Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Struck by Memories of a Vibrant Life

I moved a coat rack in the foyer and uncovered a framed 5x7 photograph hung on the wall that I snapped about 10 years ago in the Peruvian jungle. It's a picture of sunset over Rio Morona, near where it intersects with the Rio Amazonas.  My college friend, Ellen, and I, were sitting on the roof of a small passenger boat filled with leaders of the Ashuar Indian tribe after hitchhiking on tiny fishing boats from Ecuador to Peru.

Next to it was another framed 5x7 photo taken in the mountains on the way to Machu Picchu. We woke up at the break of dawn to start hiking.  It wasn't raining but a rainbow crossed from one mountain side to another. At the time it seemed like a magical welcome sign, like the entrance gate to Disney World. 

You know I've had these photos up for quite some time without thinking much about them - or maybe trying to not think much about them. Today, and in this particular moment, they struck me.  The calm blue grey hue of the water seemed the same shade of the walls in massage studios.   That color at the hardware store called Tranquil Blue. 

And the whole picture seemed washed out in a faded kind of way and I remember that's because the humidity in the air created an undeniable fog.  The rain-forest perspires constantly.  I remember the next day, before the boat docked in the city of San Lorenzo, there was this torrential downpour of warm rain.  It felt just like the derechos we get in Virginia summertime. It felt novel, refreshing and wondrous. 

When we made it to San Lorenzo we found a little cafe for breakfast serving coffee and rolls with butter.  A lady walked in with a baby monkey clinging to her shoulder. It was so cute and she wanted to sell it to me for five Sols.  I thought about how cool it would be to carry a little monkey around me for the rest of the trip but what I would do with it after it was time to leave.  Could I take it back to the US? Was it stolen from its mom?  Ellen talked me out of spending the $2 for the monkey, saying, "You don't know what kind of diseases it might have."

Looking at that picture it felt like a lifetime ago but I realized it had only been 10 years.  At the time I had the courage or maybe the stupidity to venture off into another country without knowing the language.  I traveled to and sought to hitchhike places the Lonely Planet guide didn't know anything about and I talked Ellen into going with me. I thirsted to learn about the world, to extend my horizons, to gain knowledge about different people and cultures, and to understand myself and my place better by seeing how other people lived.  It was an exercise in minimalism; I subsisted on as little as possible and spent as little money as possible.  One night we slept without a tent, on the sand in the river bank next to turtle tracks, aware that jaguars and alligators roam the jungle.  It felt so daring and so special.  

As I sat there staring at the photos, Tori climbed on my leg.  She'd been playing on the floor shaking seed packets for annual flowers I'd never got around to planting.  Periodically I fished colored erasures out of her mouth.  I picked her up, still facing the photographs.  These pictures represented my greatest achievement at the time and now I held my greatest achievement of the next 10 years.  

These kids are my new horizon and I learn more about psychology, my place in the world, life and the universe, though watching and contemplating them.  I could complain of serving them day in and out, but they are the beautiful landscapes I stare at mystified and the doorway to new friendships and experiences.  Every day is a grueling trek peppered with glimmers of smiles and giggles.  We bushwhack our way into the next segment of life, whatever adventure that may be.  

And so, for once, I didn't stare at the photos and feel untrue to my adventurous spirit for trading the travel bug in for a suburban family life. No, I looked at it and felt the air of the jungle, remembered the heat and the overcooked rice and dry plantains we ate for lunch every day.  I connected with the parallel journey I'm on right now.  Things are not better or worse now, just different.  And these pictures of beautiful places that are special to me are like the pictures I take of my kids.  I put them all up around the house to inspire me constantly to continue to live a vibrant life aligned with dharma.  

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