In moments of loss, we tend to reflect on the past – what has been done, what did we miss, and what could we have done differently?
On May 23rd, Marisol and I entered the house in Chirijox. It was a day filled with emotional extremes. Both ends of the spectrum deserve their own blog entries, as both are important learnings.
First, the sad… That day I got the news that Marcos would no longer participate. The only explanation I got was that he had to work daily from 6 AM to sundown. I know that this is a choice that he made – I know that from earlier conversation with him. What could have happened? I wanted to put my energies to that question, but for now, I had to compartmentalize my sadness in order to focus on Carmen that day. I didn’t have the luxury of really feel this loss until we drive Carmen to her house.
On the way to Carmen’s house we see a group of young men working. Marcos is among them. I stop the car. Marcos, can I talk to you? He shakes his head no. He is standing with a shovel in hand surrounded by his peers. I didn’t think at the time that talking to him in front of his peers may not have been the best idea for me. I continued – Just for a minute? He walks to the car and greets me in my driver’s seat. I don’t really feel like I’m driving this situation, I feel completely helpless. Are you coming this Saturday? I ask (our workshop, bringing together the San Juan and Chirijox groups is Saturday). No. he says. Why? I ask. Because I have to work. He responds. OK, I say, Are you going to finish your film? No, he says. I say why. Because I don’t want to.
I sit frozen, hearing the words and watching Marcos. His eyes barely catch mine, mostly, he looks down. My heart drops. I’m devastated. Marcos and Carmen have been our leaders – each in a different way. Marcos always encouraging and reminding the other that this is a great opportunity. I never thought we’d lose either of them. My mind shifts back to the conversation. The only thing that comes out of my mouth is: We are going to need your camera. It’s not really the response that I wanted to give, but I was so shaken by his words, that I wasn’t actually thinking. In these moments we don’t think. Our hearts and souls go into this work and we draw our energies from work and success of our youth.
Marisol and Carmen both sit quietly – Marisol to my right and Carmen in the back seat. Neither says a word. Marcos shakes his head yes and returns to his friends. I don’t remember him even saying goodbye.
I drive away, feeling the sadness coming over me. I just can’t seem to shake it. The construction in the village that Marcos helps with doesn’t allow us to drive far enough to take Carmen home. Symbolic, I think to myself. Can’t take us all the way… I feel that Carmen gets the sense that I’m upset but I try to put on a happy face as a watch her walk away, one of my computers in the bag over her shoulder. She smiles and waves. I smile back and again I see before me a leader, a soldier, and a woman with poise, grace, and vision. Emanating from her is an amazing strength that I’m continuously inspired by. All this I see in a young woman, who I barely know. The reality is that the distance – physical and linguistic – prohibits me from fostering opportunities: more time and more words that might allow me to more intimately understand what makes Carmen Carmen. That, I know will change. I have time with Carmen, but not with Marcos.
Carmen walks away and immediately my thoughts return to Marcos. While my first reactions were personal, I start stepping back and thinking about the loss from the perspective of Marcos. I release a little of my personal emotions to take an opportunity to think more deeply about his world and the various possibilities that might make him walk away. Has he felt the need to return to the necessities of his community? Does to the necessities of taking care of his community? Was it peer pressure? Was it that he was angry with us or frustrated with the project? Or could it possibly just be that Marcos has come to see that this is not a part of enhancing his future?
The possibilities racing through my mind keep me quiet on the way home. Marisol interrupted the silence by saying, I’m afraid that we’ll lose Emilio tambien since they are so close. I hadn’t really thought of that. My first response was; No, I think that he’ll still come. He was there today even without Marcos. I realize that maybe I’m trying to convince myself. There certainly is a chance of that. This group is a community; it is a team. The words of Marcos rise up in my mind: We are in this together and all of – Marcos said – are successful or none of them are. Is this going to be true? And in light of this, how will we define success?
Recalling his words, I return to silence and introspection. Where did I go wrong? Like in other situations, I become hard on myself. About half way home, I stop car to allow Marisol to make a delivery to a Mayan healer. She stepped out of the car and walked back toward a road that we had just passed. I simply stared in the rearview mirror. Again, this becomes symbolic. Looking back into this mirror. If only we could always look at life through it. If only we could see what has passed and then make all the right moves to ensure that what we do is “correct”. But we can’t. What is more, moving through these hiccups in “our plans” is part of the learning process. I know I can’t change what has happened, but still I stared looking behind me thinking about the intersection of past and present. And again, what is reflected in this mirror is also symbolic. I watch as traditionally dressed Maya women carry their children wrapped in cloth on their backs. Others hold the hands of older children as they walk on the side of the highway. Men are going about their everyday routines. Several, also more traditionally dressed, carrying heavy packages –wood bundles on their backs, large baskets – likely food they sell or necessities that they are gathering for the family. A modern highway sets the stage filled with historically resonant activity. The intersection of past and present is so evident.
Seeing the connection between past and present (and ultimately future) is a goal of this project – using video to question and investigate the past and thinking about how that past overlays the present and influences what they see and want for their futures. Questioning what to hold on to and what to adopt. Making informed decisions about how they want to present themselves. Video work becomes a record for this – and puts the voice of their community in their hands.
Marcos’ story did just this. What he was going to tell is so powerful and important. The first time that I read it, I was so moved. While we might not have the opportunity to finalize a video made by him we still have his voice captured on paper. Marcos, my mind on of course is still on Marcos. Vibrant, strong, intelligent, inquisitive, Marcos. Again, I think: what happened?
I want now is to understand. It is easier to make assumptions about why he quit. There is a tendency to make assumptions that are historically grounded in what we believe about impoverished or marginalized communities and what we think is good for them. But understanding from Marco’s perspective is the only way to really know. And perhaps if he tells me that this project helped him to see his future, I have to accept that – because that is after all one thing that I hope for.
Weeks have gone by and I have attempted to reach out to Marcos. I have written to him in facebook. I have sent a text. I have talked to his cousin Carmen. I have asked the development direct, Erin from Maya Traditions, to call him. So far we are unsuccessful. I think about dropping in on him, but this is not as easy as I’d like it to be. Getting to Chirijox takes nearly an hour and a half. Dropping in and hoping Marcos is home is an unlikely. I have not given up on talking to him. I am still determined to find a way. It may take me months, but I’d like to hear his story of what happened. I do hope also to come to find a way for him to finish.
To lose these kids – any of them – is painful, but the risk is a reality. Losing him was like losing Rosa from her project (our beautiful, intelligent scholar from the Dominican Republic). I’m not sure it’s the same, but it feels like those emotions are coming back. This is part of it Donna, I think to myself. This is all part of doing this work and hearing the messages from within the community as to why this happens. What do they want? What do they need? What structures work for them in terms of persistent participation?
Will Marcos come back? Will he finish? Does he really not want to? I’m not sure. But part of knowing what happened is part of being able to look forward and being able to strengthen this work. Learning from him to consider structures that help them stay and enjoy success of completing what they started. It is after all, about learning from them.