dragonflies live for eight weeks at most.

I learned a new word not too long ago.

1.the foremost division or the front part of an army; advance guard; van.
2.the forefront in any movement, field, activity, or the like.
3.the leaders of any intellectual or political movement.

I wanted to use it in a poem. But I could never quite find a place for it. So maybe now is as good a time as ever to put a fine word to use. Now that I see the definitions in front of me I remember the context in which I had intended to use the word.

Nearly four years ago I was a brand new missionary in Colonia, Uruguay. It seems so long ago. And sometimes like maybe it didn't even happen, but then there are times when something pings off of a memory inside me and it resonates so loud I'm surprised everyone around me doesn't turn their head and wonder what the singing is. It happened the other day at the downtown festival. There was a booth in which two Argentines were selling pan de milanesa, and even though I would have rather eaten a navajo taco or corn on the cob on a stick, I made my way to the Argentine booth to order. Standing there with change in hand I was somehow hoping that they would sense my South American aura and ask me if I had perchance spent some time in their homeland. They however did not catch on to my ploy and didn't even catch on to my hola. Finally I struck up a conversation in spanish, being sure to use my jjjjj accent on the double ll's. They asked me if I was Uruguayan, I had the accent. 'No, but i lived there,' I said eagerly. We spoke for just a moment before they turned, fully engaged to another real Argentine. I had forgotten that unfortunately, the Argentine and Uruguayan soccer teams despise one another, that despite being nearly the exact same country, Argentines usually find themselves far more sophisticated and better looking that their border lining counterparts. And thus our interaction was short-lived, but just enough to send me into an orbit of intense nostalgia of another time and place I once belonged to.

The place to which I belonged in the spring of 2005 (phew, it was only 3 years ago) was a small town in the southwest corner of Uruguay. On three sides you looked out onto the Rio de Plata, and on one clear night as we walked home, I saw the city lights of Buenos Aires. Conquered by the portugues in the 17th the streets are still cobblestoned and reminiscent battle sites and proud plaques in spanish and bad english line the old part of the city. To me it was magic. There are about 20,000 residents in Colonia del Sacramento, I entered the houses of roughly 100 of them, maybe more.

We spent a lot of time on the south side of the city, where the streets were still dirt. One cold, humid morning, when the walls were dewey and the clothes we left on the line to dry, never did, we set out to knock on doors and talk to people in the streets. One street dipped down and at the bottom nestled between the up and down, was a humble and typical house. My companion had once talked to the lady there before I'd come so she wanted to stop by. The woman was out front frantically watering plants, she had electric hair and was one of those people that didn't seem to stop moving her hands. We talked for a minute among the potted plants and she invited inside. The living room was filled with small porcelain poodles balancing precariously on tilted shelves. Cracked sky blue paint concrete walls that had once been painted white. A dusty catholic Christ hung over the faded flowered couch and the ancient photos of relatives seemed to all stare knowingly at him. I sat on the edge of the couch cushion and breathed in the cold morning air.

The woman began to talk at us, explaining in fast spanish why she didn't have time for God, people, anything really. She was busy, sick, busy, tired, working, watering plants, very busy. While she was talking and I was understanding little, my focus and concentration on her moving mouth and hair began to fade into a fuzzy picture and behind her the two dragonflies diving and dancing through the chilled air came into vivid focus. They fascinated me. I could hear their stain glassed wings breaking the air, and as they dove through and around each other, I could hear the brief second when the dragonflies touched in the air. Brushing bellies or tips of wings. The colors seemed bright, like I was at the circus. My companion was trying to get a few words in about the importance of people, of God, of anything. And the lady was eagerly refuting with stories of woe and hardship. All I could see were the dragonflies.

Dragonflies live for only 8 weeks after they've hatched and left the pond. I thought about that morning for a long time after, I still do. The everything in the moment those two dragonflies recognized the other was there. I thought about it in comparison to us, as in people. Crossed paths for brief moments. I don't know why, but when I learned the word vanguard, it seemed appropriate to explain what happened that morning with the dragonflies.

1 comment:

shelly said...

Ashley is a "vanguard" in all of her artistic endeavors...did I use that correctly? I believe I did!