Three Versions of Myself

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I’ve been catching up with my past recently, remembering all those different people I used to be. I remembered, for example, a fragile little 8-year-old who cried too much and loved browsing through his “Mundo de los Niños” encyclopedia. Volume 3, called “The Natural World,” had a section on the Sequoia trees, giant towers that grew in a distant land called California. The pictures seemed to this kid as fantastic as the ones in Volume 7, called “Myths from Around the World.” The little boy, at that time, was able to distinguish fact from fiction, but in his mind the image of ant-size men around colossal trunks remained classified as something impossible.

I finally saw the monsters recently, and I pictured myself sitting down with the kid, trying to explain to him how light and soft their bark feels to the touch, how they seem both menacing and fragile, how magnificent they are in person, shining like copper, kingly among other trees, with the wisdom and nobility of centuries, hiding inside their 30-foot width the secrets of thousands of years. I looked up the trunk of the tree, extending to the sky like a golden brick highway, and I tell you, kid: There’s not much difference between you and me. This tree has barely changed in the last 30 years.

Now please stop hiding boogers under your bed.

I also reread, along with Aut, The Lord of the Rings, so I’ve been reaching out to the awkward teenager that stands between the kid and me. I used to be a massive Tolkien fan. My friends and I wore capes and brought swords to the first movie premiere. I wrote my crush’s name in Sindarin characters on my school desk. I used to listen to the Silmarillion-based album “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” by the number one German Power Metal band of all time: Blind Guardian (the album, I found out recently, still holds as a masterpiece!).  We belonged to the Ecuadorian Tolkien Association, whose Elvish tongue name translated to “The Middle of the World.” There were around 9 of us, fittingly. The group dissolved after a couple of members started fighting for the presidency of the club. I never noticed the irony of this until now. I guess power corrupts, even if it’s the power of a ring of nerds around a table in a coffee shop.

I didn’t expect to enjoy the book again as much as I did. I’ve felt distance from that teenager, and in principle I would’ve argued that I now find the plot of good vs evil too reductive. But I was so incredibly moved by the book, the world Tolkien created, and the fragility of that teenager who used to hide behind capes and swords. Tolkien placed an enormous importance on surroundings: characters in the book are linked to the natural world that surrounds them, and a threat to their realm is what moves them. Animals, plants, rocks, trees: all things are full of life, and the way characters interact with nature determines their fate. And while Autumn and I are on this journey, through all types of land, and while I live outside of home, so far away from the person I used to be, I can’t help but think about the places I come from, and how thankful I am not only of my origin, but my distance from them. It saddens me to be away from home, and it saddens me to leave a newly discovered place. But this kind of sadness is like fuel. It’s the kind of sadness that is indistinguishable from joy, the feeling that I find, for example, in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or a Paul Simon song. The same feeling a good story is made of.

Around the time we were finishing the books, Aut and I drove through Route 66 in Arizona, back to the same places we went through 8 years ago, when we reluctantly decided to get married in Las Vegas. We stopped at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap, a fast food restaurant where, before the drive to the city, we stopped for a treat. A strange man dressed in black bought our ice cream for us, and as we discovered he was a poet and translator of 13th century poet Rumi, he decided to recite a poem for us and our journey. And that truly was our wedding ceremony: this strange man with a stutter, and the cashier as our witness. It felt emotional to be back at the place and find out things are still as good as an ice cream cone on a hot day.  

In The Lord of the Rings storytelling is a central motif. Each story feeds others, and people’s identity is built upon the stories they tell. The characters sing songs, and their oral tradition is passed around in stories shared by a fire. When Frodo finally destroys the ring, is rescued, and brought back to camp, all characters reunite and celebrate their victory by listening to the story of what just happened, as a bard starts singing:

“And he sang to them, now in the Elven tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

So there it is, my connection with this kid, this teenager, and the adult who didn’t want to get married. All three of them would be so incredibly moved by this quote. Pain, distance, and irrevocable change, but thankfulness and joy for life. Joy like a sword.

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