Can you see what these very glamorous bridesmaids are doing? Having come to the main church of San Miguel ( the parochia) they are removing their trendy sports shoes and putting on some killer high heels. That way they can totter into the church behind the equally glamorous bride and guests. It is impossible to walk in high heels in the cobblestone streets of San Miguel so this is not just sensible, but a matter of survival. There is nothing glamorous about a cast, after all.
I spent some time in the public garden in front of the ornate church and saw a couple of society weddings on Saturday. The square was crowded with wealthy Mexicans, some visiting from Mexico City. The usual crowd of tourists and locals were there too. The hat sellers, balloon sellers, Mariacci bands and beggars added local color.
I crept inside the church and found it lavishly decorated with white flowers. The guests were dressed to the nines; men in immaculate tuxes and women sporting all the bling they could muster. At a side altar, a woman, her hair dishevelled, clothes dirty and almost in rags approached on her knees to the object of her prayers, an altar devoted to St. Theresa, the little flower. Two half drunk young men posed with a can of beer for their companion to take their picture before a gory statue of Christ dressed in a purple robe, on his knees, blood running down his face.
It was too distracting for me in the church that day. I wondered if I had been transported back in time to the Middle Ages when a different order reigned. People were, before my eyes, sharply divided into rich and poor. I wished the bride and groom well, in my heart, wished the penitent on her knees well, wished the happy guests well and left the church.
I was carrying a back pack full of the fresh vegetables that make cooking such a joy in this town. It was about five o’clock and I turned down a side street away from the bustling main square. Soon the bride and groom would emerge to the sounds of the band and evening would fall over the scene. On my way down the street I passed a young mother, sitting with a child of about a year and a half, begging. She looked tired. The child was grubby. He was playing half-heartedly with a bit of white rag. I tossed into her cup a small coin, about the equivalent of a dollar. Then I noticed that the child had a cast on his leg. I was at the next corner before I decided to turn back. My pack was heavy and how much had it cost me? Let’s say I could have bought one item in my grocery store in Montreal for the cost of that shopping trip. I decided to give her the equivalent of the cost of the bag of vegetables. Perhaps then she could go home and put that child to rest. She looked up in astonishment as I put the equivalent of the cost of three cups of coffee in the Gringo establishments I frequent, into her cup. Then I saw that the baby had a shorter cast on his other leg too. In my pathetic Spanish I tried to ask her what had happened and she replied in a flood of explanation that only conveyed to me her distress at the child’s condition.
I continued down the street full of happy teenagers taking selfies, tourists hailing a taxi, overdressed guests from the weddings. All that evening that mother and child haunts me and they still haunt me.
The title of this piece is leap. Surely we are at the leaping point. There is no more excuse of ignorance. We who are rich know who lives beside us in the beautiful parts of the world we visit. They see us, watch TV. ( Oscars last night!) wash our clothes, clean the house, cook and serve food. Can we leap into the heart of the others in compassion? A great leap…..so that that child can leap out of the gutter…not into conspicuous wealth or as an exploiter himself, but into a world of knowledge, health, service to others. Ah, what a dream!