Some time last year, my father went out of his way to cut a off a good portion of a tree whose branches extended onto his driveway. At the time, I remember making a comment about the birds that inhabited the tree. As autumn equinox graces us with its presence in the North American continent and the Atlantic hurricane season reaches its peak, nature is inviting me to make space for death and destruction. Over the past forty-eight hours, I’ve been watching the island of my upbringing, Puerto Rico, via media proxy destroyed by Hurricane Maria. My father’s actions of cutting the tree, when placed in a greater context, make sense. My father’s attraction to properties on higher altitudes, make sense. Though currently residing on mainland US soil, both my parents spent a good portion of their lives living on an island where hurricane’s are common, though nothing quite like Maria. From their perspective, removing the tree was a precautionary measure – an attempt to remove as much potential danger near their home as possible, in case that something ever occurs.
Just last week, I was in the serene glory of the sublime Rocky Mountains. Surrounded by alpine trees, rocky terrain, fresh water, and a crisp air quality that brings tranquility to the soul. Contrast. As of late, water has been calling me for healing, particularly fresh water. When in stillness, fresh mountain water has a crisp taste, a quality of clarity, and induces a sense of calm to all those whom approach it. Yet, it also has the capacity to cause great change, to increase speed, to be in a state of ferocity, and to destroy. The dual nature of water gives it mystery and evokes a deep reverence from its surrounding ecosystem. The elements always arouse a sense of curiosity within me. All elements are paradoxical in nature, having the capacity to both sustain life and annihilate it. Water provides nourishment, but also drowns. Fire provides warmth, but also burns. Air provides lightness and refreshment, but also roars, uproots and tears apart. Earth provides support, but also crumbles.
“The universe destroys itself to recreate itself.” – Douglas Brooks
During my undergraduate years, I had the privilege of taking a course with Douglas Brooks. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of his lectures or conversations, take advantage of doing so. He’s a brilliant individual that has the capacity to weave storytelling, theory, and Hindu mythology, all while providing you with practical-modern day applications to engage with your world. You are every character in the story, he would often say. Kali. Kali is a Hindu goddess known as both destroyer and creator. She whom cleanses. She whom removes all that’s no longer needed. Fierce, protector, mistress of time. As I watched video and photographic evidence of destructive winds, flash floods, and mudslides, Kali’s presence sat beside me. She watched with a grin on her face. All will be made new, she kept repeating as she danced away. “Muerte y destrución en Aguadilla...La destrución en Moca es masiva.” Death and destruction. I closed my laptop and decided to shut my eyes for some sleep. Still no word from my family on the island.
“There are the tourists—those who seek temporary respite from their daily lives, and the glimpse of a famous landmark. There are the travelers—the wanderers, who journey without aim, for the love of being on the road. There are the explorers—those yearning for adventure, for the thrill of unearthing things rarely seen.
And then there are the pilgrims.
The magic of gazing out the window on long bus rides, the alluring call of foreign experiences, the pure, unfettered joy of unmarked locales and smiling locals: These are delights for the traveler, for the explorer with itchy feet. A pilgrim may embrace this ethos, but his itch remains unscratched. The pilgrim needs more than sightseeing and personal metamorphosis. It may be about a lesson to learn or a lesson to teach; it may be about preserving the past and enlightening the future. For the pilgrim, the journey is both purpose and project. Life may be the inspiration, but for the pilgrim, the journey becomes life itself.” Wanderlusted: Meet the Modern-Day Pilgrims
Pilgrim. Earlier this year, I spent about ten days on the island. Not only did I become reacquainted with those I hadn’t seen in over a decade, but I got to re-establish a connection with my ancestral roots. Visiting both my grandfather’s grave sites as well as the spaces where my family has spent a good portion of the past century was enlivening. It reignited a sense of purpose and direction within me – it further infused my bones with the spirit of the intellectual and the explorer, qualities which both of my grandfather’s exhibited. On a sunny late morning, I stood overlooking a cemetery in the the Northwestern Puerto Rican town of Moca. I vividly remember the sensation of the cool breeze that caressed my skin as I closed my eyes. In that instance, an urge to wander overpowered my body – in that moment I knew, I was to keep moving, exploring, discovering.
As Puerto Rico is riddled with metaphoric death and destruction, I sense centuries of trauma and pain manifested in visual form, coming to the surface for healing. From being under Spanish reign to becoming a modern day US commonwealth, years of suppressed abuse can no longer remain just below the surface. Centuries of using the Earth’s natural resources for our own gain can’t go without repercussions. Mother Nature is using her force to remind us of the bigger picture; to remind us of our interdependent relationship, our interconnectedness. As I browsed photos of ruination, I felt as if I too was uprooted – I too was to make space for endings in preparation for an incoming dawn. Mother Nature, Kali, Persephone, gift us with a clean slate to begin again, to begin anew. As I continue a long-term pilgrimage to uncover, discover, and create whom I want to be, I’ll trust water, fire, wind, and earth to guide me down a path of continuous cycles of death and rebirth, not allowing room to take anything for granted. The path of a Phoenix. The path of a Snake. In the words of Douglas Brooks, Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
It is my hope to travel to Puerto Rico this coming November to assist the people to begin again, in whatever ways I can.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön,