by Ray Jason
There is no calendar aboard AVENTURA, and I often lose track of what day it is. Actually, down here - south of many borders - the seasons are so similar to each other, that I often lose track of what month it is! But I always know when it is Sunday. That’s because a veritable armada of cayucos will stream by my boat on their way to church.
A few weeks ago one passed very close, and as always, I waved with neighborly enthusiasm. Seven or eight of the kids waved back just as vigorously. But there was one young, teen-aged girl who responded differently. Apparently she had never been so close to one of these sailing boats, and she studied it carefully. I watched her gaze drift from bow to stern and then from the waterline to the top of the mast. Then she noticed my boat’s name which is the Spanish word for “adventure.”
With the cayuco only 10 feet away, I delighted in seeing her happy smile as visions of travel, freedom and exotic elsewhere’s danced in her head. But swiftly her face changed, and I witnessed something that a man in his Middle Years never wishes to see in the eyes of someone so young. As she looked directly up at me, I watched as her youthful joy was suffocated by despair. There was surrender in that look - the realization that her dreams for a life that could cross over the borders of her birth, might never be achieved.
This experience touched me so deeply that I created this little story, which tries to depict what she is experiencing at this threshold moment in her life. And even if this tale is not accurate in the case of this young woman, it surely is for someone else her age – and probably for many, many others out there who also feel caged by the circumstances of their birth.
I will name her Dolores, which is the Spanish word for “sadness.” She was the second born of 8 children. As is often the case, in an effort to keep up with her older brother, she tended to be tomboyish. If he could row the cayuco across the bay in 20 minutes, she would try to do it in 18 minutes. If he caught 4 fish she would strive for 6. But one thing that they did not compete in was sea turtles. They both loved the big creatures, and would drift for hours amongst them in their little native canoe.
For her 10th birthday, her father took her on a turtle-watching trip at a remote beach. As the female labored most of the night laying her eggs and covering them in the sandy nest, the volunteers quietly explained to Dolores the entire process including how the tiny hatchlings will have to race down the beach to the safety of the sea as predator birds and animals attack them.
It was a momentous night in her young life. Besides being inquisitive about the mother turtle, Dolores asked the volunteers many questions about their lives and their dedication to these animals. She learned that a person had to be at least 18 years old and very carefully trained before they could qualify to be turtle beach monitors. She also discovered that some of them were studying marine biology with a specialty in sea turtles. Dolores felt a bit like her beloved turtles that night. She sensed that she had stuck her head out of her own shell and glimpsed her future.
At school she found a helpful teacher who encouraged her and brought her books and magazine articles about the turtles of the sea. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know. Could it be that one day she could go to university and become a marine biologist and then travel the world studying and helping these gentle animals?
And now at 13 years old, her family cayuco is passing beside AVENTURA. My sweet, little boat is the perfect symbol for all that she seeks in life. But it is not just a fairy tale illusion. It is a real thing – tangible evidence that people can voyage to strange new lands, see unusual creatures and savor exotic adventures. And it lives where the turtles live – in the sea.
As her cayuco heads across the bay to the chapel, the young girl pivots and looks back at the lovely AVENTURA once more. Even from 30 yards away I can sense her longing and her sad resignation. She is headed to church, which is supposed to be a joyous and liberating experience. But Dolores is wise beyond her years, and she understands that it does not emancipate her – it enslaves and crushes her.
Yet, even though she intuitively recognizes this, she cannot possibly imagine how masterfully the church orchestrates this. For over 20 centuries they have perfected their subtle incarceration methods so brilliantly that the prisoners barely realize that they are captives. Allow me to explain how profoundly and malevolently they dominate so many lives around the world.
Here in Latin America, when a baby is born, it is extremely likely that it will be designated as a Catholic child. A few weeks later a baptismal ceremony further reinforces this status. As the little one finds its way in the world it receives loving guidance from its parents. It learns that fire and snakes and lightning are dangerous. And it is also taught that mangoes ripe from the tree and fish fresh from the sea are delicious. A bond of sublime trust is formed between parent and child. So when these adults, who have provided so much helpful knowledge about how the world works, also teach it that religion is a good thing, why would the youngster not believe the parents?
And this is further reinforced by the pageantry of the religious services. Things are different inside the church. It is quieter and solemn and reverent. The kids aren’t running around wildly, and the person at the front wears very unusual clothes. He gives some sort of fancy speech that the adults all follow carefully. Afterwards the grown-ups behave as if something important has happened.
So if the child’s parents say that religion is a good thing and if the ceremony at the church is so extraordinary, then it is natural for the kids to accept their place in the flock. And the term “flock” is appropriate here - for the church controls them as thoroughly as a shepherd dominates his sheep.
The keystone of the church’s indoctrination is the concept of hell. The young people are relentlessly warned that if they do certain things they will suffer grotesque agony for all of eternity. Most of the “sins” that will condemn a person to this horrible fate are irrelevant to typical kids. After all, they are not going to murder someone or worship false idols or rob the local bank. But as soon as they reach puberty, they get hammered by a Catholic edict that they barely knew even existed. Thou shalt not use birth control.
After the epiphany that Dolores experienced on the beach with the mother turtle, she realized that her desired path in life was different from most of her peers. Although there was much charm in her Indio village life, her dreams swept towards the far horizon. She wanted to venture beyond the boundaries of her birthplace, and embrace the wider world. To achieve this she would need to succeed in both high school and university.
Just when Dolores was recognizing this, she noticed that many of the girls just a few years older than her were suddenly dropping out of high school and having babies. When she asked them why they didn’t wait a little longer until they finished school, they confessed that the pleasure of sex was so extraordinary that they couldn’t restrain themselves. And since the almighty church insisted that if they used birth control they would burn in hell for a million years, they had risked unwanted pregnancies because sexual passion can be so overpowering.
Because Dolores had not yet reached puberty, she convinced herself that she could forego sexual desire in order to fulfill her dreams. But when those potent universal yearnings started to pulse through her young body, she too felt herself being swept along. She went to her mother seeking guidance. Why can’t a person enjoy the wonders of sex without having to risk bringing an unwanted child into the world? Since her mom had never questioned such things herself, her only response was, “…because the church says so, and they know what’s best.”
But with the exquisite vision of her future blurring and darkening before her eyes, that answer was not good enough for Dolores. So she asked the teacher who had been so helpful to her, if there wasn’t some other way, some other option? As an instructor in a Catholic school, the sympathetic teacher hesitated, but then decided to answer truthfully. She told her bright young student - so overflowing with curiosity about life and the world - that there was another way. She explained that there are reliable and affordable methods of birth control as close as the nearest drug store. And she added that millions and millions of people around the world use them without fear or guilt, because they have not been told that by doing so they will burn forever in hell.
And then the confused young student said, “But if the church cares about us so much, why would it destroy my dreams for the future - my simple dreams that harm no one and can help the turtles?”
The good teacher paused and looked Dolores in the eyes, “Your question is a just and sensible one, but the answer is very complicated. Anything I say will probably confuse you even more. But in only a few more years you will discover the answer for yourself. And it will be much more powerful and valuable to you because you found it on your own!”
It was only a few days after that conversation with her beloved teacher that Dolores passed by AVENTURA in the family cayuco headed for church. Had I known the source of the anguish that was so clearly visible in her eyes, I might have shouted out something like this:
“The church does not care about you, Dolores. It seeks only to further its own power and interests. Witness how its birth control rules crush your dreams and force you down a life path that you do not desire. Ignore the church. It is a dictatorship that wants to dominate your heart and your mind and your body. Cast it off like a scorpion on a shoe, and race out into that wide world that beckons to you so powerfully. Listen to the murmurings within you. They are the voices of our race and the echoes of the centuries. They will serve you well.”