Baggage and Bullshit: Thanksgiving in Mexico — By Jennifer Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America

Baggage and Bullshit: Thanksgiving in Mexico — By Jennifer Shipp

Baggage with a little bit of compassion tucked inside.

Moneen is downstairs knocking on the door. He’s persistent today, probably because he’s having withdrawal symptoms and he wants to go buy some alcohol. We don’t usually answer the door when we’re working because otherwise we don’t get much work done. Normally, Moneen is a fairly nice kid. He’s missing a few nuts and bolts, but I believe he means well. We pay him for odd jobs sometimes and when he’s sober, he works really hard.

When he’s drunk though, he’s completely useless.

I’ve never officially had a drinking problem so I know I don’t know exactly what he’s going through, but I’ve struggled with other things that were addictive. At this juncture, I could launch into a dissertation about addictive things that people don’t recognize as addictive (like refined sugars or dairy products), but that’s not really the path my mind needs to follow. Rather, as Moneen knocks at our door, I keep thinking about people and just how hard they are to deal with.

There’s a woman in Brule who was never nice to me. In fact, this woman was mostly antagonistic toward John and I. But she contacted my mom recently to ask if she could have the Little Free Libraries we used to oversee in the community. Apparently, someone stole all the books out of them and this woman thinks it would be best if she went ahead and took the wooden boxes to her house to stock them with books. I suppose this seems like a generous gesture to her? When my mom told me this story, all I could do was laugh. Seriously? I said. I saw nothing righteous in it. This woman has never been anything but shitty to me, but now she wants me to give her my things (which cost about $500, by the way). As far as I was concerned, it was a story about greedy people ripping each other off and feeling entitled to my things (damn them all).

I’ve been generous to people, it’s true. And it wasn’t always altruistic. Things weigh me down. Not being able to let go of my things makes me heavy and as Tyler Durden would say, “The things I own, own me.” So being generous has often been a mutually beneficial situation for me. John and I have often privately agreed that, “It isn’t generosity if we benefit from the transaction.” Still though, as a result of having been generous, people seem to expect me to be generous with them. It seems that some people want to force me to be generous (LOL).

But forcing someone to be generous is called robbery.

But while my generosity hasn’t always been technically generous by my own standards, I still have an expectation that people will show me gratitude when I give them something of value for free. Gratitude means a lot to me, but it’s a pretty rare thing. While generosity almost always costs something in one form or another, gratitude is free. Genuine gratitude is the currency that make generous people want to continue being generous.

Give away all your worldly possessions to people who complain that none of it was good enough and then move to a foreign land where people see you as a Walking Wallet and see how you feel about the human race after about 2 years.

Currently, I’m running a bit of a debt on gratitude. Not in terms of giving it, but in terms of getting it. It’s hard to restock on things like gratitude if people have been picking through your life looking for the juiciest morsels. I suspect that I’m not the only person out there who’s lacking a thank you or two for little things like lending a hand or giving away a book that was highly prized (one that was perhaps never returned, or read). This isn’t an invitation for people to feel sorry for themselves, by the way. It’s not even an invitation for me to feel sorry for myself. Rather, I’m introspecting about my own irritability and how cold and heartless I feel right now. How cold and heartless I am.  I’m holding myself back from going downstairs right now to get in Moneen’s face and shake my finger at him to chase him away. My fuse is short and most of the time, when I’m not introspecting, I don’t even know why. I just try to ignore it and continue on.

But I want to feel grateful and I want to feel soft and patient and hopeful about the people around me. I want to see the potential that people have more and I want to see how they hurt themselves and others less.

A lot of pastors in pulpits all across the U.S. today (it’s Thanksgiving) will talk about gratitude in terms of God today, but I have to cite the Nepali people and say I think they got something right with how they bow to their fellow man, hands folded at their chest and say “Namaste” which means “I bow to the God in you.” I think gratitude in any form (the feeling as well as the action) elevates us as humans, whether we feel gratitude toward God or gratitude toward friends and family, strangers, or even enemies. But the lack of gratitude that people have toward each other frustrates me. It’s a problem here in Mexico as well as in the United States. It’s a problem with me and it’s a problem with everyone. But I can’t change everyone. I can only change myself. And the process is so slow. I can’t force it, even though I’d like to.

No one around me right now knows it, but there are tiny social transactions that I’m clinging to for hope. They’re miniscule, like when one bank deposits a cent into your account just to check and see if the account is real or not. I’m watching these transactions to see if there’s still hope or not. Hope for humanity. Hope for my own ability to be a loving and kind human being again one day. That sort of thing.

A woman who smiles at me when she sells me tortillas at the tortillería.

