A Nod From God

I have not read a newspaper in seven days, nor heard a news report, gone online, or called the States in four. Apparently you’re all well, or I would have heard about it on the beach. I find it very easy, for the first time in three months, not to know what is going on. It is a real pleasure. When the young man at the beach comes to sell newspapers, I do not call out to him as I did last year. I have no idea what columnists are saying. Shortly before I left home I heard that Charles Krauthammer had compared the American Battle of Afghanistan, in terms of historical impact and implications, to the battle of Agincourt. I mentioned this at dinner on Christmas night to a large table of beloved friends. A teenager piped up, “We few, we happy few, we band of Afghans.” The educational system of our country is not a complete dud.

*   *   *

I am in Mexico. It is warm, in the high 80s, and humid, but softly so. We are on a little bay in a little town on the western coast. In the Spanish-language daily there is no talk of Osama and war, only of Argentina and its financial/political crisis, which for those who live here is of great importance.

On the porch this morning there were hummingbirds floating above the pink-red bougainvilleas. A big ceiling fan turned slowly. A little boy, the three-year-old son of friends, walked in with tiny, half-inch-wide lemons and oranges. “Smell,” he said as he put them to my nose. They had a full, sweet citrus smell. I told him they were fruits specially grown for infants. He thought about this and walked away.

*   *   *

Overnight a huge white cruise ship dropped anchor in the bay. It looks very important and mighty. A local friend told me that it doesn’t dock because the town would charge it too much, so instead the ship sends little launches full of tourists to town. But they don’t walk through the town and buy things, they are met by a bus at the docks which takes them to a local and newly discovered archeological dig. There they walk around and look at it and ask questions and then get back in the bus and back to the ship. This all strikes me as not fully courteous. It is only fair if you’re going to use the town’s roads also to go to its shops, which are very nice, and give them money in return for products.

There is a little local agitation about all this. But it made me think of a subplot for a movie. A small and obscure town in Mexico is going broke. It is never frequented by tourists or cruise ships, for there is nothing there. The locals decide they must change this, or they will all have to leave and seek a living elsewhere. And they don’t want to as they love their sleepy little town. So they decide to make their own archeological site.

The mayor claims they have found great archeological discoveries 10 feet underground beneath the old bus station. It appears to be a 600-year-old Spanish mission. It has old bricks and old crucifixes and old friar’s shoes. Word gets around and tourists start coming. The locals create the dig site in a really professional way, with little dug-up and pre-dug-up areas, and little brushes for gently brushing dirt off bricks and pieces of masonry; and everyone wears big pocket khaki Gap shorts and eyeglasses and baseball caps bearing the names of movie studios and media outfits. When the buses arrive they are there, doing their work quietly and diligently, except when one of them exclaims, “But this could be pre-Columbian!” Another calls over the government site control official and says, “It is barely legible, but look—I think the lettering says C-O-R . . .”

And someone else says, wisely, “This is too exciting, do you understand what this might be?” There is silence. And then the oldest man there, soft white hair and a face baked for a century in the sun, says softly, “Cortez.”

Every day heavy launches full of tourists are met at the dock by local people with donkeys and old carriages. They charge a small amount to take the rich Americans and Germans and Asians to the site. They are well tipped. At the site the tourists ooh and aah, and watch as priceless old treasures are unearthed. A man playing the part of the local wiseguy takes one of the tourists aside. “There is loads of this stuff. No one will miss anything. We haven’t even catalogued it. You want to buy an old crucifix? I have one. Here, $50.” The tourist pays.

Everyone goes home, the tourists happily to the ship, the locals back to the little house where they make the old crucifixes, beating them with hammers and putting them on the stove for burn marks. They hammer out some new Cortez signs on old tin.

The town is saved, the tourists are happy, and one woman from Wiesbaden, holding her little burnt-up cross, experiences a religious conversion and attributes it ever after to the Crucifix of Cortez. I like this story.

*   *   *

Actually there has been one bit of local news, and I know of it because the people here who witnessed it haven’t stopped talking about it. It is what happened with the moon. Two nights before Christmas, people were outside walking along when suddenly they looked up and saw the moon and saw an amazing thing. There was a perfect brilliant white ring around it. As one who was there told me, if you imagine the moon as a one-inch-round ball of whiteness, about four inches from its circumference and making a perfect circle was a perfect white ring. “It was like a ring you would put on your finger,” a young man who saw it told me. His mother added: “It had that sort of shine to it.” And a doctor who has lived here for a decade told me, with a look of real wonder, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

They all discussed it as a meteorological oddity, but I of course immediately apprehended what it was: a celestial gift. A nod from God. For three days earlier, in Rome, Pope John Paul II had approved the canonization of Juan Diego.

Juan Diego of Mexico, the loving and humble Indian peasant who five centuries ago saw the Blessed Mother, talked to the beautiful lady and, through a series of amazing occurrences, convinced the local bishop and even ultimately the Vatican that the Lady was real and the Lady wanted a great church built. Her appearance to Juan Diego sparked what has been called the greatest religious conversion in all of Western history; it is the point at which Mexico became wedded to Catholicism.

In 1990 Juan Diego was beatified. And soon he will be recognized a saint.

And on that night, around the moon, a wedding ring to mark a marriage that for all its ups and downs endures, and was that evening acknowledged in a spectacular manner.

This is a wonderful time to be alive. I just thought I’d add that.