*****(Sorry for delay, I wrote this second week of December)****
I rushed over to lift up the motorcycle that was in danger of pinning Octavio’s next client to the ground, a thirty year old smiling man holding an infant no older than one.
– “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on Earth.” (I believe that roughly translates to “Thank You” for Evangelical Dominicans.)
– “Ah, yeah- that’s the way it is.” (Translates to “You’re Welcome” in Awkward Dan Spanish.)
I was now officially terrified but I smiled back at the man because he smiled at me, then quickly found a plastic chair and buried my face in my newly harvested book from the Peace Corps Free Room, The Last Lecture.
By the end of the haircut, there was an epic battle raging between Emilio and Octavio’s Evangelical customer named Rude House Guest. It was a messy battle centered around the fact that Rude House Guest had accused Emilio of being an impious sinner who would go to hell for calling all women prostitutes during one of his homilies at mass, which needless to say is an impressive fabrication.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Emilio raise his voice so loudly. He kept trying to leave the ridiculous argument he was having, but could only manage to walk five feet away before turning back pointing his finger and yelling. He walked back and forth between the battle and his cacao farm at least 100 times before finally leaving. I pictured that scene in 300 when Leonidas screams at the Persian messenger threatening Sparta with war. “You come to my city, insult my wife, and threaten my people with death and slavery?”- which was justification enough to karate kick him down a bottomless well. The 27 meter deep well in Las Dos Palmas was too far away to kick him down, so Emilio let Rude House Guest leave with his baby that will one day think like him. Peace to His people on Earth, indeed.
Apparently Rude House Guest is one of the few Evangelicals in my village, and has spent the past three days waking his neighbors up at 4AM to tell them the word of God with a megaphone. It could just be more campo chisme (gossip), but apparently this man has enough machete scars on his back to play tic tac toe. He used to be a huge tiguere who lived the way of the streets- thievery, drugs, and alcohol. After a poorly executed robbery, he was left for dead with a tic-tac-toe game on his back which he lost. Now he has been Saved and the Catholics are going to hell, unless he can save them. He has a mission in life, and it feels good. Thank God.
Emilo was rightfully angry with Rude House Guest, just as I would have been, just as any sane person would have been. It’s a really beautiful feeling when you believe your fighting against evil. Emilio tried to walk away from the nonsense spouting out of the enemy’s mouth, but he couldn’t because it feels good to wage a just war. His opponent most assuredly felt an even greater sense of joy because he was the oppressed minority bearing the cross that God had asked him to carry. He just had to save his neighbors so they would not fall into the ways of sin that defined his own past. There’s no better battle than one where you’re the underdog and you believe you might win, just maybe. Everyone wants to find a battle like this- not all the time of course, but once in a while. Why? You get goosebumps as you shout because you know you’re right and the enemy is wrong. You become the Hulk and you marvel at your own power. The battles help us to recognize and appreciate what peace is. And what is peace? Peace is the luke warm water we swim in all day, contentedly, but every now and then we want to scald our skin in a hot tub and say. “ah- ah- aaaaaaaah….” as we sink into liquid heat.
I am living in the DR because I wanted a battle. There were a few battles that I could have fought in the upper-middle class heaven that was home. One day, I will escape my upper-middle class economic hardships that denied me the opportunities that I will one day give to my kids. One day, I will design a Ipod the size of a toothpick with a 2 terabyte capacity. One day, I will convince my neighbors the importance of cutting their grass! The battles available to me just weren’t the same as my kilt wearing hero from the Middle Ages named Mel Gibson as he screams, “One day, many years from now when you’re dying in your beds, would you trade all the days from this one to that, to go back and tell your enemies that they can take your lives but they can never take your FREEEEEEDOM!” Where were the Nazis and King Longshanks? All I could find was the Evil Boss from Lord of the Rings Restaurant, but I chickened out of that confrontation thank god. Nope, it was just impossible to find a good war in heaven so I had to leave the clouds and go down to the imperfect Earth where reliable electricity and running water are dreams and not expectations. I wanted to suffer a little bit fighting for this just cause because that sacrifice will make my eventual victory taste heavenly. I finally found an unbeatable enemy that I fell in love with as soon as I met him- Global Poverty. I wanted to be the hero who vanquishes Global Poverty. And when I suffer on behalf of righteousness, it is like the pain one must feel when they are receiving a tattoo that they will wear proudly their entire life.
