The other afternoon, two boys, maybe eight years old, came by with a nice dog which looked like a golden retriever mix, on a piece of thin rope. They were looking for a home for the dog. I couldn’t bring myself to ask any more questions because I have to keep myself from adopting more dogs. It seemed unlikely they'd find a home.It was a biggish dog, and biggish dogs are too expensive for mos tpeople these days.We already have four adopted dogs, two directly from the street, one from a neighbor who had too many and one from a friend who’d rescued the dog from the street in San Antonio, Texas where perhaps 40,000 abandoned and otherwise homeless dogs are put to sleep by animal authorities a year, out of sight of most San Antonians.
I still have a hard time moderating my sadness response when I see dogs and kids and young mothers and babies who are struggling mightily and sick fathers and very old people in dire straits. I tell myself that my being so sad doesn't help anyone, so why can't I just have a less-sad response? In the days after we first moved here I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to stay because of it. I convinced myself not to run away back to the US by reminding myself that to run away from the sadness was merely escapism because the triggers for sadness exist in vast quantity all over the world whether I see them or not.. Obviously we've stayed and I'm very glad we did. The longer we are here, the more I care about where we live, and weirdly, the more content I feel even though I still find myself pierced by sadness.
It is harder to run away from seeing pain here than it is for most middle-class people in the US, unless the pain is personal. This is not simply because there are fewer distractions from electronic devices and because so many ugly things are swept away from view and because it is easy to live isolated in one's house in one's gated community. It's harder to avoid the sad and painful and harsh because people here, not just in our colonia but pretty generally tend to be polite and friendly and they do not shout or yell much either to get your attention or to show anger or to bully. So I can’t blind myself to the ugliness inflicted on people’s lives by fate, the government, whatever, with my annoyance at threatening or hostile or obnoxious behavior.
I have come to realize that here the sad things don’t generally wash over the good with a pall of darkness. More or less, sad and difficult and painful coexist with happy and funny and loving. My sadness response isn't even, I’ve learned, so uniquely strong. Here it is one that most people learn to live with. "Ésta es la vida," people say. If you say I hope you get better soon, instead of saying something cheery in response people might say, “Si Díos quiere” – If God wants it. Sometimes if you say you are sorry something bad has befallen someone, that person will respond, “ni modo”. Lots of USAers say “ni modo” for small things like spilling a glass of water. They mean, “No big deal.” In our colonia, it isn’t used often, but when it is, it seems to be used for serious things, for instance if someone gets very sick: "Ni modo." “What can you do?” or “It can’t be helped.”
Before we lived in Mexico, we often heard that Mexicans were fatalistic. Well, one has to be because life isn’t smooth and easy, and one can’t hide from suffering in our colonia. It seems to me that being fatalistic is being realistic. It is being fully aware that today might be good but tomorrow any number of things could go wrong, and sometimes very wrong. You still have dreams and hopes, but you don’t assume any kind of right to them. You work hard, but you don’t assume you’ll get any kind of special reward for it or that you deserve anything more than the next person. Most people have to work hard just to get by.
Here is something else that happened recently. One day a couple of weeks ago when we were on our run along the road outside the colonia, we saw a smallish black dog, pretty well-fed, standing in the middle of it. He was dazed and seemed unable to decide what to do. He also was drooling white foam. People here go way out of their way not to hit dogs in the street, so he was still there when we ran back in spite of the cars that sped past. I thought, we should take him to the vet. Then I thought, no, he will just be put to sleep and the car ride will be no fun for him. Later, he wasn’t on the road, he was lying dead along side of it. Already his carcass was partly eaten. And that was a good thing, we thought. At least other living things were (we hoped) benefitting. A couple of days ago, all you could see was a jaw bone, and then just a piece of it. I think people here abandon very sick animals sometimes because there is nothing they can do for them and because it makes them very sad, too, to have them around. I think of Eskimos leaving their sick old people on chunks of ice. Sometimes I think I’d rather be abandoned here somewhere on a hillside where I could die amidst the plants and animals than to be in a hospital tied to tubes and machines. Really, is the latter much better? Maybe a little morphine to keep with me.
So I find myself realizing stuff I must have realized a hundred times before. That all of us living creatures are made from dead things. That all of us living creatures will soon be dead things ourselves. As Jim and I go on our runs, the blooming flowers change from day to day, old ones falling into the decaying matter that becomes soil, new ones stretching ever so briefly to the sun. And insects, each in their season, work their way across the surfaces of leaves and down the stalks of plants, and then, one day, they fail, too. Perhaps spiders catch them in webs or wasps sting them and eat them or maybe some creature lays its eggs in them. Or perhaps a few of them just run out of life. All the beauty around us here: sometimes people, Gringos, are fond of saying this is paradise. But it is a very mortal paradise, dependent on death and dying as well as sunshine and rain for its existence. We are all leaves, briefly hanging from a branch made of family and friends and the residue of how we spend our time. Then one day, we have to let go. It’s more complicated than that, because frightening as the brevity of our moments is, as the pain we and most living things endure at times are, there is still the vibrance of being alive, at least If we can share it with the world around us: the people, especially the people, and plants and animals in it. And if we can do less harm than good.