A person who moves to the side to let me pass on the sidewalk.

A person who thanks me for taking the time to respond via email.

All of this sounds preachy. I know it does. And I don’t want to sound preachy, but still Moneen knocks at the door. What the hell does he want?

He’s persistent, but so am I. I hold my ground. John holds his ground. We sit and we stare at our computers, working intensively on our whatever our clients tell us is important. I let Moneen knock and knock and knock. Because if I were training a dog to NOT knock, I wouldn’t go to the door until quite some time after he’d stopped.

That makes sense, right (damn it)?

Or am I just being mean?

I’m not sure. I can’t tell what kind of hell I’m causing myself and what hell is just the every day reality of our existence on Earth.

Often, women will show up at 10:00 PM at night to sell us elote (corn on the cob with mayonnaise and sauce) with small children at their sides. And there’s a drug addict who sells donuts out on the street every day to fund his addiction. Now, given, addicts here aren’t quite as strung-out as addicts in the states. I learned this from a meth addict who clued me in to this piece of trivia last year. He told me that all the “good stuff” (drugs) is shipped up north and that Mexicans mostly get just the leftovers. So they don’t tend to go as low as addicts in the states. That may seem irrelevant to the topic at hand, I suppose, unless I were trying to illustrate how hard it is at times to translate menial communication bits into meaningful pieces of real information in a foreign country (and sometimes even in my native land). When I talk about the drug-addicted donut guy, I’m sure his donuts sound scary if not unsanitary, but actually his donuts look pretty good. Maybe his mom fries them up each morning for him like family members of addicts might be prone to do (in an effort to promote reform, of course). How many years will it be before I understand how donuts and drug addiction go together in Mexico?

In the equation that I use to decide whether or not to respond with irritation or with gratitude to other people like Moneen knocking on the door, I check in to see if I’ve received the emotional bits that I need in order to continue to give to others. But I also check in with myself to see if I understand what the hell is going on in a very general way. I try to draw a line in the sand between me and Moneen. What part of this equation is his and what part is mine? I think I know, but do I?  I think about Moneen and what I know about him. He’s prone to machismo and he drinks a lot, for example. And I take into account things like the diddling away of 30 minutes to an hour of my life on the phone that morning with a credit card company and the letter we got from the IRS saying that our bank mis-reported last year’s information which means more tax-work for us. The equation on my side, the stuff that belongs to me, is, at times, irreconcilably complicated. Always, however, I see Moneen’s side as simple. I add it all up quickly and then I respond. It’s a clumsy system. It is. But it’s all I’ve got. And whatever trauma or tribulation I’ve endured that day or that week or that year has to be worked out through this Human Algorithm.

Meanwhile, other people work the Human Algorithm on me.

The equation isn’t fair or even mathematical. And it contributes to a general lack of understanding among the people of two different cultures. And between two different people of the same culture, for that matter. As a white person in a land of darker-skinned people, I’m often regarded as a walking ATM. But if I were dark in a land of white, I’d be viewed through a lens of much more painful generalizations and stereotypes than that. The discrepancy between how I see myself and how I’m regarded might make me do things I otherwise wouldn’t do. The discrepancy might make me see things in a way that’s a little warped and, dare-I-say, angry.

But still, I have to take this Human Algorithm and work it through, line-by-line. I do it over and over again. Each time, I come up with a different answer because that’s how Human Algorithms are. Every solution to the problem is correct, but I can only see one answer at a time. I fill in the variables with my own baggage and the bullshit from my day-to-day life. I can’t just hand off the baggage and the bullshit. It’s my baggage and my bullshit and it has to get worked out somehow. Sometimes I can write away the bullshit/baggage. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can jog it off. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I have insight. Sometimes I simply do not.

The challenge we all face is to fill in one or more of the variables with compassion whenever possible. To fill in the variables with gratitude instead of a sense of entitlement. When I can manage this subtle conversion, the Human Algorithm provides me with palatable solutions. But both compassion and gratitude come from my Inner Reality, so I have to cultivate them and nurture them carefully. They’re delicate and if I fail to care for my Inner Reality, both of them die like orchids in a drought. I have to work the math of my human interactions and make conversions. If I don’t do that work, the world appears to be a cold and awful place indeed.

Moneen has finally stopped knocking and John says he sees him standing out in the street with a FedEx in his hand. Though I’ve put the #3 all over our house (because this is our address), FedEx still continues to deliver packages to Moneen’s family next door. Luckily, Moneen and his family are pretty honest people. They bring the packages over to us.

Today, I failed to factor honesty into the equation.

Tomorrow I’ll try again.

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