January 13, 2006

First Person

What a Blessing

Part III (Part II published December 30, 2005)

By Heriberto Escamilla

On Thursday night, when the house had finally fallen asleep, I had a dream that has been reoccurring lately. It was in fact the third night in a week that I had the same dream. In the dream, feel an urgent need to use the bathroom, but can’t seem to find an appropriate place. When I finally do find a toilet, something is inevitably wrong, either I can’t open the door, or there are too many people around watching. This particular time, I find a bathroom, there are people around, but that does not seem to bother me as much as usual and I prepare to relieve myself. But as I lower my sight, I notice that someone has been there before me, someone with very bad aim. Someone has left their waste off to one side of the commode. Seeing this bothers me and as I consider what to do I notice a small dark man approach the refuse. He kneels and proceeds to clean it, with his hands. I was struck by the precise manner in which he gathered the “stuff.” Using his open hands like a broom, he bushes the material into a little pile and it was at this point, I realized that the small dark man was my houseguest, Don Marcelino.

As he went about his work, the people in the dream were obviously disgusted. I imagine that if you are still reading this, you might be feeling the same. Freud would no doubt have something to say about the dream, about my shame and doubt and other troubling emotions. While the people around us where disgusted, I thought to myself that his actions were quite proper. In the dream, I forgot about my need and focused instead on his actions. That’s where the dream ended, as far as I remember at least.

The next morning, my wife and I were up early preparing breakfast. After eating out a few times, it had become evident to me that my house-guests liked to eat “at home.” It pleased me to see them enjoy our house. It gave new meaning to the old Mexican greeting, “mi casa es su casa.” It’s a great attitude to work toward.

Not long after, Marcelino and Luciano stepped out of the bedroom they had used during the stay. They were dressed in the same colorful cotton clothes and preparing for their trip to Los Angeles, from where they would depart for home.

After the greeting, Don Marcelino tells us that he wants to bless our house once more before they eat and leave. We accept and he begins by setting the straw container that holds his eagle feather, mirror and other sacred items onto the coffee table. Luciano begins preparing a small bowl of copal, the traditional incense used in ceremonies throughout Mexico and Central America. The name copal comes form the Nahuatl word for resin, copalli. In addition to its resin, the copal tree is also used for carving the colorful and whimsical alebrijes that are used in Day of the Dead ceremonies. In a few minutes, the aromatic incense fills the air. Don Marcelino begins sweeping around the Virgen de Guada-lupe and nativity scene that my wife keeps in the living room.

From my wife’s altar, he proceeds through the rest of the house, chanting and directing the copal smoke with his muvieri. Luciano, my wife and I follow. I feel self-conscious. An image of a catholic priest followed by a procession of altar boys crosses my mind. It’s a picture that doesn’t sit well. Why have I always resisted the church? At the same time, I am wondering what the neighbors must think. I am also skeptic. Doubt crosses my mind more than once.

We make our way around the bottom floor that serves as my office, spreading the incense. Then we step outside, blessing the orange, avocado, nectarine, and fig trees in the backyard. We circle the te’aka, Grandfather Fire’s bed (fire pit). We return to the house and stop in front of my altar. Don Marcelino spreads the smoke around the collection of bowls, beans, old chocolate, copal and the reminders of my family members and relations. It’s the place where I battle my doubt every morning. “What a mess,” “I think to myself, I’m neither skeptic nor faithful but always somewhere in between.” Almost as if reading my thoughts, Don Marcelino turns around and tells me that I should plant five corn plants. Without question or hesitation, I promise to do so.

Having said that, he leads us up the circular iron staircase back upstairs. Don Marcelino and Luciano then bless my wife. He brushes around her with his muvieri; sprinkles water and performs a number of other actions that by now have grown familiar to me. After each brushing, he carefully deposits what he has collected into a small bowl. He closes with a prescription, suggestions for health.

He motions that I take the chair. He repeats the process with me. As he works, I am distracted by my dream and wondering if I should share it with him. The content was pretty distasteful, and even though they have stayed here in their house for three days, I really don’t know this man. I might embarrass him. I might embarrass myself. But it’s not everyday that I have a mara’akame in my house and dreams after all, are very important to the Huicholes. In fact, the Huicholes, and most other native American groups, Australian aborigines and even some very old Buddhist sects consider our dream life a very separate, but real reality. Think about it. We spend about a third of our life engaged in activity that most of us consider trivial. What a waste! It seems to me that we, you and I should pay some attention to our other life.

I tell him about my dream. After I finish, Don Marcelino laughs a little, he smiles and slaps me gently on the knee saying, “hermano, I have that dream a lot, I always have trouble finding a place to relieve myself. It’s only a dream,” he continues. “Don’t worry, but its good that you have that dream.” After all, a lot of people have come into your house over these last three days. You don’t know what they brought with them, or what they have left behind. But I have cleaned your house, I have blessed your altar and I have blessed your Te’aka. I have talked to the Fire and asked him to protect you and your family”.

I liked that he called me hermano. Doubts still of my mind, I can’t see what he sees, I don’t know what he does, but I am wholeheartedly grateful for his intention. How often do you care enough about someone to bless them? What if your life was dedicated to doing just that?

We enjoy the beans, eggs, tortillas and aguacates on the table in silence. We have one more despedida on the way to Los Angeles.

Next week Part IV

Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984.

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