”
Here’s to treading lightly, enjoying each day as it comes, living fully and compassionately, and keeping that dark side safely tucked away!
Weekly Writing Challenge: And Now For Something Completely Different
My friend, Bobby, always told me never to lend money to Nicaraguans. That was always my philosophy, too..never a lender or a borrower be. But, what would happen…if no one cared? Marina would go without a needed operation to remove a cyst on her thyroid gland because the public hospitals, where treatment is free, use dirty machetes to cut out unwanted tumors. (only a slight exaggeration) A building contractor would pass on a terrific opportunity to be the jefe (boss) of a construction crew in a $250 million dollar resort because he couldn’t afford to be bonded. A pig farmer would have to let the pigs starve for lack of food. A taxi driver would not be able to provide for his family because the taxi drivers were on strike. When faced with these situations…what would you do? Would you care?
I wonder what would happen…if everyone cared. Would it make our world a better place, or would the passion of caring destroy us all…or at the least send us to the poor house?
My Top Ten Scenarios: What Would Happen…If Everyone Cared??
1. We’d have stories with happier endings.
2. We’d be dead in days. We should be grateful some are apathetic.
3. We’d be eating cat food because no one returned our money.
4. Real heroes would be redefined. There would be a rush on the sale of red capes.
5. We would all become insomniacs. Worrying about everyone would be exhausting.
6. Causes would quadruple.
7. We would all take responsibility for our own lives. The “Blame Game” would disappear like eight track tapes.
8. Politicians would stop sabotaging the economy, our environment, and our rights as human beings on this planet.
9. Chaos would ensue! Too many people caring about one another would be confusing. How would one prioritize the cause?
10. Passion would be the hallmark of our lives.
As you can see, there is a ying and yang to caring. I’ve never used a poll on my blog before. This is something completely different to me. Do you care enough to take my poll and add to my list?
The third option covered by the palm tree says, “I don’t know and I don’t care”
Since this poll is new for me, I don’t know how to fix it, yet. :-)
If you are wondering whether we will have our money returned, I believe that people are inherently good. The contractor had a lawyer create a document that stated if he did not return the money he borrowed, his motorcycle was ours. Our taxi driver is paying us back by giving us free taxi rides in exchange for the money borrowed. Marina’s operation was successful, and she will pay us back the first of November….she always does. Baby piglets are on the way. As soon as they are sold, we will have our money returned. Living in Nicaragua is good…retiring abroad is better… caring for others is priceless.
“There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations”
―Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to this article: Migration in the Americas. The first comment asked about the cost of living in Nicaragua, so I responded with information and a link to my blog. Throughout the day, I watched as the hits to my blog steadily climbed. By the end of the day, I had received more than 3,700 hits. Why? Is it because people are desperate to fulfill dreams of sipping margaritas under gently swaying palm trees, while watching the ocean waves lap at the doors of their tiki huts? Is it because of frustration and economic despair that life has so rudely thrust in their paths?
Comments ranged from curious to hopeful, and on the other end of the spectrum, from hateful to distorted with many bitter political viewpoints. Are we all doomed because we dream of a better life with great expectations? Are we fearful of improving our reality or are we expecting too much out of life?
We moved to Nicaragua without too many expectations, for I have learned that great expectations lead to great disappointments. Life has not been easy here. We knew better than to expect an idyllic lifestyle surrounded by margaritas with those cute little umbrellas poked into frosty glasses. Instead, we learned to take one day at a time, and improve our reality without playing the blame game.
I am not a victim of my circumstances. I consciously chose a simple, culturally immersed lifestyle and deal with the challenges it presents every moment of every day. As a result, I’m happy and fulfilled because I chose to be realistic and live without great expectations. Not that I lowered my expectations..I don’t agree with that part at all. I simply don’t have expectations. For me, life is easier without them.
Life in Nicaragua can be described with the Big Brother motto, “Expect the Unexpected.” After building a house in the worst flood in 60 years, encountering daily power and water outages, discovering that I have a severe allergic reaction to ant bites, a frustratingly slow internet, and watching my close friends commit suicide out of hopelessness and despair…I am still here. Why? Because this is….my life…one day at a time.
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. John Buchan
Early this morning, at the crack of dawn, two brothers borrowed our kayak and paddled offshore to place their net below the shallow waters of Lake Cocibolca. Within five minutes, they hauled up a huge fish, similar to a Sea Bass. It is the chicken of the sweet sea, a type of Guapote, with enough meat to feed a large family.
Fishing on Lake Cocibolca is not a sport: fishing sustains life here. Julio and Jose are among the many young men on the island in pursuit of what is elusive, but attainable. Fishing is hope…hope that they can feed their families…hope that they can haul in a big catch…hope that they can make life a little better for their families.
Fishing gives them daily opportunities to pursue what is attainable, because there are many things that are out of reach for the poor in Nicaragua…a college education…a secure job…quality health care..comfortable housing….to name a few.
Yet, because their needs are simple, they have no hopes and dreams for the unattainable. They happily fish through life with a sense of realism that astounds me. They are satisfied with what they have,and live without expectations for the unreachable. Therefore, they have few disappointments in life. A great day is one big, fat Guapote, or a net full of smaller, bony fish.
I wonder about this simple philosophy of life. Is it better to have a perpetual series of occasions for hope, than hope for that which is unlikely to occur? I think of the times I bought lottery tickets hoping that I would win the Powerball. Even winning a dollar on a lottery ticket was a disappointment to me. I was hoping for the unattainable.Now, it seems like such a waste of energy and worry.
What I have learned from watching Jose and Julio fish in the calm waters of our sweet sea, is that hope and reality are brothers in life. It’s like taking baby steps…one little step at a time…leading to the big catch. It involves taking a realistic view of one’s life, pursuing those elusive, but attainable Guapote, and having a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
We have the best seats in the house and the front line of activity on Ometepe Island. At six in the morning, while sipping my coffee, I watch the ferry chug by our front gates and the fisherman haul in the morning catch. Do you see the palm frond obstructing my view to the left of the photo? It’s coming down today and I’m going to make a palm frond basket. The secret to creativity is knowing how to recycle the things that block and hide one’s view. Once the blinders are removed, life is full of surprises.
How do you remove your blinders? We all have them. Are they worth removing? I’d like to hear your thoughts.