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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTravel & Outdoors | May 2008 

Passing Through
email this pageprint this pageemail usJan Baumgartner - OpEdNews

Jan Baumgartner
For the last five months, I have had the privilege of living in a colonial village in the highlands of central Mexico. Deferring the astronomical cost of heating oil for my home in Maine, made possible this journey south of the border. It has become far more than escaping the wrath of an elongated snow event, but an unexpected reevaluation of priorities and a much needed reaffirmation of life.

One of the things that I have loved about being in San Miguel de Allende is the often progressive, liberal attitudes of not only many expats but natives alike; the no holds barred honesty they imbue, particularly the locals, and the exuberant celebrations of both life and death – the enviable weeding out of false fronts and that of which is not necessarily important in order to focus on what is real – both joyous and painful.

I have found great pleasure in stumbling into small tiendas selling anything from paper products to piρata candy to fly swatters that also have makeshift tables sporting "Pinche Bush" buttons and pins. "Impeach Bush?" I would ask, incredulously. "Si!" they'd respond as if I had asked if an armadillo sh*ts in the desert.

The Friday before Easter was the annual Judas Burnings in the Centro jardin. Hundreds showed up and we were treated to life-sized effigies of some of the most despised persons on earth, strung up and systematically blown up with firecrackers and mini bombs scattering papier mache body parts across the ancient cobbled streets. Needless to say, the obliteration of the Bush and Cheney effigies got the loudest howls and applause of all the other traitors blown to smithereens. Somehow, in my gentle "reaffirmation of life" I found this rather endearing.

Politics aside, I have found that when I've let my defenses down, reluctantly back-seated my political frustrations and anger, I have opened myself up to life experiences however fleeting, that have had tremendous impact on my days and more than likely, my future as well. When the sun sets, there are hopes and dreams and desires that secretly we carry to bed with us and that have absolutely nothing to do with elections or misunderstood religions or geographical borders. Perhaps this is when personal survival mode kicks in, but whatever it is, it rounds us out, I think, balances the incongruities of life, and gives us a surprising glimpse into all that is being human. It does not mean we are uncaring or unaware. It means only that in order to fully process we have to be honest with ourselves.

In the jardin and on a few occasions, I ran into a tiny girl, all of nine or ten, working a dozen hours a day selling fabric dolls from a garbage bag. She was bright, alive and always smiling, but more so, cold and tired and hauling more than a trash bag of dolls, but the weight of the world. When she would see me she'd run toward, remember my name with a grin, asking for nothing other than the very miracle that I would remember her name and say it out loud. We gave Veronica loaves of cornbread, a warm sweater on a cold night, a bit of chocolate. She was a child. And then she disappeared.

Selfishly, it made things clearer. Sometimes the tragedies of others make our lives all the more transparent and our angst and scars, smaller and less tender.

The reaffirmation came again in the meeting and interaction with a young teen who had been taken from her family after her mother had doused her with lighter fluid and set on fire her face and chest. After multiple surgeries to her face, mouth and throat, this beautiful young woman offers nothing but smiles and hugs; she holds tight to her breast a stranger, even when I am unsure as to what she is clinging, but I do know that she is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit – life itself – and somehow she knows that I love and admire her, and as good fortune would have it, she returns this gift to me. She'll make it. Many do not.

Alongside these images of what is real and often painful, and at the same time as I learned of the suicide of one of my closest friends, entered an old friend from long ago who just happened to be living in this village with her family. This reconnection has only confirmed that hand in hand with our darkest hours of questioning, comes these unexpected gifts of light that remind us that we are not walking this path alone – there are others who want to join us on the journey.

The older I get I realize that living this life is nothing more than a series of leaps of faith. And while I am more skeptical to make these leaps, I continue to jump, and though some of the connections with old friends and new, as well as strangers, are frightening because we expose our vulnerable selves in ways that open us to being hurt all over again, in the long run I have found, and here in Mexico, these confirmations of life whether lasting or fleeting, with small hands gently shape us into being more accepting, alive and hopefully, grateful for all of those who pass through.

For Purple Leaf.

A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer currently living in Maine. Her background includes scriptwriting, comedy writing for the Northern California Emmy Awards, and travel writing for The New York Times. She has worked as a grant writer for the non-profit sector in the fields of academia, AIDS, and wildlife conservation and anti-poaching for NGO's in the U.S. and Africa. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous online and print publications in the U.S. and internationally, including the NYT, Bangor Daily News, SCOOP New Zealand, Wolf Moon Journal, Media for Freedom Nepal, and Banderas News in Mexico. She's finishing a memoir about her husband's death from ALS and how travels in Africa became one of her greatest sources of inspiration and hope. She is a Managing Editor for OpEdNews.

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