My favorite part of the beach is feeling the immenseness of God while seeing the careful details of His creation–a tiny shell, a delicate strip of seaweed. And all of the while, the waves rhythmically pummel the grainy shore.
In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes that maybe God is like a child in the way He enjoys the repetition of His creation. It’s not that He is stuck in a rut or that He even has a factory that stamps the same design on daisy after daisy. Instead, He delights in the repetition of His creation like a child, “[exulting] in monotony.” “For we have sinned and grown old,” writes Chesterton, “and our Father is younger than we.”
I think about this as I pick smooth pieces of broken shells out of the sand around my towel. The sea creeps closer. Then the wind picks up and I turn my back to it and watch people walking their dogs along the walking path. On top of the mountains swelling beyond the port, are caps of brilliant snow.
The roar of look-alike waves settles something so deep in me that tears prickle behind my eyes.
Just that week, darkness had threatened with a roar, but the roar of a starving lion rather than a roar of majestic waves. And for a few awful moments I had felt its breath on my neck, breath that smelled of despair.
Will the lion come back? My heart races to even consider it. Please no, God. Not again. But, if I’m honest, there are tired days I want to let myself be consumed, as if stopping the struggle could bring relief.
I pack my things–my damp towel, the handful of broken shells, and my sunglasses. As I walk to the bus stop, the salt from the ocean spray still clings to my lips. I lick them. And then I lick them again. The salt remains. I smile, imagining that I smell like the sea.
My heart has quieted. Perhaps it was in the faithfulness of the Father’s repetitive creation. Or the delightful majesty of ocean and mountains. Perhaps. But even in the bitter wind, His Presence is here.
Below are a few things I’ve seen or experienced recently. They’re not written in any particular order or of any particular importance (or of any particular grammatical observance, truth be told). Just some snippets of life.
Speakers wound up in trees and fastened to light posts play “Joy to the World” as I walk down the street, in step with the music. Then I notice others in step with the music–a Muslim family, several Spanish businessmen, and others. “Let eevery heeeart prepaare hiim rooom…”
Russian classmate #1 is disgruntled that she cannot absorb a complex Spanish grammar structure. Russian classmate #2 says: “You’ve only been here 7 years and you want to understand everything. Calm down. We’ve been here for 20 and we still confuse this.” Bulgarian classmate begins to giggle. “Yes, calm down! You still have 13 years of confusion ahead of you!”
After a rain, crushed snails in crushed shells dot the walking/biking trail like flattened M&M buttons.
An elderly man I meet on my morning walk that tells me that his mornings are better on the days we cross paths.
Little boys at the Kings’ Day parade, squeeze around me to get to the front, chattering in hopeful Arabic and clutching rumpled plastic grocery bags to fill with candy.
A winter evening curled up with a book and a cup of lemon balm tea…and Christmas lights I hesitate to take down.
A shopkeeper tells me how long I should spend with the friend I am planning to visit in another town. “Are you going to spend the night at her place? No? Then you need to go before lunch and eat with her and spend a lot of time with her before you leave in the evening.” Oh, how I love to hear the North African perspective on relationships!
As I walk by, an elderly man comes out of a café to speak to me. “How tall are you?” he asks and all five feet of him steps back in surprise when I tell him. He says that the other day he was breakfasting with another man in the café. When I walked by, the other man said he would not like to take me out for breakfast. Because I was so tall, surely I would eat a lot! That makes me self-conscious as I walk home, realizing that my oblivion doesn’t exempt me from being a topic of discussion.
On my way to catch a bus, I notice a lady with her head in the dumpster. She doesn’t have that look of someone who usually sifts through others’ garbage. (And I’m not judging because I have rescued a few garbage items in my life.) But I pause, curious as she bats her broom handle around. “Can I help you?” She mutters something about losing an item. She doesn’t know if it could possibly be in the garbage she took out. I peer in and see a lavender bag of trash on the very bottom of a very empty dumpster. She doesn’t relinquish the broom when I reach for it, but I hold open the dumpster lid while she fishes around. Finally, success! She snags the handles and pulls it out little by little (still muttering). I manage to avoid the linty end of the broom that is headed my way and still make it to my bus on time.
