During my travels, both in Africa and Central America, there have been many moments that have left me awe-struck, completely speechless, not only because of their novelty, but because of their beauty. Just yesterday, I had one of those moments.
I went with my Nica mom, Lorena, to work. Twice a week, Lorena cleans the house and does the laundry of an American missionary in Managua and yesterday, she asked me to go with her to keep her company.
The home, pretty and new, with cream-colored white walls and hardwood floors, is straight out of a Crate-and-Barrel magazine. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before. I grew up in houses like this one in a middle/ upper-class neighborhood in Denver. But when I walked in the house with Lorena for the first time, I was speechless. The house looked so strange to me. I was blind-sided by a feeling like the one I got when I returned to my elementary school for the first time in many years… it was the same school, the same hallways, the same lockers, but everything felt different because I was different. The white couches, sparkling kitchen and Pottery Barn plates in the house literally took my breath away- the site of the house shocked me in that punch-in-the-stomach kind of way. Eyes wide open, I practically gawked at the framed black and white photographs on the walls, the large windows looking out onto the palm-tree covered yard, and the dark mahogany dinning room table. The material items aren’t what left me breathless, rather it was the fact that I was looking at this house from a completely different perspective.
I’ve become so immersed and comfortable with my Nicaraguan lifestyle I didn’t even realize how different it is from my life in the US. I’d just spent the morning cooking gallo pinto, sweeping our concrete floors, pushing Emilito on his bike, and catching the public bus with Lorena to take to work, and there I was, struggling to feel the same normalcy in a house just like the ones I grew up in. I saw the house through a new lens- and it left me dumfounded.
Just the other day, I read this poem and it hit home:
“Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come up from grace
to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.”
-“Zero Circle” by 13th century poet, Rumi (Version by Coleman Banks)
One of the many incredible things about being truly immersed in another culture is that I am confronted daily with a montón of experiences. I greet each day with an eager anticipation, because I never know what challenges, what lessons, what fresh perspectives I will encounter. I would say at least once a day I have a moment that takes my breath away, which is both exciting and kind of scary at the same time. I often feel lost (it’s a good lost, though) because my own view of the world is changing and evolving at such a rapid pace.
This poem is a constant reminder for me that it’s okay to feel a little “lost” in life and to be taken aback by the vastness of the world and our own utter lack of comprehension of it. In his poem, Rumi is encouraging us to be willing to stand there with our jaw dropped open, dumfounded and amazed before the experiences of our lives. It’s okay that the mere sight of this American-style house left me speechless, and more importantly, it’s okay that living with a Nicaraguan family has influenced me in ways I may not be fully aware of. He wants us to live with arms wide open, helpless- not the kind of helplessness that causes you to crawl in a corner, but the kind that makes us embrace the moment- the kind that is open and tender and vulnerable. Once we are able to just let go, then this stretcher will come- and we call it Grace because we don't know what else to say. To me, this poem isn't necessarily religious, rather a reminder to step out of ourselves, to live as openly as possible. Only when we are able to truly give into the moment will we be able to experience life to its fullest. I constantly remind myself here to just let go of preconceived notions, stereotypes and fears, because it’s how I can make the most of my experience in Nicaragua. And what is this “mighty kindness” that Rumi is referring to? I think it might have something to do with what the Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is kindness.”
“When you abandon yourself utterly to life, the river will flow and the log jam will be free. Who would have thought it, life takes another turn and you are gathered up into a whole different way of seeing and being.” (Roger Housden) So here I am, dumfounded at the fact that this sparkling, beautiful house looks so strange to me… and honestly, moments like these where I’m left speechless- moments like the ones Rumi is talking about where I feel helpless- are what make my time here so positive.