When I was eighteen I was lost. I had just left school and knew I wouldn’t be going back. I was recovering from wounds that had yet to scab. In retrospect it was a breakdown of epic proportions, but since I was young I was able to disguise it as angst and pickle it in drugs and alcohol. When you are that age playing the tragic martyr is still romantic.
As life sometimes does I was thrown a lifeline in the form of a trip to Mexico. My best friend and I loaded up our troubles and a suitcase to live in Puebla, Mexico.
I found my soul on the streets of Puebla. I would sit in cafes and drink and listen to Spanish guitar. I would take scary taxis driven by scarier men to markets and museums. I would walk down a dusty road to a dustier bodega to get a Cornetto and feed it to the stray dogs. I would go to fortune tellers who would tell me I would marry a wild Latin man and become a doctor.
But the most poignant day of all was when Ka and I took a day trip to Oaxaca. Because it is in Oaxaca that I met God.
For years I raged against God. I was angry. Why was all I wanted to ask. I both envied and ridiculed people’s blind faith in something they couldn’t see, feel, and hear. Their perfect happiness exuding from their perfect lives.
That day Ka and I went to Oaxaca to the Architectural Museum and then had lunch at an outdoor café off the town square. As we walked into the square pigeons erupted into the sky, music was in the background. Something tilted, something rattled almost into place like tectonic plates.
The thing about Mexico is that there is music everywhere. You would think it may be a saccharine type of musicality, but it isn’t. It is the heartbeat of the place. From the musicians who wander the town squares to the bands in restaurants to the sound of the people in markets; music is everywhere. It melts my heart.
It is when you are among the old that you begin to realize how new we are in America. That our oldest relics are nothing but new construction with few exceptions. Then you see the poverty and the deep division between the haves and the have-nots. You either serve or are served in that world. The shanty towns are built against the walls of gated neighborhoods.
But even that becomes beautiful. Even the dust becomes fragrant when you love.
As Ka and I wondered around the towns we visited the churches. Every church has a courtyard. Every courtyard is full of people. The stone courtyards have rutted pathways leading within the churches. Millions of faithful feet wearing down the stone over countless years.
These old cathedrals make you realize why people built churches like this. The building itself is a prayer.To imagine all the craftsmen it took to create this. The time and years it took.
It was a church somewhat like this where I felt God. It was far from the most beautiful church. It was hidden off a side street and was dingy and gray. There were two stone animals worn by time into shadows guarding the door. The building itself was stained from years of rain and soot from the nearby volcano and the smog from Mexico City. But as I walked by my body said “Go in and pray”. I didn’t voice my desire because it was foreign, scary and unexpected. Then Ka said, “Lets go in and pray”.
Most churches in Mexico can easily freak out an American because they have relics. Usually some sort of shine devoted to part of a saint or part of the cross or something like that. The oddest was an entire preserved body in a glass coffin.
However this church – my church – was different. As soon as you entered it was calm and silent and cool. It was rich and dark and lovely but not the loveliest by far. I don’t remember most of what it looked like other than the stone was gray and the velvet was red and worn.
However as I walked that rutted path I felt as though a nest of honey bees let loose in my stomach. When my knees hit the rail and I bent my head and closed my eyes I felt hands on my shoulders and a connection in my mind. It wasn’t words, it wasn’t one single thought, it was my mind – all of it. My heart – all of it. At one time. In one giant stream of consciousness.
And the whole time I felt the pressure of those large strong hands pressing on my shoulders.
I have a long way to go in my walk with God. But I know something worth worshiping is there. I know. No guesses. No maybes. I know.