I am at the counter of a North African store when a little boy comes in, not even big enough to see over the counter. He sets a hand-written list on the counter. The shopkeeper grins at him, “Peace be upon you, Arkan. How are you? At peace?” He looks down at Arkan’s mother’s list, reading aloud the first item before Arkan interrupts him. “I want a sucker.” Ahh, that’s how it’s done. And I wonder if suckers are free because he is so stinkin’ cute or if his mother ever notices that the grocery bill is always a little more than she anticipated.
I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.
So, where did I leave off?
Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.
We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.
We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.
We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.
After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.
Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.
Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.
After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.
The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.
I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.
We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.
The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.
Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”
I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”
He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”
And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.
You may be tired of hearing about Ireland. I was only there a few days, after all. I suppose I could be succinct, but where’s the fun in that?
Friday morning we rolled out of bed at 4:45. We had packed our lunches the night before, so it didn’t take us long to get out the door and to the bus stop. Some of the grief from our place of residence had been eased by sleep. We were determined to love the day.
We had booked a day tour from Dublin (east coast) to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway (west coast). Our guide gave us a fascinating peek into Ireland’s history and culture as our coach bumbled out of Dublin. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the scenery as the sun rose over the Irish countryside. Mists came up from the green rolling land, promising that fairies and leprechauns were real after all. It was breathtaking, but only one small part of a breathtaking day.
The weather was perfect: a mixture of sun and clouds and a constant but empty threat of rain. And the cliffs–Oh, the cliffs! No wonder the place was full of tourists with their cameras. My heart wanted to stop at the wild beauty of the place. (And having a cardiac arrest at the Cliffs of Moher would not have been so bad, really. Rather romantic.)
As we wandered up and down the marked trails, soaking it in, I couldn’t shake the sensation that I had stepped into a very beautiful photo.
We traveled through the Burren, our driver skillfully maneuvering the mammoth tour coach down skinny roads next to steep drop offs. We made a brief stop for photos in the National Park where craggy rocks dropped off into the ocean in impressive cliffs.
Our guide gave us another fascinating history lesson before we stopped at the Kilmacduagh Abbey ruins. I wanted an hour or two to roam, not 10 minutes.
Our last stop was Galway, an outstanding city on the west coast. Our guide told us just to go and enjoy the city without trying to see too much. That’s the best way to experience Galway, he said. He also gave us a list of restaurants, recommending the famous Galway fish and chips.
My friend bought us dinner at McDonagh’s for an early birthday gift–smoked fish and chips and fresh oysters. The last time I had tried oysters, I had wanted to gag. But that was in rural Illinois, about as far from the ocean as you can get. Would I gag this time? I was nervous as I squeezed lemon on my oyster. To make it worse, the place was packed even at this odd hour and we were sitting elbow to elbow with strangers.
But I didn’t gag. The smooth oyster that slipped from its shell into my mouth was fresh, clean, and sweet. I eyed the leftover oyster on the plate until my friend generously gave in.
While my friend did a little shopping in an Aran Island wool shop, I sat outside to listen to buskers who looked like brothers. They seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of their harmony, maybe especially when I dropped coins in their guitar case.
The entire evening felt enchanted. I slipped a few euros in my pocket and we wandered the streets of downtown Galway, stopping to listen to almost every street musician, even the dude singing “Galway Girl.” The way the Irish value the arts is something one can sense, even in a brief interaction with the culture, such as I had.
And, wouldn’t you know, we found another Butlers and strolled back to the bus, hot chocolates and truffles in hand. Darkness fell as we rode back across the island to Dublin. It was a day that made be believe I wanted to stay in Ireland forever.
Well, except the dirty little cottage that we had to return to.
I awoke from a deep sleep to a hand grabbing my shoulder and someone gasping, “It’s you!” It was the middle of night. It was also the middle of my friend’s disturbing dream. She was comforted to know that I was not a mustached stranger and promptly fell back asleep. But the interaction left me staring at the dark ceiling, my heart pumping.
Morning came soon enough. We made ourselves tea with the electric kettle in our room and took our time getting out the door. Why rush? While planning our trip, we had both decided we’d rather see less at a leisurely pace than see everything and fully experience nothing.
