Sunday, May 26, 2013

New Air

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My house has a patio that I read on most days. In the rain it is my place to watch the rain not make me very wet. I look at the rain making everything else very wet, and I say "not me today, rain! I am not very wet! Keep trying!" in my head so loudly that the rain would get really mad if it had a brain and if telepathy worked.

I'm in San Ramón now--day one is over. We arrived last night in darkness and drove through a dark that hinted at the deep greens that lie behind it. The students could tell in spite of the few lights along the highway that what lurked in darkness was quietly verdant. In other years we've arrived at sunrise when the greenscapes are as open to the world as our eyes.

I told one of the students to pay attention to the air when we landed, to that first whiff of Costa Rica. It's a moment that, even if you're expecting it, can really strike you by how unexpectedly new it smells. There is no smell, though. That word deceives in this case. Maybe "how unexpectedly new it breathes" is better. Yes, let's go with that. It doesn't smell new, maybe different, but it breathes new simply because you are breathing it and you are new in this place.

It's not just the air, of course. It's the palms, the Spanish flung skyward by so many around, the unfamiliar pattern in the cement, the dense rain-heavy night. It all accumulates and is breathed in during those first few breaths.

"You're right--it does smell different," she said.

"What I mean is: think of it like a lung might, not just a nose."

"Oh, yeah! I see what you mean--it's all so new!"

Yes, it's all so new even down to this most basic thing of breathing air.

I remember stepping out in Spain on my first day several years ago. I was with a group of six other students making our dazed, half-lost way through the airport to the ground transportation area when we turned a corner and unexpectedly were thrust into Madrid. A road teemed with taxis, smokers, palms, and rushing people. I wasn't expecting it, but I remember clearly how with a boom the sun hit me. I stopped in my tracks to take a breath, to breathe in the smokers, the honking horns, even the summer heat through my nostrils and into myself. I looked with my eyes, smelled with my nose, felt with my skin, but those senses were informing a deeper part still: my lungs.


It was a new country, a new continent, a new climate, a new language, and a new way of life. Beneath all of that, though, it was a new air.

We're taking it in today.

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