Monday, January 10, 2011

Pura Vida

Pura vida: It is difficult not to compare and contrast Costa Rica with Arkansas and with the USA. We have one more day of our stay here, and find the circumstances to be delightful. The people are happy, or seem outwardly so. They are friendly and helpful. While as some of my readers know I cannot help at times being deeply concerned about the direction of the American culture.

No one would consider the Costa Rican people to be out of touch. They're busy making things, preparing food, tending gardens and fixing things. They care for their children. Every small town has its own small school, neatly kept. It is not uncommon to find old cars operating on the highways beyond their years. They are kept clean and in working condition well past the time in which Americans would abandon them to the heap.

Yesterday’s events in Arizona, USA  are disturbing. I have kept isolated from events in the US during the last week, and up until the shooting of an American congresswoman, I have done pretty well to put aside my deep concerns for the appalling quality of political discourse in the US. It is as though no one knows how to use their words in kindness, and too few know that words can incite those who are unstable to do horrendous things. I have hopes that all of this tragedy brings a renewed faith in reasonable dialog.

I want to talk about a few things. The first is that the shooter in Arizona probably suffers from mental problems. That is an assumption on my part based on the idea that no one in his or her right mind would do such horrendous things. The second thing I want to address is that it seems very apparent that sick minds are often drawn to gun violence and yet we do absolutely nothing to keep guns and ammunition out of such dangerous hands.  Our video games and television programs have given substance to the delusion that addressing problems through gun violence is natural to those who have reached some kind of edge in their perceptions. The third thing is that some in our American politics believe in the glorification of guns as a political tool and part of natural political rhetoric. There is a huge shame to be associated with those who knowingly or unknowingly incite the dim, the dull, and the mentally ill with rhetoric or visual imagery that has the potential of leading to horrendous acts. If anyone is so naive as to believe that putting a congresswoman’s image behind cross hairs of a rifle sight in advertising is not incendiary rhetoric, they should be ashamed of their stupidity and should never to be trusted with power in the American political system.

And so, what does this have to do with the hands? Everything. The use of the hands in creative acts is THE most healing and therapeutic human activity. When the hands are not engaged in the making and use of creative tools, they may be drawn to explore more destructive behaviors using various forms of weaponry and violence.

Some will say that the problem in Arizona has something to do with the availability of guns. I partially agree. They should not be allowed in the hands of the criminally insane, or in the hands of those suspected of being so. But it has been said that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and if there is devilry afoot in the actions of an evil assassin,  one must wonder, "could he not have been given something more rewarding  and creative to occupy his attentions?"

The hands have a way of making whole. They fix, they make, they create and they serve. they plant, tend, nourish and protect. And the great shame of our American culture is that we have deprived hands of their dignity and greatest purpose, that of restoring and balancing our souls. Make, Fix, Create, Tend, Nourish, Heal.

Pura Vida is the Costa Rican national motto which means pure life. It also means something gentle that is too often lacking in the US.


  1. Doug-

    Thanks for some soothing commentary about the recent events in Arizona. As a school teacher, I feel like I am on the front lines of change here in the U.S., or at least I like to think I am. I feel that I may influence positive growth and or change in the minds of the children that I work with. I agree that so many good things can enter our minds through our hands. Thanks for your inspiration, thoughtfulness and insight in such a dreadful time.

    -Chris Sagnella

  2. Chris,
    People who have skills and a greater sense of purpose and who have been acknowledged by society as having value are not the ones who do bad things. As a teacher, you are the one who sees who they are and who they can become. Some teachers ignore all that, but I can see that you know your sacred mission. Some kids will never know what you have done, but holding out an image of what they can become is a viable antithesis to what they see in so much of the rest of life.

  3. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Somehow, I never saw my job as a sacred mission. I was having so much fun doing the job that it was hard to imagine getting paid for it too. I felt a nudge toward retiring when the school didn't see a need for a wood shop class and took the space over for other things.