Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Today and Today and Today

In Life, Travel on May 15, 2010 at 12:17 am

Before I left on this travel year, I sat at the table, eating Greek salads with my dad.

“Daaaad,” I moaned. “I’m sad.”

He looked at me and motioned for the fries.

“Ok. I’m really sad.”

He took a sip of water.

“Dad, I don’t think you understand.” I pointed to my face. “Sad.”

A smirk that only exists within my dad’s DNA began to take over his face.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m leaving for Ireland in two days, and I’m sad.”


“I have all these friends and people that I love here and I just want to be with them, but I’m leaving.”

Smirk. Chew. “What’s the problem?”

“Well, you know, it’s sad.”

Smirk. Blink.

“I could cry.”

My dad put down his fork and wiped the smirk with the corners of his grease-stained napkin and looked me in the eye.

“You should be crying.”


“You should be crying. Go ahead,” he said. He nodded encouragingly. “If I were you, I definitely would.”

Oh, I know my dad well enough to know that I was about to be gifted with some otherworldly, who-else-would-ever-say-that response. I just cocked my head to the side and shook it at him.

“Think about it, Elizabeth” he said. “You love all these people and you’re going to miss them. But you love a lot of people in Ireland, too, and you don’t even know them yet. Next month, and in a year and two years; when you’re 56. You don’t even know who they are. Think about that. You don’t just miss all the people you know. They’re pocket change. You miss all the people you don’t know. That’s a lot of people…and that’s pretty sad.”

We smiled at each other, and we really enjoyed our Greek salads.
If I had known about Rita and Duncan and Rebecca and Donal and Pauli and Oda and Matt and Eva and Colm and Fiona and Ciara and Gerald and Kim and Elaine and Caitriona and Ross and Andy and Marie and Declan and Marialarra and Conner and Aiofa and Analisa and Javier and Seamus and Darragh and Ana and Francisca and Dave that night I wouldn’t have just talked about crying. Hell, after I knew them, that’s all I could talk about. They are my bed of Irish soul, my crazy catfish can-do dancers that daily throw their souls into the sky.

And when I came home after five months, they threw my dad’s advice into the sky and it plopped on the side of the road. I was too busy crying in the car to notice it, and so I drove over it, running frantically over my return to a life I no longer wanted. The real me was stationed miles away and I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder for her.

Yet…if I had only rekindled the truth of the feta cheese and sliced tomato, I would have sensed Emmily and Dotahn and Emma and Damir and Nicolas and Googie and Ed and Tanya and Angel and Morgane and Pedro and Robert and Lea and Olguer and Wamari and Magali and Ligia and Kimberly and Erika and Lenin and Andy and David and Santiago and Orlando and Paulina and Carlos and Fabiola and Diego and Jenny and Yarina and Antonieta and Kevin and Tito and Ligia and Michelle and Adrian and David and Colin and Matt and Yanik and Francisca and Jessica waiting in the Ecuadorian wings.

I would have cried for the dessert dinners and wine consumption, the hikes and hugs. They are as beautiful as any I’ve ever known, and if Ireland broke my heart, they put it back together.

We are bound to repeat the pain and forget everything we know, bound to cultivate thirst and cover our way with rocks and straw and clay. But, if we look in the mirror and hold a flute and cock a brown hat sideways just so, if we wander the earth to live our lives and lose them, we’re liable to remember this sliver of the truth. It’s all been done before, and today is the day we smile bigger than we ever knew how, and today, and today, and today.


Whan that Aprille

In Life, Religion, Travel on May 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm

There is a moment around the windy hill, just after the cotton candy and the papas fritas, after lying in the grass and peeing on the side of the road: and in that moment when your feet burn and your head bobs and you just about know you’ve lost a toenail to the moon – after wondering how far away is the moon – you get ok. A Frenchman is on your left and so is a boombox, a woman in dollar store shoes, trucks of the tired, trash. And you’re ok.

I went on pilgramage on the eve of Good Friday with 15,000 Central Highlanders. We came from Ambato and Salasaca and Pellileo, and we walked for seven hours in the night. We walked to Baños, town of the tourist traps and toffee tongues, gringas on the dance floor, men who wind candy in storefronts. Someone saw the Virgin Mary there once, and for 80 years, they’ve played memorial. I like to think the reason everyone shuffles 35 kilometers in the dark is this: in that split second before we know what we do, we do it. We breathe in the carts on the road – sugar cane juice, fried corn, shirts and chicken and candy galore. We watch women tilt forward. Their fingers loop around backpack strings, and we, too, urge each degree into a closer nose to finish.

Maybe when we’ve still got bad water in our stomachs and it still threatens to wring us like a dishrag, that split second of not knowing what we do has got to be God. God in the shadows, God in the cracks of the sidewalk, God in the cells of a person who’s pretty sure if there is a God, God’s best summed up in the joke on the back of a popsicle stick. Whatever it was, though, it did the trick; I had barely stood up in three days, and suddenly, arriving upon that teeming, closed-off Salasacan road, intending just to gawk and marvel, I was turning to my friends and saying, “me too.”
In the morning. In the morning, the clock strikes 4. It’s been six hours. We’ve made our way past the cemetery and waved at the girls lying on their stomachs on a canopy over a cauldron. The makeshift cart funneled the scent of chicken soup into the street. We’ve sat on a urine-licked curb, we’ve run down a hill. We’ve sung old Gershwin tunes; we’ve jumped out of the way of kids speeding past on boards on wheels. For six hours we’ve walked, and now we are sleeping heads on moving feet. When we pull off the road once more, we cradle fireworks into our eyes. Our legs leak. Our feet burn. But even tired machines run until they don’t. So when the French girl says, “one more mountain,” we run. Slowly.

~ I have to tell you the truth. I’ve had a ghost on my chest. I don’t know if I want to get rid of it. You play those sad songs enough, you get used to having them around. ~

But slowly up the mountain, over the bridge, between the trees, under the moon, in the river of tired flesh, I understand.

We’re a story. We’re lines in a book we will never see finished, in a tale that never began. We spend our whole lives adding to it, dotting one “i”, crossing one “t”, barring one “h” and we do it so badly so much of the time.

My mom tells a story. About a woman who got fat and old and lost her eyes and died alone. Who raised five children in a hard man’s home and set her fingers every day to sew. And you know what that woman said? “We were happy, we didn’t know any better.”

I am happy. I am happy around the windy curve; maybe I should know better; I definitely have. But right now, I am walking with my great-grandmother and she’s telling me how it is. How cracked feet and singed hair are my birthright. How her story is something she worked damn hard to make sure I would never know.

Walk with us. We’re going the same way. We’ve got different demons on our feet, and we’ve got our feet in different shoes, but our footsteps are all pressing into earth and leaving words behind. They lie there, breadcrumbs asleep in the ground. Let’s wake them all. Eat them all. Save them all.

Here is what I save – the sight of gas stations littered with sleeping bags and rows of feet-rubbing hands; bodies climbing up mountains to climb down – Here is what I eat – cotton candy on a stick, sugar funneling to numb toes, fuel to add another night to the history of the world – Here, here is what I wake, simply because I don’t know any better – Aprille with his shoure soote. Man, he’s fast. It’s all I can do to chase after him on his thick white rabbit legs, but I do, I run, kneel, crawl. And he leads me through regret and sickness and fear in those mountains and in those mountains, he fills my hands with a lucidity that leaks through the cracks and speaks in our voice, ‘We are happy; we don’t know any better.’”

God, Aprille, split seconds, and the women I never met. Thank you. Your story has been told. And lived again.