“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
Ensconced in a comfortable home in the city of Mérida, Mexico, I contemplate the three days I have spent here among English speakers and the Mayan people. There exists a striking dichotomy.
I don’t consider myself a racist, but I am openly a classist. I grew up the daughter of poor farming immigrants who grasped the American dream greedily and readily with both hands and lifted themselves into the middle class. I am a daughter of those worlds.
Here in Mérida I’ve met quite a few of the people in the next strata above me. The comfortably rich, the well-invested English-speaking retirees from around the globe.
I am not a fan of the elite. Those people who can afford to travel with luxury, who bury themselves behind pristine walls, in accommodations paralleling princes. They parade around in their designer apparel and high-quality shoes. By visiting and living in these simple, rustic areas they believe they are immersing themselves in culture. They pat each other proudly on the back in their courtyards where everyone speaks English, in their genteel organizations they’ve founded, and discuss the architecture of the area, simultaneously extolling its virtues and dictating how they plan to improve it.
I’m not a fan. Their interaction with the true residents of the city is for securing purchases and remarking on their quaint customs of tardiness and littering. Only a handful can speak the language fluently, and they spend their time in English pubs, and hiding in their English speaking organizations while deriding the newer tourists who have discovered the riches of the city and are now exploring it with more frequency.
It’s hypocritical, yet they are convinced they worldly. And, they are extremely intelligent, well spoken, and cultured, but they are also elitist and that I cannot stomach.
Yesterday we drove through poor Mayan villages who some still live in the Mayan brick homes from centuries earlier, with their small farming courtyards filled with dogs, chickens and children. And, I wanted to know the heart of those people. Are they happy? Are their dreams fulfilled? Do they marry for love? How many children do they have? What are their favorite dishes?
I want to talk to them, to know them. Not necessarily to improve their lives. I have little right to make such grand assumptions that their lives should be improved.
But, how many of these comfortably rich English speakers have wandered outside the walls of their own cliques to truly know the people with which they live? How may volunteer at the local museums? How many of them have Mexican friends? How many have sat down and broke bread in homes where only Spanish is spoken?
How much intercultural exchange truly exists? Or is this all just a lovely place where the real estate was cheap and the locals break their backs for the generous gringos who pour their money into the economy?
This is not the retired life I yearn or plan for. No. I am a writer and I want to hear the heart of the people in their words and stories. I will not be just another gringo, or comfortable retiree in any community, where the last of my days are spent solely for my own pleasure.
There must be something to give back to the world. Something to offer the world of goodness, kindness, and compassion.
Before, I would have put the elite on a pedestal. Convinced myself they were smarter than me, wiser than me, more cultured than me. But, now I see the chinks in their shiny amour and the vapidity of their experiences and words. Unless they seek a higher purpose, unless they dive deep into the wells of their souls, for an “unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates), then their money is just a show. They are only aged children with more sophisticated toys. Wisdom is the child of self-reflection and compassion, and not a consequence of age.
Therapy and tragedy are forcing me to put away my childish ideas of inadequacy and replace it with resolute self-confidence. I don’t have all the answers, and I often misspeak myself, but I refuse to believe that anyone is better than me anymore. I am a seeker of the heart of the world and the complicated strings of life that accompany it like the messy underbelly of a geometric rug.
I don’t want to live a safe life surrounded by my equally comfortable retired peers who only reflect back to me the same contented harbor I have known my whole life.
Luckily, I have twenty years to figure out that next journey of my life, until them I am still examining my life and slowly putting away childish things.
*The photo is an ancient Mayan handprint at the Uxmal archaeological site.