It hit in the baggage claim. While my rucksack dug into my right scapula, while I shifted my wallet from my back right pocket to my front right pocket (not thinking that shifting your wallet multiple times in a 200-yard walk is likely more dangerous than letting it be and watching for errant butt-grazes), it hit. I'm not in Texas. I'm not even in the United States. The soccer-commentator voice and random Spanish phrases I pulled out for fun over dinner and the occasional broken order of mulitas and horchata at the Tacozone food truck are now my main way of connecting with most of the humans I will meet for the next year. For all the experiences I've had donning a sombrero at the local El Chico each year for my birthday dinner and strolling through the Mexico section at Six Flags, I know little about actual Mexican culture. I actually know very little about pretty much everything, I concluded as I touched my front right pocket again.
But while this smallness would usually be overwhelming, I felt a laugh coming on and decided to let it have its measure. I've heard that laughter developed in an evolutionary sense between pack animals who were being hunted. The lead animal would cackle to let everyone know that yes, in fact, the lion took down a few of us, but the rest of us that are laughing are Okay. The laugh would spread throughout the pack like a salve, a siren's call to normalcy amid extreme tension. That might be a gross misstatement of evolutionary theory, but I think it fits well here. Silence and solitude are not inseparable; we can laugh to our pack of one. After a sleepless night of deciding which zip-pouches I wanted to keep my phone charger in and a morning of reshuffling said zip pouches to finagle past my airline's (senseless, mean-spirited) baggage weight requirements, a mid-morning of tearing up in the enclave of a nameless Irish pub amid all the day-drinkers after letting the weight of getting on the plane sink in, a plane trip of listening to an amiable Honduran interweave Catholic orthodoxy with The Secret, I was ready to have a giggle with myself, to let myself know that parts of me had been taken out and rearranged and inserted into different file folders in my soul, but that I would be, that it would all be, Okay.
Perhaps this self-laugh would've ended sheepishly had I not been able to wring out the emotion and the response in the reality of the Gospel. Do I ever really laugh, or cry, or shout at the void, alone? Have I not a Friend who has promised never to leave nor forsake? And does not a friend delight to lend his portion to a happy chorus, even sometimes without knowing for what cause? How much more, then, can I laugh with the One who goes with me through customs lines, fits and starts on optimal wallet placements, and unfortunate venue selections to air out tension with tears?
We all have our turn at the baggage claim--moments of simultaneous clarity and wonder at the chaotic membrane of our lives. Standing there, willing my bags to drop through the curtains onto the conveyor but wishing for another minute or so of knowing what to do before I embarked into the jungle unknown, embodies the tension of transience and waiting that colors life itself. The way that we understand these moments most deeply is, perhaps for the best, through intense change or suffering, God's megaphone to a distracted world (C.S. Lewis, as always, on point). How many sides to life are completely unfamiliar? How many lives will I learn in my time here? What for, anyway? And yet (there it is again, whispered against these questions, these strongholds), what or who can be against me in the plot twists when the end of the story has been promised?
Bienvenido is the Spanish equivalent to our "Welcome!", and seeing the word in a different language uncovers its true meaning. Welcome. Good, you came. You're doing well already by just getting off the plane. Get your bags, and turn right. Flag down a cab. Sit in the cab. Make it to your hotel. Ask simply for your reservation with new sounds rolling across your tongue. Extend your hand to the first of hundreds that will learn you anew this year. You know little, but you know enough for now.