If you don’t like Global Poverty or Rude House Guests, allow me to suggest several other Bad Guys that will fill your life with the satisfaction and joy you are so desperately seeking. Democrats, Republicans, Nazi’s, Darth Vader and/or Dick Cheney, Atheists, Christians, Uncontrollable Children, Controlling Parents, Terrorists, That One Thing That Is Destroying America, Justin Beiber, Ipods, Ipads, Ivainas, and of course Frat Boys at Big Southern Schools (Pat and Jimmy, I love you guys but you have to admit- you make great enemies). I make a wonderful enemy too. You see, I don’t floss as much as I should, I can be hopelessly disorganized, don’t read my emails when I should, have annoying as hell acne, don’t remember your name, and should be more confrontational. In reality, the best enemy you can fight is Yourself. Too scary for most of us so instead we look out our window with a shot gun rather than in the mirror.
I thought it was a little bit sad that Emilio could not walk away from this battle, but I know I would do the same. Don Emilio was screaming at the breeze blowing across a chaotic world- hoping that with his loud voice he could stop the wind. It is a battle that we will never win, but one that we will repeat over and over again because we are human.
The other day, I was reminded of the first thing I did when I arrived to Las Dos Palmas, go to a funeral for a teenager who hit a low hanging wire on horseback. When I was sitting outside a colmado, an unsheathed power line in Tres Bocas fell down before my eyes, less than twenty feet away from me while we had luz. It was still connected to one luz post, but draped across a tree branch right across the road. After about five minutes, the owner of the colmado pushed the free end away with a stick so people didn’t step on it. Everyone agreed that there was “probably” no luz in the loose wire because the end of the wire that was still connected to the post would not have current in it, but their opinions on the wires means little to me in a place where a smart 17 year old tells me that the sun clearly orbits the Earth. I watched in horror as a seven year old girl approached the wire blocking her path. The colmado owner simply said, “Be careful!”, which didn’t satisfy me as she continued walking towards the wire, unfazed. I shouted out, “Don’t touch it!” She stopped in her path, looked at me, and took a large step over the wire as if it were a puddle blocking her path. I almost threw up. What if there was luz in it? A dog bumped into the wire 5 minutes later and was not killed, so the neighbors agreed that there was certainly no luz in the rogue wire.
Who was the enemy in the case of the fallen wire? I wanted to blame Global Poverty for not having engineers or sheathing on the wires, I wanted to blame Inescapable Ignorance, I wanted to blame Failed Governments. All of these are valid enemies to accuse when you live in a heavenly suburb because they are invaders to your carefully constructed heaven. In the suburbs, we should be able to live to the age of 100 if we wear our seat belt and don’t smoke. If you don’t make it to 100, there was a Bad Guy that we didn’t fight hard enough, but in the future it will be better. Life must never be cut short because we should be in control, right?
We can keep trying to control our world so that we will never have a random shooting in another school. Chaos will always manifest itself one way or another. If we don’t have power lines to fall down on us, we have crazies with guns. Why do we start looking for blame when we can’t control our world? Poor gun control, bad parenting, or a lack of sanctity for life… We are not capable of crying and saying, this is just the way things are in this chaotic world, because that is accepting the fact that there will always be uncontrollable risks in this world.
Here’s what I’ve realized though. Chaos is not an enemy- it is the world’s inescapable condition. If we feel like we have a right to live to the age of 100, we do not know what the world really is. Life is the miracle that has emerged out of the world’s chaos, and we do not have a right to continue this miracle as long as we want. We should be thankful that we have this miracle, and we should live each day as if the world were not under laboratory conditions found in a peetree dish. The world is not a suburb, it’s an untamable place where a power line can fall at any minute, a car can crash, a tree can fall, a cancer cell can grow. If we forget that vital fact, we risk forfeiting the beautiful gift that life is a miracle that must be treasured at every moment. Never have long term plans- have long-term dreams. In this way we will never feel cheated and always feel grateful for the days we are given.