Posted by: Hours Per Mile | June 15, 2010

Chapter 3 – Santiago, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

January 1, 2007

The years keep building upon one another, we grow older, this world year by year, digs its grave. It seems every time I go to write a date I have to get used to a new year, and then the same futile feelings about time usher in, and each time I’m left to struggle with the concept that each year leads us closer to death. Today is New Year’s Day. 2007. Yet another new year. Why is that always so fascinating? Life moving forward, just like it does each day, but every year this one day evokes such emotion, nostalgia, excitement, anxiousness.

As the calendar days flip over in their continuous stride, our trip moves forward, carrying us with it. This trip has become something more than just a noun, for the longer we are on it the more alive it feels, the more powerful and the more predetermined. We are just participants. We do not plan this trip, we do this trip…we hang out with it, laugh with it, curse it, squirm in pleasure with it. In its net we are caught and where the ship goes we must go also.

Yesterday, still in Santiago, we hiked to the Virgin Mary statue, straight up. From almost anywhere in the city you can see her white bulk looming over everybody, arms outstretched. Why is it not Jesus? There was a speaker system loudly introducing Christmas carols and I was overcome by the idea that these people used to believe in the Sun and the Moon and they were wild, uncouth and never knew Jesus. Europeans came and strangled their way of life, suffocated their spirituality and promised that the Virgin Mary and her priests could forgive them of these things called sins—all for a price. For some reason I can’t enjoy the churches in South America. There is an element of imposition, brutal force and buildings built for the sake of beauty, not God, because the people didn’t care about God and the Europeans wanted to prove how advanced they were. I just don’t trust it.

Last night was New Year’s Eve and the Chileans proved they know how to enjoy themselves. The entire city woke up from its lethargy and poured into the streets. We followed suit in a mass of diverse people gleaned from our hostel, all our new best friends. Three of them were Israelis who moved to Iowa to sell Dead Sea salt at a kiosk in a mall, but sadly, their hopes were disillusioned. They decided to travel instead. We share a room with them and have them firmly convinced that we are all brothers and sisters. We even danced a family jig for them, claiming it is a tradition in Alabama for each family to have its own routine. Word spread throughout the hostel and we had to watch what we said to keep up the ruse. It was a relief to get out into the distractions of the city, avoiding any more questions. The streets were jammed well before midnight, the party in full swing, bursting with confetti and champagne and fireworks, car horns honking, and we ran through the traffic elated for the coming of the year ahead of us.

I sit cemented to a bus on this New Year’s day. The window curtains are closed to keep the draining Sun out and night’s advent renders me thinking. I am scared! Vividly I remember the night when I was back at home in Atlanta. I was driving home and suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. And next to me was this trailer full of cows heading to the slaughterhouse…and we were on the same road. My lane, their lane, we were all heading in the same direction. Everything blurred around me except the white stripes leading the way forward and the bright lights behind me forcing me to keep going. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. It felt like I was in the trailer with those damned cows. The damned cows whose only purpose in life was to feed people like me and they had no say so about it.

So what am I doing right now? I am not with the cows anymore. I am with the larks, I am indulging upon a bed of whimsy, cavorting with the hours, loving every mile, relishing every smile, I am not with the cows anymore. Come, dress up in your fancy business suit and wave about your glossy resume while we tread upon your soul, say the slaughterhouses. Come, take our fat offers, here’s your desk, fill your coffers…but it is a pattern which defiles freedom—with the paycheck you can afford to take out the mortgage on the nice house, the nice car, eat fine dinners with caviar, but don’t you dare quit that job which you hate for how are you to keep up your newfound dizzying pace? And the years tick off like a time bomb.

Instead, I’ll bounce along in this stuffy bus writing down the froth bubbling forth in my head, for a thought in my head is not complete until it sees paper. And I have no house, no car, not even any caviar, but I feel full of purpose, and I feel fulfilled.  I do not want to waste God inside me. That would be driving myself to the slaughterhouse. I must create. My creations are like God’s grandchildren…and I heard my mom say one time “the only thing not overrated is grandkids.” (But if my mom really meant what she said does that mean I was overrated??)

“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, stand in awe of God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:7

A hot hike up

Hodgepodge of hostellers


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