About four years ago my good friend and former intern, Mary, made a dramatic change in her life. Mary grew up in Oakland springing from a family of Italian heritage, and not great means. I wonder at what age she chose to rewrite the family script? Not that Mary's life hasn't always been one of taking sharp turns, for to me she seems fearless in plunging off in new directions. From being a hippie student in encounter groups at Cal in the early seventies to careers in house painting, legal secretary, home nursing assistant, psychotherapist, and a dozen other occupations, Mary always manages to emerge victorious except in long term relationships. In this venue she remains good friends with her former lovers, but a lifetime partner seems to elude her luck or her preference. Art and the spiritual quest have always been a force in her life so I guess it is not that shocking that in early retirement, on a limited income, she chose to move to San Miguel Allende, Mexico, a place she had only visited once except in active imagination. San Miguel is known as a refuge for North Americans with its large art colony, and picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. It is also known as a place of spiritual inquiry.
Sadly, I can no longer explore our southern neighbor except in books and memory, since the air pollution there makes it difficult for me to breathe. I think I have travelled there five or six times in my life, always loving it, but I've never visited San Miguel.
Mexico is a country which has long enchanted, fascinated, and lured me ever since as a child my father told me bedtime stories about it. Sometime around 1915, in his early twenties and very poor, he took a job installing telephone wires in the rural parts of Mexico, A skilled horseman, he would ride alone though the remote areas stringing telephone wires. He came upon a small village at dusk one evening.
Spooky, here was no sound except that of a small breeze. Then he noticed movement in the trees. Looking up he saw a couple of dozen dead bodies hanging from ropes: men, women, and children. Horrified, he rode on. Later he learned that the folk of this town had been rumored to be traitors to Pancho Villa, and they were murdered to set an example. How could anyone be so cruel he wondered. My father was a particularly gentle man, even though his own life had been one of struggling for survival. Yet most of the Mexicans he met on the trail revered Pancho Villa, which was beyond his understanding.
Weeks later, again alone, he saw a campfire ahead. His apprehension lessened as the men welcomed him to join their campfire, fed him, and invited him to throw down his bed roll. It turned out Pancho Villa was their leader, and Villa, himself, welcomed my Dad with kindness and affection.
It was clear how his men adored him, as did most of the residents in the countryside. Mary tells me Pancho Villa is revered to this day. This presented an existential dilemma for my father. He puzzled over it for all of his remaining years, and passed the angst on to me.
Mary faces some different challenges today in San Miguel. She purchased a darling house in a very Mexican neighborhood and rescued a Mexican cat, SonRio. She teaches English as a volunteer, but acquiring fluent Spanish and making a whole new network of friends at 64 is not a snap. She has acquired Mexican health insurance, and in another year she will become a dual citizen of both Mexico and the US, but she will be denied forever any kind of participation in Mexican government, including political rallies, for outsiders are not trusted. She has been studying myths and storytelling.
When she returns next week she's going to start a dream journal, illustrating each dream with a collage. I wonder if that will lead to her reinventing herself once again?