This afternoon I was on my way to have lunch with Todd of life in el corazon when I turned a corner and saw an amazing sight.
A statute. Of Christopher Columbus. In a public place.
Well, partly public. He is stuck far enough back in the bushes that he looks as if he has just emerged from an al fresco bathroom break.
Two things struck me as odd about the statue. Well, actually three.
The first is that it was there at all. I was under the impression the thought police had done their best to sully the good in Old Chris’s life. Even one of my friends, who is usually a scoffer at the PC crowd, considers Columbus to be one of the world’s worst politicians. But sometimes we honor men for their sense of adventure (and no one can gainsay Columbus that virtue) while keeping their failings in the balance.
The second and third are alike. What is it with the young visage? Columbus was 41 when he set sail. The face on the statute looks as if a blade has never touched it.
And that hand. At first I thought I was receiving the Roman salute the Nazis nabbed out of history. But then I noticed Columbus’s hand is turned up.
Perhaps it is Romeo requesting spare change for his unexpected trip to Mantua.
That sent me down one of my little thought rambles.
One aspect of Mexican life has presented me with a conundrum I have not yet successfully resolved for myself. Begging.
I discussed it in the beggar woman. Melaque has it share of beggars. Four or five who hang out in the usual spots where people have change. The bank. The grocery store.
They are always well-dressed. Reflecting their belief that begging is an honored pursuit. Most are elderly. The younger ones usually suffer some obvious (and often terrible) physical affliction. But they are universally polite and appreciative.
When I first moved to Mexico, I would usually avert my eyes as I walked by. And I knew why. My Christian principles instruct me to soften my heart and give to the needy. But then comes the embarrassing concerns about how much.
While Islagringo and I were on our trip through Yucatan, we sat down in the central park in Valladolid. A crippled man was operating a hand-cranked wheel chair going from group to group asking for alms. Every group of Mexicans he approached gave him something.
Islagringo told me one of his Mexican friends reaches into his pocket and gives the first coin he touches when beggars ask him for money. It is an ingenious method. No worry about what is enough. An almost unconsciousness gesture of selflessness.
I thought of Islagringo’s advice two separate times today. San Miguel has more beggars on its streets than does Melaque. Mainly older Indian women.
On my way back to the house from lunch, I saw a woman sitting outside Harry’s Bar. Old. Obviously in deep poverty. With hands that were almost unrecognizable from the ravages of rheumatism.
I started to reach for my pocket and realized I had managed to encumber myself. I had my backpack in one hand, and my camera and a bag filled with my leftover enchiladas in the other hand. I had to set everything down simply to find a coin.
It then took me a good minute to pick up everything and get it back in order. I started muttering to myself that I should have left my meal behind. It was just more weight for climbing the hill to the casita.
Two blocks on I almost ran into an elderly woman dressed in common street clothes as she came out of a shop. I apologized. She let me pass.
When I turned to thank her, she asked: “Food?” (The following was in Spanish. But I will spare all of us and translate.)
I responded: “Yes. My breakfast.”
She responded: “For me?”
I just smiled and started walking on. Then it hit me. She was hungry. And there I was walking off with a bag of food I was ready to discard earlier.
I stopped and asked her if she liked enchiladas. In response, I got a smile. And, as I passed the bag along to her, a blessing.
I still struggle with this issue. And I am not certain I have a good answer.
But I know what I did today was the right thing.
Nothing could have been a better example of American excess being put to an appropriate use.