We gathered a few recommendations from our host and then made our way downtown, where we dropped off our luggage (we had rented a different airbnb for the following nights) and crossed the scenic Ha’Penny Bridge.
Our host had recommended Keoghs for an Irish breakfast. We gladly took his suggestion. I am not a bread person, but I spent the rest of the trip trying to track down more of this bread to eat with those thick slabs of creamy Irish butter. And the greens that garnished the breakfast? Peas!
We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s former execution site, which is now a lovely park full of Dubliners out for a bit of green during their lunch break. We paused before a gruesome monument commemorating the Great Famine of the mid-1800s. A North African family stopped us to ask directions. “¿Habláis español?” they asked and were shocked when we ended up speaking in Arabic instead.
We booked a tour to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a stunning copy of the four Gospels in Latin, supposed to have been copied by monks around 800 A.D. We only saw one open page, highly protected. Apparently, how long each page is exposed to light is carefully monitored. In the Long Room, a room of one of the world’s most stunning libraries, my friend and I pulled out our audio tour earbuds and sat on the wooden benches to drink in the odor of old books and to feel the smallness of us in a great big world of knowledge.
Then we remembered our luggage and began to consider what would happen if the 5:30 closing happened before we were able to retrieve it. So we meandered through downtown, with only a pitstop at Butlers Chocolate Café, another of our host’s recommendations. We carefully selected our hot chocolate and the little chocolate that came with it, wrapped in a small paper baggie. I have never had such amazing hot chocolate. Never. We moaned our way through our creamy cups, enough-rich and not-too-sweet but just-sweet-enough. We lingered long enough that we had to rush to retrieve our luggage before the storage center closed for the evening.
From there we went to our new airbnb, the “Country Cottage Oasis,” which will require a blog post all of its own…
It’s true. I traveled to Ireland. It was a quick trip. Maybe that’s why I’m still pinching myself. But which photos and details to share with you? I guess I’ll just start and you can come along if you’re feeling up for the ride.
I had spent a night in the Málaga airport and my friend had spent a night on her trans-Atlantic flight. So by the time we met up in the Dublin airport, it was obvious we were both running on adrenaline fumes. We tracked down transit cards and found the proper bus. Were we really in Ireland? Really?
Coming from an unseasonably warm Spain, I was soon chilled to the bone and thankful for every article of clothing I had packed… although most of them were still in my suitcase getting damp as we galivanted through puddles. I kept exclaiming about the green! the leaves! the peaked roofs! But where were the crosswalks? We made a dash across a busy street, our suitcases rattling frantically behind us.
Our airbnb host greeted us at the door with: “What are you doing out in such deplorable weather?” or something to that effect. We dripped our way into his entryway, grateful that he was kind enough to let us deposit our luggage at 11 a.m. We padded ourselves with extra layers and rain gear and then tromped back outside, in search of a place to eat. I whipped out my handy-dandy umbrella, only to have a gale turn it inside out two seconds later.
Instead of a cozy little pub with meaty stew, we found a shopping center. Hunger was morphing into hanger so we set aside expectations and splashed into a Steak ‘n’ Shake, or at least the Irish version of it. Oh well. Next time.
It took our tired brains a bit to realize that we would have to wait for the bus on the left side of the street. (That took some getting used to; in fact, I never really got used to it. I definitely did more than one double-take at a child sitting in what I mistook for the driver’s seat of a passing car.)
Our first tourist activity was the Glasnevin Cemetery. Yes, it does sound morbid. But this particular friend and I love visiting cemeteries. Perhaps it’s an introvert thing: hanging out in a crowd full of silent people. This particular cemetery offers tours, but we were too brain-dead to be able to retain information. So we strolled and strolled.
Under the walkway of yew trees, we let the carpet of supple red berries pop under our boots. The rain had stopped and gusts of wind caught the damp golden leaves and sent them twirling ahead of us. Wind chimes in a tree above a gravestone sang a tune of both mourning and joy.
