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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Monday, June 19, 2006

Impressions on the Sea

I have just been to the beach the past couple of days and I must say that the beach in all its grandeur, awe, and unquestionnable beauty, that if a person makes a trip to the beach and fails to visit this very miracle where water and land collide at night...let that person go home and say he's never been to the beach. For what is refreshing and pretty by sunlight is praise-provoking and soul-inspiring by star and moonlight...and the person who thinks he or she has been at the beach in its full glory only in the daytime has undoubtily missed out. Beauty inspires us in the light; but oh how it ravishes us admist the darkness.
I used to be afraid of the ocean. And who wasn't? It's vastness, it's mystery, it's immeasurableness. When younger I almost drowned out towards the first sand bar. Whatever a person's experience is, if he or she stands on a pier or a ship at night and looks far out to where the dark waters mingle into the dark sky, where each is imperceptible, where nothing but blackness absorbs the eye...then a stifling terror is vibrated from the soles of one's feet to the top of one's skull cap. And what is this thing that we fear? The ocean and all its grandness...that swallows up everything and yet it's impenetrableness and this great emblem of the unknown is the very theme of what a person should fear, uncontainable danger shaking out on the horizon.

Further in and closer to the land the waves crash upon hardened sands and splatters its torrent into foamy bubbles. The Greeks believed that from this foam the goddess of love and beauty was born. How strange a thought...but perhaps there's some truth to that....being whereever water meets the land, where the unconscious meet the conscious, where one toppling ontop of the other, that beauty is first concieved. A place where something powerful and threatening tickles the very foot of man...that is the place of beauty. Where the very entity of grandness, of unfathomable quantity, laps at the smallest toe, is where beauty comes to life. And to stand at such a place on such a night was my mind's truest verification for these words.

But enough of sight. Upon sitting on the sands at night and closing the eyes, the sounds of the ocean itself I could write books on. There is this obstrusive ripping sound as though within that liquid tearing was recorded the sound of paradise being ripped away from man. It is the last vestige of a world of light, love, and beauty that was torn asunder in one giant cacophony of sound. And yet it still sounds upon the sands, an endless, bittersweet melody. It has ever since been the crash of the garden of man being flooded and toppled over. -A washing or purging of what is futile and not of the light of this earlier world.
Sometime, not very long ago, there was always this depression that i fell into that was associated with particularly cloudy days at the beach. Maybe it was because to be at the beach on a sunless day was vexing, but I think it had more to do with how smooth the seas seemed and how they represented something buried and deep within. How much boundlessness was actually out there and how little one is. As though the tug of something urging and quaking deep down within and one can only get a sense of the surface. Which is almost inexpressible. I never understood how sailors where supposed to be the most godless of men. To ride upon such vastness and danger,I would think, requires humility and reflection. But the element in my late adolescence and on further to almost present times produced a buried sense of brokenness or the element that something is amiss or just plain missing...and I could never exactly place it, just this dull ache that sets one brooding and not apprehending anything.

But back to the sound of the ocean and its quality. It is a very soothing music if one leans one's ear to it. I do not think that the earth has a more powerful and lofty music than that of the ocean. Some might criticize God for its lack of variation or originality. But its lack of variation is a sign of its originality. While winds stop, birds silence their chirping, people die, and crickets freeze in the wintertime, this sound is perhaps the only consistent sound in the universe. And the more I sat there the more it occurred to me, no matter how mad this may sound, hearing wave after wave, the sound of the ocean is God's own laughter. Both a deep strong bellow of a laugh in the over-all tumult and clash coupled with a gleeful, whimsical, joyful child's laughter heard, leaping giddily, in the rippling of the bubbles and foam. If it wasn't the sound of both, it wouldn't be the laughter of God. Crescendo after crescendo of laughter is heard mounting and vaulting into the skies and into the hearts of those who perceive truth. What is He laughing about? There may have been a time when I believed such laughter could only be jeers. But this is not so. The laughter is continual mirth being poured out of the throne of God. Go to the waves with your problems or your ego. You will hear this laughter shaking the earth. It sounds, "Forget the Past. It is Washed Away!" And though you try to think further within your closed-up mind, it laughs, "Do not Worry. You Approach the Eternal." And upon hearing this you have one of two options. To fear and be dumbfounded or to have the urge to join in the laughter and its self-assured joy. And though you think laughter a cruel farce for such a being that has year after year claimed the life of many man, woman, and child...how ironic, for in this giant rollicking laughter lies the substance and essence of life itself. Water. And if a man were to measure himself up against the seas, even on dry ground a man passing in front of its threshold...any evidence of his walking, these footprints are washed away in a matter of seconds. Though man walk up and down the same few yards beside these great waters there is to be no evidence of his standing. All things are eventually conquered in these waves.

Of all that I learned through experience on the beach is this. To merely sit in ankle-deep water is the stupidest thing one can do. One only knows the roar, violence, and brutality of the waves and not its tranquility when one is fully immersed. One is one minute almost surrounded by water but the next, nearly out of the water. He or she is only being tossed to and fro as has been written. In short, if one only sits at the brink of the ocean, he or she may look like a true sea-goer but in reality all they receive is sand in the britches.

Now more than ever...I have a true desire to go to sea. To sail upon its waters in the vibrant moonlight. (I mean that both literally and figuratively) What once was a source of dread, what once was a source of sorrow, is now slowly turning into a source of joy and inspiration and pure mystification. And I want to fathom its depths and power. I want to plunge into its somersaulting existence.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Mexican Feast...with an Unexpected Guest

One of my most memorable experiences in Mexico was none other than the Reyes dinner, a sort of Mexican BBQ, at Guizman. Guizman is this decent-sized town a few hours outside Guadalajara. Within the plaza of the town you can still see the desert mountains interlocking the sky in a truly Mexican mystic fashion. Haciendas abound in this dusty area. Old men strut through the town's streets in cowboy hats and with a certain ancient weather-beating in their leathery skin. The way of the "charro", the Mexican cowboy, can be found in the landscape, in the golden tint of the sun cascading on the cathedral walls, and in the squinting eyes of the inhabitants. To breath in the air of Guizman is to breath in the smell of old lasso rope and desert mountain air; it was good to be outside the huge city of Guadalajara.

Erik Reyes was going to his hometown to visit his family accompanied by Jenny (his wife), and myself...eager to see small town Mexico. Erik's father was an opportunistic man; had opened up a nice comfy littly shop on the market streets of Guizman; business was doing well and the Reyes family was having a dinner, a full-fledged grill out at Grandfather Reyes' house that afternoon. In Mexico, lunch is not lunch. It is dinner. A large feast takes place with much food, much drink, and much chit-chat. Dinner is always eaten at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It took my stomach awhile to get accustomed to that; I still haven't managed to switch back.

Family is an utmost important aspect in the lives of Mexicans. And this afternoon was to be a truly Mexican ordeal. The Reyes family was coming together and all was to be normal and authentically Mexican except for one slight alteration. -Their crazy uncle, Apollino. You see crazy uncles come in many shapes and sizes; probably over half of us have them. In some ways crazy uncles are a blessing. They make family reunions worth going to. They make good childhood stories. They make weddings a hit, and they make opening up belated birthday presents an all out adventure. But some times the crazy uncle can actually step over that line of laughable idiosyncracies and stumble into the darkness of utter mayhem and complete chaos. This was somewhat the case of Apollino.

My first exposure to anything abnormal at the Mexican dinner was the family cat. Erik, Jenny, and I had arrived early and out under the tent where the table and chairs sat, walking around was this purple cat. It's white fur was spray painted purple for some sort of twisted fashion statement. Then my eyes scanned the surroundings and caught the artwork on the wall. There was this round shield with the name "Apollino" painted on it. Inside the house was a picture with what seemed to be a princess with a cut out of George W. Bush's face on it. He was talking to the harlequins pictured below. Then the whole family arrived. This house was the grandfather's who was a nice old man, a devout Catholic, who ages ago almost joined the clergy. Erik's father arrived and another uncle; the benevolent uncle with his energetic wife. They both were into the charismatic movement. Then there was a cousin of Erik's and last but certainly not least was the crazy uncle, Apollino.

Before the crowd arrived, Jenny had caught a glimpse of the crazy uncle attempting to tidy up the house, sweeping the hallway in a shirt and nothing else. No pants. No underwear. Just the crazy uncle's proud anatomy. As the table was set, I still hadn't seen the crazy uncle myself. I awaited in eager expectation. I couldn't wait for this moment of awkwardness. Then he walked out into the courtyard and where everything was set for dinner. He was a skeleton of a man for they say that he never eats anything. He bore this red beannie on his head like a cardinal and sat down right beside me. He had this bizarre, dark, even sinister look in his eyes. I can still recall the way they implied of something darker than what could be seen with the physical eye. Right before the prayer, Apollino had skirted off and didn't return until we were all eating.

As a second helping of the meat, carne asada, was simmering on the grill, Apollino talked on and on. All conversation was in Spanish, so it left me in the dark. But he proceeded to give Jenny and I, the non-Mexicans, gifts. I received this old Mexican coin from 1984 and a little shop bag from some gift shop. He gave Jenny a necklace. Then he went on talking and later his speech was translated to me. He basically said to Jenny, "You're a follower of that Jesus." And he proceeded to pour contempt on Christ. (Jenny wouldn't tell me exactly what he said) At which Jenny aptly responded (who was bilingual) "I'm not gonna sit here and listen to your trash." Before the dinner when there wasn't much to do but talk....and not knowing any Spanish left me very bored, I was reading a book by Jim McGuiggan about Jesus. Apollino asked me if I was a Christian. I told him yes. He proceeded to talk more rambling on all kinds of incoherent nonsense. But I could barely make a word. Jenny just said that it wasn't making any sense what he was saying.

Somewhere in the midst of this, Erik and his grandfather began to have a hot theological debate, while the charismatic aunt told them both to just love one another. Apollino had his own viewpoints and expressed them talking about the pope, Satan, and other random historical characters. Again these specifics were lost in translation. At one point, after dinner, when Erik and his grandfather were still at it, Apollino danced around shouting, "AAIieeeeoouuuiiieeee!!!" or something like that. He was now dressed in this sort of Muslim outfit.

Later, on the ride back to Guadalajara, Erik and Jenny let me know more about this crazy uncle, Apollino. They said that his real name is not Apollino, but that he changed it when his grandfather died, who was the original Apollino. The crazy uncle claims that he took in the spirit of his grandfather at the funeral and so had to change his name to Apollino. The charismatic aunt who is sharp at detecting such things, believes that he has an evil spirit in him. (I don't think anyone would dispute this). One day she attempted to cast out the spirit and the crazy uncle grabbed her hair and kicked her out of the house. The next time she came with a friend to cast out the demon and this time when they started rebuking, the crazy uncle threw ice cream at them. So the whole thing is a mystery and the last I heard Erik was thinking of going to cast out the spirit. He had never done anything like this before but I guess it would definitely be a learning experience. I sort of wanted to go with him and sort of didn't want to go with him. I threw away the coin and the bag that the crazy uncle had given me as soon as I got back to Guadalajara.