Found in San Miquel
I was thinking about the word “community” this weekend as Joe and I wandered the streets of San Miguel on our way to the city’s Saturday organic market. We were headed there on the suggestion of Ruth, the gregarious and gracious Canadian-British owner of Casa Mandu where we are staying (HINT: search for Casa Mandu in San Miguel de Allende in AirBnB to books this AWESOME accommodation).
“Oh you must go,” Ruth enthused. “It’s a wonderful place. You’ll meet all sorts of people. You’ll love it.”
I’m falling in love with Ruth for all her enthusing. It is so clear she loves this town she’s made her own. And, she seems to be able to read straight into my heart. I’ll consider something out loud. She’ll turn her head, think for a moment, make a suggestion and clap her hands: “You’ll LOVE it!”
So far, in five days, Ruth has been right almost 100 percent of the time. And I think that’s because she heard us when, over a glass of wine in her lush courtyard, we mentioned that our traveling this year has been with intention.
If you’ve been following us, you know Joe and I are trying to find a community outside of the US where we both ~ together and individually ~ can experience a deeper sense of belonging as as well as the feeling that we are important contributors to the whole of a community. This desire has been growing as we become more and more are disillusioned with our country.
Just to be clear, because we've joked about it, WE ARE NOT RUNNING FROM TRUMP. He’s got a short shelf life. U.S. presidents come and go (although frankly is shocks me that this one has not yet gone). Really, it's a deeper change that has unsettled us — the constant interface with automated phone machines rather than live humans, the million ways large corporations run our lives and take our money, the miles long divide between the haves and have nots. We are the haves and rather than feeling deserving we feel shame, even as we do what we can to help those in need.
I was and continue to be blessed with a strong community in Seattle. It’s where I was born, where my family, my now-adult kids and my most precious friends are. I hope one day soon I'll be able to afford a small place there for my frequent visits.
But Joe was not as fortunate in the Emerald City. It crushed him and left him feeling lost and disconnected: And so while I imagine I’ll spend a good chunk of the remainder of my life in the Pacific Northwest, hopefully chasing grandchildren one far off day, the place Joe and I call home together needs feel like home to both of us. It needs to be our community, not just mine.
What does it mean to truly live in community? Out of curiosity, I looked up the word. Of course, depending on which source you look at, it comes from the Latin/Greek/French (doesn’t it always?) “communis.“ To be held in common, for public and all, a thing or state shared by all or many."
We could not have landed in a more perfect spot than on Ruth’s front door with the desire “be held in common.” Learning of our search for a place to land semi-permanently, a broad shining smile crossed Ruth’s face.
“Let me show you!” she said. “You will fall in love with San Miguel!”
That’s what happened to her 12 years ago. After traveling the world, living in Europe, sailing as crew on a yacht, and numerous other adventures, Ruth felt the call the visit San Miguel — with its colors yes, but equally with it’s often dirty streets and noise — and never left. She’s in her 8th decade and has more energy and verve than me at 50! San Miguel, she says, is a big part of why she is as vibrant and healthy and able as she is. We walked 4 miles the other day and I was straining to keep up.
So for the past week, with Ruth's help, Joe and I have met more people, enjoyed more social outings and shared meals with more people than we have in three months back in Los Angeles. Ruth has introduced us to a number of expats and now we keep seeing them all over town. They wave with genuine gusto as we pass by, or just as frequently, stop to chat.
Most of these are English-speakers. We’ve talked to quite a few and asked them point-blank: Do you mix with your Mexican neighbors? Some do, some don’t. But either way, they all agree the two worlds just seem to peacefully co-exist. The non-Spanish speakers who live here seem to cobble it together and communicate and the Mexicans patiently listen and seem eager to help -- without animosity.
In five days:
- We’ve drunk mescal at a photography exhibit opening by a german photographer,
- attended a piano concert with a internationally awarded pianist with Ruth our friend Bev and a church full of expats from all over the world,
- taken a silent meditation walk through a glorious botanical garden with three lovely expat women
- met up with Bev at the organic market and turned it into a half day of walking and eating
- gone to a an open mic night at a local theater (and plan to read at the next)
- met three healers
- attended a concert of acoustic Beatles songs sung by very talented Mexican guitarists
- Attended two films in tiny pocket theaters near our casa
- Roamed through the streets of San Miguel following a sizable crowd on The Archangel Stroll (which is the parade at the end of the city’s saint day celebrations)
- And then watched the most spectacular fireworks show either of us has ever seen. Hands down, it was a crazy, enormous pyrotechnic display, shot off so close I had ashes in my hair at the end.
Within all of this there has been constant connection — people waving, stopping to chat, inviting “come to breakfast at my place! We have so much to talk about!” Whether standing next to Mexican families gazing at fireworks or chatting with expats, there is connection. Strong, comfortable connection.
And also considerable calm amid the bustle. It’s a slower pace here. People sit for hours in the main square, watching, chatting, snoozing.
So. San Miguel de Allende, could be a place to be part of the kind of community we both yearn for. We aren’t making rash decisions. But it feels good to feel it. To know it might be possible to find what we are both looking for.
And to find things we — or at least I — didn’t know we were looking for. A feeling of life, truly, fully being lived. Unrelated to circumstance. Since getting sick a year ago, I've spent a lot of time, maybe too much, pondering the limits to our time on earth. I've been scared and at the same time fired to live whatever is left of my life with fire and joy. It has not been lost on me the Mexicans' comfortable, constant dance with death. Festive skulls and skeletons are everywhere. Las Muertos. It is simply a part of life here and somehow it brings ease.
There is a constant undertone of celebration in San Miguel. Perhaps it’s the colors and church bells marking so many hours. Perhaps it’s the long list of city celebrations posted for the year up in the main square. People says it's unique in all of Mexico (and likely was there are about 20,000 expats among the 160,000 locals).
The heart of San Miguel can be seen the smiles on the local people, whether they are sitting on sidewalks or working in tiny bodegas or dancing through the streets behind the giant paper mache effigies of brides and grooms within large wedding parties.
On Friday night, we found ourselves amongst three different wedding parades, all with large crowds led by donkies and dancing behind the effigies through the streets.
We weren’t part of any of those weddings, yet a random Mexican man handed me a little clay cup that all the wedding guests were wearing and every few minutes someone would try to fill it with tequila or wine or mescal.
“¡Es la tradición! ¡Beber!” he said. It is the tradition!
Where have our traditions gone in America? Our rights of passage? Our deep, rich celebrations? Where has the color gone?
Last night I watched a documentary called Lost and Found in Mexico made by Caren Cross, who lived in San Miguel for many years. She made the film to try to better understand why she came here for a week and then crazily moved. And why so many others have as well. Watching it, I kept saying to myself “That’s me!"
Here's the trailer to Lost and Found in Mexico, in case you too are curious.
Sometimes when, for whatever reason, you feel you’ve stopped fitting in where you are -- or realize that perhaps you never did -- you soul starts to talk. If you listen it calls you to where you need to be.
Joe and I are listening.