We meandered through the National Botanical Gardens and into a steaming greenhouse full of tropical plants. Coming in from the outside chill, my camera lens promptly fogged and stayed foggy for the duration of our visit. The air was muggy and oxygen-rich.
We stopped at a bakery for a cuppa and pastries and we discussed how early we could logically go to bed. Eight? When we got back to the airbnb, we rolled around the idea of seven instead. Indeed, we were getting ready for bed about the time the other guests were heading out for a night on the town.
Well, I’ll write more another day. Stay tuned for part 2.
I meant to start out earlier than I did. But I didn’t. I meant to take a morning tour of the bell tower of Murcia’s cathedral. But I didn’t. Instead, I read a sign that said tours were offered October through June and said nothing about tours during tourist season.
I gave up that plan for the time being and wandered over to the bus stop in time to climb on a bus to Rueda de la Ñora, a water wheel located in an otherwise unremarkable village outside of Murcia.
Still sleepy, I yawned the whole way out of the city. It would have been easier had I worn a mask that allowed yawns and didn’t grab both my nose and my chin in a vice grip. It was unfortunately one of those city buses that didn’t bother to say where it was or where it was going at any given time. Enter Google maps.
The water wheel was worth the visit. However, there was no shade and it made my visit shorter than I would have liked. I was the only tourist there. The wheel was commissioned in the 1400s although it’s been replaced various times.
On my walk back to the bus, a dog gave me a series of ferocious barks from a terraza overhead. The sun tilted just right so I could see the gray shadows of his snapping jaws on the street beside me.
I stumbled across a bakery on my way back to the bus. “Why not?” I thought and stepped inside. It was a real bakery, one where the cashier came to the counter with her hands covered in flour. She was brisk but kind as I carefully selected a chocolate-filled pastry.
The bus deposited me at Circular Square, which is more or less a giant fountain in the middle of a roundabout. It was unoccupied, making me wonder if anybody in Murcia appreciates their own landmarks. (And do I appreciate the landmarks of Mytown?)
The Archeological Museum of Murcia was free so it was worth a look, I decided. I’m not much for museums and the history here in Spain is so ancient it becomes unremarkable after a while. I skipped the evolution of man section which put me ahead of the only others in the museum. So I basically walked through the museum alone except the security guard who greeted me every time he circled past. I should have tried to make off with a Roman pillar to give him something to do.
On the way back to the cathedral tower (by this time, I had bought a tour ticket online), I passed through Plaza Santo Domingo and found a startling human rights monument in the middle of the plaza, like a silent scream.
I arrived early for the tour, which didn’t bother me. I plopped down in the shade in front of the tower and people watched. We were a large group, not my favorite way to tour, but I had already decided that the pros would outweigh the cons. The tower’s history was fascinating, from how the construction paused for 200 years when the tower began to lean or how the resident rats nibbled the edges of the old manuscripts to avoid the poisonous ink.
The group was frantically taking selfies at every turn as I cruised past, photo bombing everyone. (Okay, that’s probably just what it felt like.) Tucked inside the walls, there was the impression of coolness, but it also felt muggy. But however hot and sweaty, we all made it up the 17 ramps. The quarter hour chime at the top was exhilarating. The bells thundered inside of my head.
After lunch in the air conditioning at my Airbnb, and some time to unwind, I tried to go to a coffee shop which was closed. “August,” I grumbled as I meandered through downtown and eventually ended up at CaféLab again where they recognized me and spoke to me in English.
I picked up snacks at Día and then spent the evening on the couch with guacamole, fresh mozzarella, and a show on the fancy-schmancy TV that the Airbnb host had painstakingly explained to his clueless guest.
Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.
I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)
My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.
I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.
As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.
I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.
Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.
“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”
I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.
From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.
Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.
I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.
On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.
A man in the front of the bus was deeply unsettled by a roaring conversation between a gypsy family and the bus driver. When the family got off, the man snarled about how loud and obnoxious they had been. (In truth, my nerves were a bit shattered too.) But the bus driver shrugged and instead of engaging in an argument, said, “That’s their way.” He, for one, was willing to roll with it.
Three women in brightly colored djellabas crowded around a fourth woman holding her large handicapped son in her lap. She spoon-fed him yogurt as he grinned at the women crowding around him. The women’s happy exclamations told him, in short, “We delight in you.”
