Beauty & the Beach

I had an all-round lovely day today—took 10 entrepreneur donors to visit Tijuana projects. Everybody was very encouraged by the visit.
I hadn’t visited the Pedrigal community in a year but carried vivid memories of hovels built on the trash-heaped hillside, as did some of the returning visitors. But when we went there, we were amazed at how many permanent housing improvements were being made by community members. Cinder block walls seemed to be going up all around.
In these squatter settlements, housing improvements may be the best measure of the level of hope in a community, hope that they can stay and make a life and won’t be bulldozed away, hope that the local municipal government will care for them instead of harass them, hope for their future. Turning a plywood ramshackle shack into a cinderblock and stucco home is a huge investment; one that poor-yet-wise people only make to put down roots, to stake a claim, as both a desire to reduce their vulnerability and a reflection of already-reduced vulnerability. So that was a big deal.
Bouncing in the back of the van next to Becca, one visitor’s 10-year-old granddaughter who joined us, I asked her what she’ll remember most from the day. She told me she’d remember playing ball with two boys. “But it wasn’t the playing, really. It was seeing that they were happy, even though they were so poor. They were happy anyway, for what they have. That was really something.” Out of the mouths of babes…
Back at the border, we all hugged and went our separate ways home. I was just in time for rush hour going up I-5, so I took Hwy 1 instead up to Encinitas main beach, thinking I might take a refreshing ocean swim. I chickened out in the end [thankfully, as this was 36 hours before a swimmer was killed by a shark nearby], but meantime I saw something like an apparition. As the low sun’s glare and the springtime wind both bounced off the ocean toward me, there on the sparsely populated beach was a young woman and a hoola-hoop. I’d never seen this kind of acrobatics before, but she could move the hoop seemingly anywhere she wanted to with the slightest hip-pop or sway. The hoop obeyed each command her movements gave it; traveling down from a hand high above her head to her neck, around her knees, then back around one arm, then spinning one way as she spun herself around and around the other, the hoop now down around one knee while the other leg extended in an arabesque, then the hoop vertically spinning on her shoulders while she leaned over horizontally. On and on. Such a fluid motion. She made it look easy and relaxing, though I’m sure I’d be either defeated in ten seconds or exhausted in thirty. Her blousy shirt and jeans, along with the distance at which I stood, made it hard to know for sure, but she must have been in good shape to do this. This was art. Her body and the hoop were one. And with the sunlight sparkling off the choppy lines of surf behind her, and the wind in my face, it was an experience of beauty to behold.
At first she seemed so showy, but there were only a handful of people around, and for some reason no one seemed to pay her much attention. I wish someone had officially announced her performance, so I wouldn’t have felt self-conscious in watching, as though I were gawking. I wish I’d paid more attention, instead of talking to the lifeguard up on the sandbank, still thinking about swimming and only furtively glancing at her, marveling each time and momentarily losing myself in the art. There was a show here, on display, a conspiracy of dancing sun-light and dancing woman-lithe, a dance of earth, wind, woman and sea.
And when I finally took off my shoes and took a walk down to the surf’s edge where she was dancing and circling and swaying, making music with a hoola hoop, knowing I could also watch her more clearly from there without the sun’s glare; that’s of course the very moment when she packed up and left.
Just as well. Some sights are better from a distance.
Somehow at a distance she seemed a tiny dancer, free as the wind in my face, making real a celebration of unhindered freedom, expression, maybe even of hope. In her sun-dance, she and the sun and the wind and the sand seemed to all be cooperating somehow in prophesying that future of freedom and hope that we saw being mixed into the cement of each new cinder block wall in Pedrigal. To see them in the eyes of my heart unhindered, free to express, create, build, become anything. She was dancing out the fullness I discovered in my heart, anyway. God has a future and a hope for our Pedrigal friends; He knows what it is. But for us, visualizing their future, just like my attempts to see this tiny dancer, is something elusive, seen only as from a distance, through a glass dimly, and which somehow moves away when you try to get too close, or examine too closely. But at a distance, it beckons; and even the beckoning was a delight and celebration, a perfect final act to the day.
April 23, 2008

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