“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.”~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
There are many beautiful places in Jamaica. The name itself is descriptive: Land of wood and water (Xaymaca was the Arawak name for the island). It is said that when Christopher Columbus described the island to Queen Isabella of Spain, he took a handkerchief, crumpled it up, and threw it down on the table to demonstrate the mountainous terrain. The Blue Mountains (indeed blue from a distance) soar to above 7,000 feet in height. The Cockpit Country (so named for its hilly, egg-carton like appearance) has a very different topography, but is fascinating nonetheless, riddled by caves and caverns in its limestone bedrock. The coast line of Negril, no longer the pristine beach area it once was, is still dramatic. Pointed to the west it guarantees jaw dropping sunsets.
And there are waterfalls. Besides the tourist packed Dunns River Falls on the north coast, there are other less popular haunts. One on the south side of the island is called Y S Falls. This site has been developed from its natural beauty (there are actually seven waterfalls in a short distance) to make it fun for the whole family. On the website there is a warning that during the rainy season, swimming is not permitted as during heavy rains the river comes down in spate. Which has particular significance to my family, during one visit my adventurous daughter (then a teen) stepped into the clear, cool waters and got swept away (wash weh!), disappearing rapidly from her screaming aunts and laughing brothers, before being saved by the rocks or a dread (sometimes I can’t remember the ending, as I wasn’t actually there). But if you are careful it is a wonderful place.
I visited myself during the non-rainy season, and experienced an ‘exhilarating canopy ride’ from the treetops, zig-zagging across the river and waterfalls. Now that description (taken from the website) doesn’t sound like my own scary adventure. We are talking zip-lining here, that crazy suspension in mid-air above the waters and the rocks, bunched up in an unattractive set of straps and pulleys to be launched off a platform and hopefully arrive alive on the other side! The way it works at this site, you do the trip in a series of short trips with the last launch being the longest. After the first trip, you realize you’re not going to die and that is when exhilaration replaces the ‘I’m gonna die!’ sensation. Like flying.
Zip-lining they call it. Two female members of my family (one sister, one niece) have done an even more adventurous version of this activity, suspended above the mountains of Wales. In their version, instead of sitting upright for the trip they are suspended prone, lying flat so that when they are in mid-air they are truly in flying (or Superman!) position. But what made their trip so much more powerful than mine (although of course mine was in the hot tropics, with sunlight dappling through the leafy glade, sparkling on the water below) is the fact that their adventure was done to raise money for charity. They risked life and limb (and their hairstyle, those helmets are murder on a woman’s appearance!) to do something for a cause greater than them.
The image of a huge zip (aka zipper, depending on your country of origin) has fascinated me recently. As we watch multiple parts of the world recover from natural disasters, I have been picturing the US as being a country unzipped by an unnatural disaster, a leader who seems to delight in creating discord, in stirring up hatred and animosity, at starting a fight, mostly, it would seem, for his own amusement. But it is the law of unintended consequences which appears to be winning. Even as he sows his seeds of division, even as he tries to ‘otherize’ all who are not like him (ie white males), there is a response that gives hope as more people are forced to speak out against hate and disunity.
Sometimes things need to be unzipped and exposed. For many years white America congratulated itself on being the land of the free, where anyone could come to its shores and achieve the American dream. They saw themselves as beneficent and generous, willing to share the wealth of this great land (stolen from the original owners but that of course is the underbelly of this story) with others. The history of slavery and oppression was swept away in the great strides the black man has made. The minority of successful, well educated African Americans allowed white people to ignore the continued lack of opportunities for the majority who were condemned to generations of underachieving, living in crowded inner cities, having every deck stacked against them. Things like ‘affirmative action’, ‘equal opportunity’ allowed people to feel that reparations were being made, that we could actually abolish all of those pesky regulations designed to ensure that people of color could vote, could get an education, could be hired for jobs they were qualified for. The election of Barak Obama consolidated that belief. It even made less educated white people feel as if not only had America permitted people of color to achieve equality, perhaps now they were moving ahead.
And then along came the man who seemed to speak to their pain, (from his ivory tower, not clear how he could identify with the blue collar worker, the hard working laborer) who promised to restore them to their former glory, when the color of your skin was enough to assure that somehow you were better than your fellow man. And that unzipping, that exposing of the reality that racism was still alive, it had not been eradicated, it had merely been hidden under layers of ‘political correctness’ exposed pockets of purulent anger, hatred and violence.
Then last weekend we saw one response. It may seem like a small thing. But to see men of different color and beliefs linking arms or ‘taking a knee’ to show solidarity with all of those who hate prejudice, bigotry, oppression, injustice, was a sign that we can come together. The mindless tweet, the careless taunt can have the opposite effect. It can goad people into action. Unfortunately, we have seen how it has emboldened those who seek to not just divide but to isolate and exclude. It is our job to find a way to knit this country back together, not to bandaid over, or zip it closed, but to weave threads which will unite and heal.
Recently we have had any number of examples of how communities come together during times of natural disasters, made equal by the disruptive forces of nature. I believe we are called upon at this time to play our part in reaching over and out of our comfort zone to be a part of the solution. Which means befriending those who look nothing like you, or who have different values and different belief systems. Beatrice Hall, in describing Voltaire, wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Until we are willing to recognize that each of us has a right to our own beliefs, none of us can claim to be free.
On this Fall Friday morning (temperatures in South Florida are hovering below 80 degrees this morning!) I wish you a wonderful weekend. I hope you will do something adventurous for a cause greater than yourself and see if we can create a zipless world!