Friday, May 16, 2008

When Dios Touched Adam

[CenterDoug Notes: Having just read a must-read article by Evgenia Peretz, "James Frey's Morning After" in the June Vanity Fair, I need to establish at this end of the blog a small disclaimer, as I did with "In the Beginning,"earlier on: while all I write is as truthfully and honestly written about things that happen in my life, this is still an embellished memoir, a literary work, not a news story. For the literal nasties who trashed Frey as a "liar" for being a creative artist with his memoir of addictions, one big "BOOOO!" for simple-mindedness and spite. A Million Little Pieces is a great book. Frey's new novel, Bright, Shiny Morning establishes him as a major American writer, and, too, one who has stayed completely dry throughout his vilification.

The following narrative essay, "When Dios Touched Adam," is a case in point: while this event occurred on March 15, 2008 in Teote's little white church, from 8 pm to 9pm on the night before Easter Sunday, I'm writing this reverie on May 18, a product I'm editing, embellishing, and polishing through mists of recollection and wonder. I'm working to be honest but I know there are occasional lapses, where the word choice or emotional nature of the text has required movement from before to after, or, even more, to invention of detail for clarity. There were, for instance, flowers on the altar on March 15. Also, Don Moncho and Ramon Ernesto would probably remember the episode differently. The don wouldn't want dona Eva to hear about all those ladies hugging him. Ramon might downplay his crying to one tear in the eye because he's such a macho. We all edit our stories every day. Right now this experience feels like a dream I'm glad I caught and saved. As Norman Mailer stated about memoir as a genre, "That's why a writer writes his memoir, to tell a lie and create an ideal self" from which to glean some truth.

The best way I know to push my buttons is to call me a liar: I must have buried trauma about using my creative imagination, some holdover from a childhood telling stories and, sometimes, getting caught in a fib. Still, I wouldn't pause a moment from adding flavor to the brew of a story, even in a memoir, if it helped to bring my truth to the insight of a reader.

Any reader who feels cheated if a memoir isn't 100% factual needs to grow: there's no such bird in the library's aviary. Even histories and "news" pass through the filter of the writer. Hmm. Maybe this excoriation of Frey comes from our sickness-to-death of being "lied" to, by those who should know better. Perhaps, the wrath of professional writers projected at Frey results from buried guilt for "spinning" stories in their pasts, in order to pay the bills.

Still, after the Frey incident, I feel I need to pull a Kurt Vonnegut, and remind other bloggers that "Nothing in this book is true." CD]

"When Dios Touched Adam"

Imagine, if you will, that ultra-famous section of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling extravaganza in which Dios, all glory, wrapped in cherubim and light, sends life's spark from His finger to a hunky, recumbent Adam. Zap! Got the picture?

I got zapped much like that, I know, last March in Teote, as did most of the catolicos in the Upper Jalapa Valley, at the Resurrection Eve Candlelight Mass during Holy Week in Teote's new iglesia. When in Teote, I worship with my family of Betancos there, and, because it's a liberation Catholic diocese, I take communion as well: there, if someone wants to eat, he's served, with joy and gracias, regardless of his past affiliations. I get hungrier for host, I guess, being hourly bombarded by mortars of poverty and manipulation, down there, so I'm very deeply grateful.

The church is a 100' x 150' x 30' hall, with wrens nesting in the rafters. It's filled with wooden benches--No way to slouch!--lit by large open windows, with a center aisle sweeping up to the very plain altar, backed by a 20 foot crucifix of carved and painted wood, with Christ upon it. To each side, just recently donated, life-size statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in brightly painted plaster, look out to the congregation. I swear that Jesus statue winks at me, sometimes, but, then, my eyes are failing.

