What I Know in the Ocean / The Good Kind of Zero

There are some things that I think about/feel/know when I’m in the ocean that don’t come to me in the same way any other time.  It’s not about surfing.  I step into the water and stand there with it swirling around my knees, or I lie on my back and float.  And things come to me.

Lo Que Es La Orilla del Mar:

It’s the end of the world and the beginning of what is after/before.   Es donde la vida eterna se toca con la vida mortal.  It is the place where now meets forever.  Right here.  Right where my feet are.  This is the place.  It’s the end.

It’s also the beginning.  It is the amniotic fluid that carries our planet which is constantly being born.

Skin:

I like to float on my back and look up at the sky.  I think about how only a thin layer of skin separates the salt water I am made of from the salt water that holds me up.  It’s those few millimeters that keep me from blending in with Everything.  On land, I am an individual.  In the ocean, I am molecules of salt water among the others.  It’s not a bad feeling.  I tried to write a poem about it but there wasn’t anything else to say.

The Feeling of Zero:

I step into the ocean and what comes to me is the feeling of zero.  Not in a bad way; in a good way.  You might call it “peace” or “balance” or something, but for me that’s those aren’t the right words.  I feel zero.  My Mennonite upbringing would probably say I am feeling “forgiveness”—but there’s no sense of relief associated with it, and no guilt.  It’s quieter.  Like zero is what I owe and zero is what is owed to me.  Like I’ve done, or am doing, what I have to do, and nothing more is required of me than to be what I am.  Zero doesn’t mean that everything is going to be alright, or the way I like it.  It means that the world was here before me, and it will be here after me, and THAT is what is alright.  I don’t need to do or become or accomplish anything in order to make things different than what they are.  Like I do not owe a debt to the Universe and It does not owe me a paycheck.  Zero.  A good zero.

And one more thing.

I walk in to the ocean, past the breakers when the tide is low.  I lie on my back and float, looking up at the clouds.  I think, “This is where I will go when I die.”  Right there.  In the ocean, past the breakers.  It’s not a major item of concern for me what happens to my body after I die—my main concern is that it happens a really long time from now.  But who are we kidding?  I don’t have children or grandchildren who will want to visit my grave.  Got knows I haven’t got a red cent to leave behind, so I don’t imagine anyone will feel possessed to bury me.

I used to think about that in the States.   “Please, when I die, take me and pour me into warm salt water.  Don’t leave me here.  If I can’t live where I belong, at least take my ashes there.”

So I float in the ocean, miro el cielo, and I wonder if this is not in some ways like lying in my grave for a while on a sunny afternoon.  Just floating.  Checking out the scenery.  Watching some hunting birds glide by now and again.   Sometimes you can see the moon. Feeling the good kind of zero.

Does that seem morbid?  I hope not.  If it does, I did a bad job of describing it.  It’s very peaceful.  Then I have to trudge back onto the sand, pedal my bike up the hill, and decide what to make for dinner.

“Lost in Paradise” by Crime Watch Daily: The Story of Barbara Struncova and Bill Ulmer

Last Monday, November 9, Crime Watch Daily dedicated three segments of their programming to the story of Barbara Struncova and Bill Ulmer. They called the story:

LOST IN PARADISE: INTRIGUE AT A TROPICAL SURF RETREAT.
Click to watch it.

I am very happy with their presentation of the story. All of Barbara’s friends, as far as I know, are pleased with the piece. Some of the minor details—like which roommates lived where when, and who started what websites—are confusing or incorrect, but there are no mistakes in anything that matters.  Endless thanks to everyone who put themselves out there and shared their piece of the puzzle!

The story is not over.  Five years is a long time, but five years is not forever.  The earth and the climate in the tropics quickly devour things, but they also spit them up.  Crocodiles do not eat board bags, and neither do worms.  Earthquake happen and erosion is constant.  We may never know what happened to Barbara.  Then again, time may be on her side.

If you wish to participate in the effort to create justice for Barbara Struncova, here is a small list of things you can do:

–Like the facebook page Where Is Barbara Struncova?
–Share the video or posts about her disappearance on your timeline (put the audience setting to “public” on those posts, please!)
–Type #justiceforbarbara into the comment box on facebook posts about Barbara or about Bill
–Use #justiceforbarbara if you are a twitter user (I try but it’s so not my thing)
–Send the link to Crime Watch Daily’s report to news stations and news papers
–Write a letter to the North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory (http://governor.nc.gov/contact)

I don’t know exactly what you or I can expect any of those things to accomplish.  But you can do them all from your chair.  The other option is to do nothing.  We all know exactly what that will accomplish.

 

Awake en el País de los Sueños

Me hacen falta los temblores
how the walls shudder when
the ground beneath takes
a deep breath and mumbles in
restless sleep.

I miss the soprano of mosquitoes
around the net, cantando
en la noche de enfermedades que me
darían in exchange for
my sweet blood.

Extraño hasta los escorpiones,
their wicked tails cocked against surprise
in my shoes, the folds of towels,
esperando entre las sabanas
at my feet.

In the silent safety of America,
my loud breath keeps me
awake at night en el país de los sueños
donde lo que amenaza es la
soledad.

The Day of The Dead

Yesterday, November 2, was The Day of the Dead.

I love The Day of the Dead. We don’t really have The Day of the Dead in English (as my different lives are divided in my mind); I didn’t learn about it until I got to Costa Rica. Then when I heard it named, I thought it sounded awful. I’m already not a huge fan of Halloween (gasp) because I don’t like gory/scary things—and now we have ANOTHER day about dead people on its heels? Great.

But, lucky for me,The Day of the Dead is just the opposite; it’s a fiesta in the cemetery. And maybe there’s a clue as to why it isn’t celebrated where I come from: November is not exactly picnic weather in most of the northern hemisphere. That and to celebrate it properly you have to believe or at least tolerate the idea of saints and souls and other non-Mennonite/Puritanical stuff.

On The Day of the Dead in Latin America or where ever it is celebrated, people take flowers (real, cloth, plastic, home-made) to decorate the graves of their dead. And streamers and bows and every cheerful colorful thing you can imagine. They take food and gifts and in some countries spread picnic blankets on the grass and have meals with their deceased loved ones. Children run around and siblings squabble about how to place the decorations on grandma’s grave and dogs are constantly being scolded and ants crawl on the sandwiches and everybody is wearing their colorful best. Forget ghosts and goblins and fake bloody hands poking out of the grass.

I didn’t have very many dead when I first came to appreciate the celebration, and none at all in Costa Rica.   Now I have them everywhere.

* * *

I cannot take flowers to all of my dead or even name you all anymore. You are from too many times and in too many places.  But I am having a fiesta for you in the place I have buried you in my heart.  It is covered with flowers and streamers and there is cake for everyone, including:

Janelle
A high school classmate who died in a car accident while we were still students. She is the first friend I ever lost.

Jenna
A few years older than I am and I worshiped the ground she walked on in high school and college. Everyone expected her to recover from Hodgkin’s’ Disease in her early 20s.

 Grandpa Zimmerman
In his mid-seventies when he died of complications from a stroke or of a heart attack.

Great Grandpa Horning
Died in his sleep in at age 105.

A girl in college whose name I forget. I didn’t know her.
Disappeared while she was driving to her mother’s house and was found much later, murdered.

Jorge (Papa)
My Costa Rican father and he died of liver failure. Or that is how I remember it.

Randal
A friend in Costa Rica who died driving drunk on his motorcycle.

Oneida
My friend’s perfect 10-month-old perfect baby who flew out the window during a car accident and the angels took him away.

Uncle Earl, my dad’s brother
He was struck by a car while he was getting the mail out of his mailbox.

Jon
A close friend in high school and then we lost contact. He died a few years ago from complications of brain cancer surgery.

Chuck Cook
A father figure in Costa Rica who died of cancer.

Martin (Saul)
My ex-father-in-law who was kind and I loved him. I don’t remember the name of the disease.

Rafaele
A neighbor in Costa Rica, a butcher from Italy who was always joking and smiling. I did not expect that he would hang himself.

Lucho
We had Christmas dinner together in Costa Rica the year before he went to prison where he died.

Grandpa  Brubaker
Starved to death as a result of advanced Alzheimer’s in his early 90s.

Grandma Brubaker
Died a few days after a massive stroke in her early 90s.

Lara
Crazy guy who used to cut my hair

Grandma Tina
Saul’s mother who lived to be 100. She called me her granddaughter and told me the best stories I ever heard while her mind was clear.

Grandma Paula
My other grandma in Costa Rica, matriarch of matriarchs.

Nazim
My friend in Costa Rica who always called me “Lady Di.” He died of a degenerative disease I cannot name.

Barbara
My dear friend Barbara disappeared a month after I left Costa Rica and is still missing.

Hearing The Road

A story that is a poem that ends in a prayer

The storm has passed but I take an umbrella because lightning and thunder are everywhere. Fat drops fall from forest leaves onto my tin roof as I close the door and walk down the path to the street. My feet mumble over white stones which do not hurt me. It is easier to walk barefoot on the cool mud than in slippery sandals and I do not bother with boots.

I am walking down the soft cool road in the gleaming, dripping night. In the tall weeds and wildflowers beside me frogs are wildly rejoicing and a chorus of rain-beaten mosquitoes rises. My feet whisper. I hum. Drops plop from high leaves, dampening my hair. I walk toward the streetlight on the corner, watching the ground for sharp stones or slick snakes.

Suddenly the night snaps to black. Pitch black. The black of the night when God created the world. Black so close your breath is suddenly in your ears. Black without a star, without a moon, without a lamp or a flame. The black of closed eyes when they are wide.

I stop in my tracks. The way ahead, the way back, the sides of the road – all are erased. Now I cannot walk. I could wander into the wet weeds or put my bare foot on a silent snake.

My eyes widen and find the dripping forest flickers with fireflies: the world before time, the world right now. Night has been resurrected by a fallen electric line somewhere. I stand still, listening to the music of night creatures, watching firefly constellations flicker.

Then ahead there is a flash in the sky. Billowing thunderclouds are revealed by the light in their bellies and the road ahead of me appears like a momentary black and white photograph, with puddles shining bright. A long rumble shakes the air.

I take two steps forward in the blackness and then stop. I wait, the night pressed against my skin.

When a flickering in the southern sky starts again, I step quickly forward, as many steps as I can, until the rumble sounds and blackness closes over my head.

I am a little night animal walking on my path at the bottom of the forest. The world is gone and I am alone under the enormous black sky among trees. In my bones I feel my grandmothers who were not strangers to the dark. Their instincts softly stir.

And then I hear it. I hear the road. I hold my breath and there it is, clear as noon in the opaque night of closed eyes. It is the quiet place around me, the empty space in forest frog songs and chirping shrills. It is the space with no raindrops tapping on leaves. It is a pause in the rainy jungle night-music stretching before me and behind.

I step slowly forward into blackness without waiting for lightning, hearing the road between the trees. My toes slide forward, looking for stones and I step calmly into the quiet dark space.

 

Break the lines and let me keep this dark.
Do not lift the spell of night.
Let me walk along this road, trying to hear the way.