Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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Inside the room the woman clutches the curved iron bars guarding the outside of the window from the street, clutches as if her hands are iron, attached forever to the bars. There is no way to pry them loose. Her mouth, grimacing, is set as firmly as her clutching hands. She bends forward to hang on, her body rigid in its bend so that woman and bars and morning are all the same thing, a part of the life of Jesus Street, as immutable as San Miguel’s cobbles, as ancient, as permanent.

In Oaxaca, the man with no legs uses his hands to propel the low, wheeled platform on which his body has been placed. The man rolls his platform between walls formed by stands of vegetables and fruits arranged exactly so; stands selling eggs, tamales, spices, plastic tubs in neon colors, straw dolls, dead chickens, molcajetes, aluminum pots. He will not see these things. He will not see anything above thigh level.

His powerful shoulders and huge hands propel him quickly forward until he stops to lift a hand to beg. He pushes himself from the market onto the street. Bells ring in the cathedral tower. Stray dogs lie on the cathedral steps, wander in and out of the sanctuary’s coolness. Indians from the Coast move single file across the Plaza. They do not turn their heads to look to one side or the other.

And I . . . I listen to the bells. I do not understand their meaning. Perhaps their meaning is irrelevant except to the makers of bells, or the priest who rings them. Perhaps the meaning of the woman caged by her rigidity on Jesus Street is also irrelevant. And that of the beggar.

But we crave meaning, understanding, story . . .

In the Parque Benito Juarez, a woman awaits her lover. “I thought you would not come today,” she says to him. He sits down next to her on the bench in air redolent of a thousand flowers, the unofficial beginning of spring. She does not touch him.

“It was hard, today, getting away,” he says. “It was hard to say I had to go.”

“It is no longer necessary,” the woman says. She stands. “It is no longer necessary.”

“What are you saying?” the man asks, but he is asking air. She has already turned and gone. His body reaches forward, as if he would follow, but his feet do not move. He watches her turn the corner, enter another path. A man with a wheel barrow following a woman who leads him toward the plants she has purchased, blocks his way. Even for those who have been lovers, the day is ordinary. No one at the flower market can see a broken heart. He stares in the direction where the woman disappeared, but he will never see her again.

What happens when you stay too long? Too long in beauty, too long in language, too long in relationship . . . with a place, a person, an idea, a dream? What happens when you watch too long so that everything outside you is inside; so that you cease to be observer, become—instead – the vessel containing all that is observed? What happens when there is no question of choice?

Is it a moment of art?

The moment of death?

Or . . . or . . . is it simply how we look at something new, a way to make oneself a stranger, to embrace that ultimate freedom being a stranger allows? To lose one’s own language and, with it, thought, habit, memory. To enter into that which fascinates, yet not linger, not linger; to pass through everywhere, everything, ephemeral as spirit. To lose all attachment so that the legless beggar, the woman on Jesus Street, the dogs in the cathedral, the dead dogs along the road, the volcanoes, the Indians who do not speak, the thief at the market, the guarded, secret fields of dope, the colors of the streets, the brilliance of the souls . . . all these things . . .are things one passes through, touching, moving on.

Written in the course of a meditation & writing retreat at the San Miguel Shambala Meditation Center, San Miguel de Allende, Feb. 2013.

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Rudner