When the Betanco family, about 35 strong on Holy Saturday night at 8 pm, waiked into the darkened back of the iglesia, I had to let my eyes adjust, a glimmer of dusk still behind me in the western sky. The church was dark: Jesus was still in the tomb. The family split up at the door, the brothers and sisters claiming seats in the back pews with their kids, while mi padre don Moncho, my newly-adopted son Ramon Ernesto Evans Betanco and I headed quickly up the side aisle and snagged don Moncho's customary seat in the first pew, where all the heavy-praying people sit, wanting, like my Dad there, to be that much closer to Heaven. Eight wrinkled ladies squeezed tighter so the three of us could sit together. Everyone had candles but us. Who knew it was a candlelight service? Well, don Moncho knew, but he's a notorious cheapskate: he knew the deacon would pass out candles to anyone not armed with potential light. How strange to be where a 5 cent candle can make or break your dinner!

It's strange, as well, to be in a darkened church, even stranger that the statues were shrouded with winding linen, that no flowers from local gardens decorated the front. Even stranger to a norteamericano, almost everyone was weeping for the loss of Jesus, still unrisen. Most of the town had participated in the life and death drama of Jesus's passion, for a solid week, every day a different festival of spirit, triumph to disaster, then, that night, the anticipation of renewal still to come. Ramon Ernesto was crying; don Moncho was crying; I was shedding buckets, completely uncharacteristic of me. The darkness was palpable and moving.
I wear my spirit much more openly in Nicaragua.
It's the norm.

The padre finally pulled up in his Toyota truck, a troubador of spirit to ten local churches in the Upper Jalapa Valley, and the crying stilled. He led us through whatever the standard service demanded, then came down from the altar, eyes wet, and, burnishing a twig of limonaria from the church's garden, whisked holy water to the congregation, baptizing us anew. More tears, this time of gracias and hope.

Then he called forth the deacons, whisked them well, and commanded them to light the altar candles, to unshroud the statues as he proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ. "Christ Is Risen! Christ is Risen!" he shouted to the corners of the church. Everyone sobbed anew with joy as the statue faces were unveiled. We lit our candles, from one to another, down the rows, and passed the Peace with shining faces.

Good Lord, I'm crying as I write this.

I've spent many Sundays in church, here and there, but never have I been as unified with a weeping congregation as that night in March. The depth, the solidarity, the proximity of my new son, crying his heart out in thanksgiving for his brighter future, for a real-live father: Lordy, I just started to bawl, quite gringo loudly, I'm afraid. As soon as Ramon and I got wailing, don Moncho wrapped us in his campesino arms and, jubilant, joined the teary chorus. Then, the weeping, heavy praying ladies 'round us wrapped us up in hugs while the wailing, the joy, got even bigger. The priest, recognizing a real miracle, came over and whisked us all again. The congregation showered us with gracias, while we three just cried for joy.

Then--Praise God Almighty Madre!--the guitar choir strummed over, and, through the sobbing, they sang my favorite song, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which the Latin church has adopted: for a moment--Zip-Zap!--I stopped having a body--Ay, Chihuahua!--came one with light. Anyone who's built bridges 'twixt there and here, my central metaphor, will feel the click. What can I say, I'm sobbing right now. It's a holy moment to remember. I've never felt more nobly a campesino.
I know the Teotanos in the church unloaded a font of sorrow and releasing joy, still held from the hellstorm of the Contra War that devestated Teote 25 years ago. My being there, a symbol to the town of America's loving and generous people, turned much around. Truly, a night of international honor por todo. Gracias.

It'll straighten me, make me stronger, bring tears of light, make me whole. Zap! What a powerful-deep-love, in that hall of joyous peasants! An all-out zap-feast, from a holy, outstretched finger. I felt my fifteen years in Teote validated, made perfect. Suddenly, and only for the moment, all my ironies came together. It transfixed me for hours, "a fool for Dios," my sister Marta says, with a chuckle. Don Moncho danced in the streets. Ramon repeated "Gracias," over and over. Marta fed us chicken soup. We all watched the sun rise together at 4 am on Easter morning on my porch at palomas, too wired to even think of bed 'til earliest morning.

I gained an insight on the nature of joy, but that's another story.

Amen and Hallelujah, Gracias, CenterDoug

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