A friend of mine introduced me to a new term a few years ago when we were reminiscing about a place that was sacred to us. “It's thin,” he explained, “because when you´re there, the space between heaven and earth is so small.” Every so often, God does you a solid and gently dusts off your mind's eye. With all the detritus gone, you see the Kingdom membrane stretching, and the groans of all of creation rise up like the proletariat's unrest. Stale truths buried in doctrine and routine are once again (though they always were) the radical manifestos that bind life together. Kuyper's Christ proclaims “Mine!” into the eschaton and your ears ring; Newton's refrain drifts from the nostalgia of ages past and becomes your heart´s whispered mantra. Now I see. Now I see. I expected my time in Mexico to be thick—a molasses tongue, new to sound itself, a dense urbanity without reprieve, challenges and novelty like bramble and vines on my once-sensible lifepath. But I should know better. This is my Father´s world, so goes the hymn, and He can thin out space and time, fogging up and wiping off the darkened glass, anytime He wishes.
So it was in Balderas Plaza. With a week off between orientation and the start of work, I decided to slink my way up the red line, stop by stop. I had read online that La Plaza de la Ciudadela was an ideal starting place for non-kitsch, non-gouged Mexican wares and fare, so I ventured out to Balderas and eased through the quioscos filled with old books, pirated B-grade romantic comedy and cheap turquoise into the market halls. One guitar and a cobalt blue and white striped tapestry later, I emerged surprised, with a sense of accomplishment and a thrum of anticipation and contentment.
“This is exactly it,” I thought, “this is what I always thought México was and could be.”
And then, all at once, (though, if you see my previous post, probably not) Balderas Plaza became a different place. The money-changers obscured by orange construction tarps, I now saw a motley crew of pedestrians, tourists, and randoms gathered in crooked rows in front of the gurgling fountain, being led in salsa line dancing by a Mexican man in his seventies with a fantastic mustache, a flowing red silk shirt unbuttoned to well below the sternum and hips that moved with the panache of decades. Save for this viejo suave, who called out instructions on the fly without regard to whether his pupils were actually following, there was little to impress. But amid the separate scenes, I found myself able to compact the space and expand my eyes to take it in 360 degrees at a time. Lovers loving. Nappers napping. The people moving, shaking out the week, because they could. Everyone invited into the spectacle, whether through frenzied eight-counts or gentle head nods. Chaos in perfect rhythm, cultural expression at its least pretentious, wondrous and special precisely because of its mundaneness.
For ten minutes, I stood stock-still, afraid that I would run my finger through the fragile beauty of what was unfolding before me. Finally, I relaxed, realizing that because I was a part of the choreography, I could find freedom in the static or the dynamic. I smiled with tears as I absorbed it all, my Tinker Creek writ small, until the lesson dispersed as unpredictably as it had started.
As I walked back to the subway, I continued to traverse through the thinness, rare and new thoughts entering from every side. Was that not the Gospel set to steel drums and horns? Compelling, open to all, immediately recognizable, distinct, coordinated, full of life and joy, moving freely but with purpose…the metaphor spun onward. I make progress, forward motion, actionables, and better behavior the end of life instead of living, moving, and having my being in Him because I can, because it´s there, because it´s wondrous and beautiful. If Christ has power over life and death and has pardoned rather than stiff-armed me, I really should be awkwardly salsa dancing more than I do, and furthermore, I should be much less uptight about inviting others to move along with it, too.
But, by definition, thin spaces must be thin, else we would normalize their breadth and make a new drudgery of it all. The next time I visit Balderas Plaza, I doubt I will experience the same moment of transcendence as before. But the cracks in the pavement, the lilting beat that carries through the trees, and the rows of vendors hawking what couldn't cut it in the retail supply chain will all serve as my stones of remembrance. Balderas was Act 2 of my bienvenido, grace for unsure words and wandering feet. I had found a thin space, wormholing itself to all the other places I have held dear in my short span, and in my discovery, the ever-spiraling circle that traces my days paused. The cacophony I heard from above and below found cadence, my feet found purchase, and I hummed and wondered on the way home. Now I see. Now I see.