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Island life in the city

Posted by on June 24, 2011

An oasis ~or mirage?~ of island life in the city
Yesterday I was walking down the sidewalk in Denver and I saw two people sitting on the grass beside the sidewalk under a city tree. They were African American, a man with big glasses and a woman in a long skirt, and the man was cutting cloth with a pair of scissors, crafting something. They had no particular place to go, nothing pressing to do, just sitting out in no-man’s-land under a tree by the road—not in a personal yard or a park (the places where people usually sit under a tree). They looked so out of place here and for an instant I felt like I was in Papua New Guinea. A rush of longing and nostalgia overwhelmed me. They evoked a familiar sense of island life, slow, calm, relaxed, simple, where nobody really owns the property, because it is essentially shared. People find the shade and sit where they want or need and in most places there are no property lines, designated places, and sitting by the road is common. For a moment I had a strong urge to sit down with them and just be. And share with them, hear their stories. It seemed like a promise to take me back “home” where life is easy-paced and lilting like the winds dancing on the water in the harbor at Wewak. Strangely, quickly I pulled myself out of this faraway place and back into reality. I talked myself out of sitting down with them. Instead I smiled and said hi and kept on walking by. I wish I would have sat with them. Maybe they were homeless drifters, or maybe they were angels to give me a moment of familiarity and to open my heart a little, maybe they were immigrants from a village who never quite made it in this hard life.

In place…50 years ago
In a similar vein of thought, on my way back from the airport I saw a man walking through a field dwarfed by high-rise office complexes, carrying a backpack. He looked completely out of place as cars rushed by him on the highway and around the complexes, and yet in other places else in the world, or even just in our history a few decades ago, he might have looked completely in place, traipsing over the wild west, looking for a new life or hunting… or just a human at home on this planet.

Who is in place in this American dream? Who is out of place?Who is crazy and what is success?


Life out of balance
This thought train brought me to Koyaanisqatsi (which in the Hopi language means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living” and Powaqqatsi (which means parasitic way of life, or life in transition). This was part way through medical school (which was a culture shock all on its own). During this documentary I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t the only one who felt like life here is a little crazy. I find myself constantly trying to fit in, adapt and learn, and look like I belong, and all the while feeling out of sorts with the rat race that I am trying to run. It was refreshing to realize that I wasn’t the only one who was impacted by this society…that someone had made a video of it, because they saw it from a different point of view.

Finding peace
I felt two things today–the first is that I want to go back to somewhere that I’ve lost, to find peace and solace, to live simply and in more harmony with what is around me. But maybe I can find that here, now, in this life that I am in. Maybe next time I will sit under a tree and take the time to just be and soak in what is. Somehow in this rat race, I want to learn how to step off the track and bring back the essence of island life.

“Don’t just live the life you’ve been given, make the life you want.” ~Anonymous

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