In low tones, a new acquaintance assured me that even with multiple children with mental and physical disabilities, the last thing she wanted was people feeling sorry for her. When life got stressful, she danced. Literally.
I was coming home, tired and worn. As I rounded the corner on my street, I heard a greeting… from above. I looked up and saw my neighbor’s fuzzy gray head peeking over the window sill. “I thought that was you!” she called cheerfully.
At the bus station, a demonstrative Spanish couple bid each other farewell with an exaggerated display of affection. The North African taxistas started shuffling their feet and darting glances at the walls and ceiling. Not part of either world, I just sat on my concrete bench and enjoyed the cultural clash.
“I feel so alone,” my stooped neighbor told me, his eyes watery. His wife of many years had passed away suddenly and his loss was nearly unbearable. He couldn’t imagine life without the love of his life.
We all waited and waited and the bus driver fumed as the elderly man loaded his cart under the bus and carefully counted out his pennies for the bus fare. He stumbled into his seat, mask askew and tag peeking out from under his cap. And all I could see was that he was someone’s father.
When I greeted a stranger on the street, she stopped and broke into a smile that spilled over the top of her lowered mask. Her cheerful conversation stunned me, even though I had been the initiator. Had I met her before? But no. Although most people are afraid to talk to strangers, it just turns out that there are a few friendly people in Mytown!
A friend was telling us about someone she knew who got a fine for not wearing a mask. “The police gave him a fine for 300 euro and 50 cents.”
“Fifty cents?” I asked.
She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Three-hundred euro and 50 cents.”
We giggled and speculated where the 50 cents came from. Disobeying the law isn’t something to laugh at, but the ludicrousness of the amount caught me off guard. In Spain, indecent exposure has nothing to do with nudity on the beaches and everything to do with not putting a piece of cloth on your face.
I told my family, “I get tired of wearing a mask all of the time, but I found a way to amuse myself. Yesterday, I made a beaver face almost the entire time I was in a store. It gave me this strange and private satisfaction.”
So we laugh because sometimes we are helpless to do much else. Except maybe go crazy. A friend told me that when she worked in the Alzheimer’s ward. The pain, the sadness doesn’t disappear with a laugh, not even close. But the day we lose our sense of humor, we are treading close to insanity.
Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line, waiting to get onto our late bus back to Immigrantville. A man who had just disembarked, stood in front of the bus and snapped a photo. He didn’t look angry or particularly devious. A little high, maybe, but I didn’t bother accounting for his mental state. He looked non-confrontational enough.
That is, until he approached the bus driver’s window. Shouting echoed through the hollow bus station. I still didn’t pay attention; Spanish culture is usually loud and abrupt.
But I gasped when coins suddenly showered the bus floor. The man had reached through the driver’s window and flipped the coin drawer. I didn’t hear everything that went on, and I’m probably glad I didn’t because as the man slinked away, the driver bounded off of the bus, bellowing a word I won’t record for posterity.
There in the bus station waiting room, one pummeled the other with a “caution wet floor” sign. Then one threw the other against the glass wall with a thud. It was impossible to tell who was winning, but they were planning to kill each other, I was sure.
With the other stunned observers, I started toward the action with absolutely no clue how to help. Someone had the presence of mind to flag down a passing police van and a crew of armed officers piled out to join the action.
Shouting, police removed curious onlookers. I was praying aloud from behind my mask. The anger was real, hot, coming from somewhere deep that had risen to the surface after being suppressed for too long.
As we waited for the information to be gathered and fines to be issued, passengers gathered the coins that had scattered, whether to help or to help themselves was a little unclear. Others returned to the bus, laughing.
Wait. Laughing? What was wrong with these people? Had they no respect? Maybe not. But maybe, the incident was just enough to push them to their own edge and they had two options: lose it or laugh.
In Arabic, there is an important distinction between laughing at and laughing with. In those near-crazy moments, the distinction isn’t so clear. Sometimes it’s just prepositionless laughing, laughing to keep your nose above the murky waters of life until your flailing arms snag the rescuing hand of Hope.