Sometimes, as I might have expected, the mountains don’t have much to say. Their presence is enough in these moments, just as I hope is mine. But I’ve also learned that other times I just need a heap of patience and a desire to wake up at 4am to begin to hear them, to toss back the starlight they have reflected at my baggy eyes. When I wrote that I’m here to know the stars as us, I didn’t really expect that the ‘stars’ would ever be more than a convenient rhetorical tool masking the absence of words to describe the world that actually owns me. But I suppose I was wrong.
I was wrong in the same way that I was wrong to identify with the aesthetic presence of Bolivia, falling into the stars via swelling mountains and swinging teleferico cars. My fault lies in the subsequent tension between humbling smallness and conquering tallness that is identity. Because between glaciers and lakes, from the telefericos to boujee bowling alleys, at dinner tables and classroom desks, I’ve realized that I don’t know my own story. Most of my life it’s been most convenient to hide behind the word community, identifying with the people I was singing or playing with, finding existence in the breath of the person I was acting. Surely, I reasoned, I create, but now I don’t know what, for whom, or why. Sitting in a group of 7 others, for the first time not the youngest in my group, without claim to the word creative, I have been challenged to truly organize what this flesh contains beyond an observant and feeling consciousness. It’s a different feeling, a different imperative than the one instilled by those trite word plaques: “Find Yourself,” “Create Yourself” …. you know the ones. I say that it’s different because the mountains have demanded more of me than that.
The mountains said to draw a chakana, to identify the dualities in my life and to connect their understandings. They said to look at my love and ask why, and to be okay with the echo of the vowels in reply (at least they’re well formed). They said breathe more, you need it. They didn’t tell me to be more cultured, to have gratitude, or even to believe them. They certainly didn’t tell me to take their picture. Really, they said nothing at all, but I listened and told my friends of 4 weeks anyway.
I don’t know where that leaves me. Perhaps I’m still and will forever be trapped in an echoey bathroom with a stubborn lock and a lack of dexterity. But I do know that as we’ve formed norms as a odd gang of vegetarians and meat-eaters and kids and people, as we’ve been fed and driven and loved by homestay families and trufi drivers and the earth, community is more than the people that welcome you into it or the stars that share their presence or even a sense of belonging. It’s not even a place or a mountain or a night sky but a state of being, easy to internalize, difficult to accept, and necessary to observe.
My next task is to study my Spanish a little more to figure out if these stars exist in ser or estar. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but the mountains, my community, told me to.
The body knows. I’d never really thought about that before, ironically enough. I imagine that the body knows in the same way that the mountains know, that the chickens know, that the ants know. To witness the lightning of anxious molecules, to dive off the mountains in a thunderstorm without getting wet, to turn your breath and your brain inside out is to sleep on the shoulder of love. I think that’s essentially it. It’s so internally and carefully nuanced, but it really is as simple as the fleeting mutual glances of concerned or laughing or anguished friends. Indeed, sitting alone isn’t desolation. It is merely a break, a moment of timeless and un-impending wait of our next moment of shared understanding. And so love isn’t a story or a throne upon which we tout our closeness to others. Instead, it is the clouds resting briefly on the Bolivian mountains on their afternoon stroll; instead, it is a fleeting, un-perpetual but insistent sense of belonging. Sometimes the brain knows it belongs and the body doesn’t; other times, the brain clings to the clouds, begging them not to float away and the body shrugs its shoulders. There is a certainty in love that is neither singular or attached or permanent; it sits on airplanes or is left behind at airports, it’s within the noise of silence and outside the deafening silence of noise, it’s squished in the backs of trufis and is strapped to the roof. I do know that though love is with the sunrise, it’s also way up here. I at least owe them that acknowledgement.