Rescue and Renewal
Lights in the Darkness

My friend, Veronica teaches at the local Waldorf School, recently moved to a beautiful, green campus in Atotonilco. A couple of Friday evenings ago (tarde noche) we drove out to participate in their annual Lantern Festival (Los Faroles). We arrived, late, as the light was failing. In the gathering darkness students were playing on the lawn and in the trees. Some small remains of a light repast were still on a few outdoor tables around which parents loosely congregated.

Veronica went off to connect with whomever it was she needed to see. I joined a group of two guys, one of who held a St Bernard puppy on a leash. When I commented on the dog's beauty, I was told by the dogless fellow, "He is from the street." When I looked doubtful, indicating the man, he clarified, "He [the man] is from the streets, not the puppy." After the laughing, I launched into my rap about alcohol as a strategy for staying warm.

When the St Bernard, carrying his cask of whiskey, finds you, lost in the snow as you have been, pop the cork and have a drink, because help is on the way. When you are in the cold, your body shuts down the blood flow to your extremities. Your body is ready to sacrifice fingers, toes, ears and nose to preserve your core temperature. We are willing to suffer frostbite in our extremes, to keep our vital organs warm. Alcohol has the opposite effect, opening up the capillaries in our extremities. As the blood flows outward, vital heat leaves our trunk and head warming up our fingers and toes. When the St Bernard finds you, take a shot and feel warmer, because help, with it's cozy blankets, is not far behind. But it's another story if there is no relief.

The beatniks ("antes de los hippies"), Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy came to San Miguel in the 60's. Neal Cassidy, wildman that he was, got drunk one night and went for a walk along the railroad tracks. Lying down in a patch of brush he went to sleep. If he hadn't been drunk he would have woken up cold in the cold morning. As it was, the alcohol kept the blood flowing to his extremities, preventing his body from conserving its warmth. As it was, he never woke up. He died of hypothermia. Jack London, who apparently spent only a few months up north, writes that hypothermia is a pleasant way to go; everything gets very peaceful as the brain cools off.

With the last light of day disappearing, the students, with their parents, were all now going off to their respective classrooms to hear their respective teachers tell a story. We went into the kindergarten class (Jardin de Niños), where, to the delight of the little ones and their parents, a skit was acted out. The play was about a girl, played by the kindergarten teacher, in the woods whose lantern goes out, and who, after several failed attempts, finds a way to relight it. Then, she revisits those she found in the dark and shares her flame with them.

When the play was over, we exited to join all the other students, parents and teachers in the evening's highlight, a grand procession around the extended field alongside the school. Tea candles set in paper bags defined the edges of the path, which stretched in a grand circuit for a third of a mile. Every student and teacher, along with many parents, had homemade lanterns, each employing one or more candles, some of them very elaborate creations. The sight of this stream of lights and the singing that accompanied it made for a very moving spectacle. I was proud to be a part of it, happy to help light the way with my own lantern.

The Waldorf School recently went through its own rescue and renewal. In August three disgruntled parents staged a power-play, trying to extract the school administrator and insert themselves in her stead. They got the ear of the man who owns the schools former campus, whom they convinced to break his lease with the school. An armed guard was hired to deny entrance to anyone from the school.

The half-baked complaints and erroneous suspicions of these three parents failed to persuade other members of the Waldorf community. Parents and teachers, met daily for six weeks, focusing their energy, like a body in the cold, to keep the school alive. They crafted a legal response and stated looking for another site for the school. This they found in a former Catholic school in Atotonilco. They signed a lease for the property in the first days of September. Then, parents, teachers and students joined together, investing many long, happy hours, in renovating the large building (and campus) which had been vacant for almost a decade.

The structure was soon repaired and repainted, but it was still empty. All the things of the school were still under armed guard. Desks and spoons, books and craft supplies, chairs and computers, all the teachers' personal items, even the bee hives, were denied them. School began with the students sitting on rugs. This state of affairs was presented to the judge overseeing the legal proceedings, who wisely ordered that the contents of the old campus be entirely turned over to the new school.

There are two sides to every story, but here we have those three, now former, parents on one side and this vast song-filled, light-studded procession on the other. It is a very happy ending to what was a very worrisome crisis. All that remains is to see what the court will have to say about the former landlord breaking the lease.

The world can be cold. Sometimes, openness is not a good survival strategy. Sometimes we must turn inward and guard our resources, focus on what is most important. But how wonderful it is to learn that we are no longer in danger, to see that St Bernard coming through the snow. How great it is to warm up and get our blood flowing again. I'll drink to that.

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photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started this magazine because he could write and liked to communicate. He fully expected that in a town like San Miguel he could find authors to publish in addition to himself. Well, practically no one is submitting anything. Stubborn as he is, he continues, now publishing himself, and a faithful cadre of authors and photographers. His motto continues to be, "It's hard to be ahead of your time."

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