What a sweet, sublime awakening! Three of Mother Ocean’s timeless clocks gently stirred me from sleep. First, the boat shifted as the tide switched direction. Then the sun nudged just high enough to peek into one of AVENTURA’s portholes. And finally, a flock of wild parrots boisterously flew over the bay, swapping gossip and recipes.
I lay on my back wondering if the ship’s geckos were smiling as joyously as me. Probably not, since they were unaware of how happily emancipated I felt. Unlike so many of my fellow humans, I was not a slave to the Tyranny of Frenzy. The dictators of Speed and Stuff did not control me.
My plan had been to start a new essay this morning on some political or economic issue that was troubling me. But then I heard … the laughter in the mango tree. Three small cayucos were pulled up onto the beach of the little island where I was anchored. There were many tiny, one-tree islands in my neighborhood, but those all featured tall, skinny palm trees. But this one boasted an enormous mango tree. And today it had five giggling interlopers.
Up in the branches were two boys and a girl. They would vigorously shake the limbs trying to dislodge some of the ripe fruit. Down below a girl and a boy raced around with empty rice bags trying to catch the falling mangoes. After half an hour, the rice sacks were almost full and the kids came down from the tree. Then the five of them leaned their backs against their cayucos, stretched their bare feet into the water and savored a spring-time feast. The scene was so pure and idyllic that I could visualize Gauguin reaching for his easel and brushes.
That cinched it. There would be no meditations on serious societal problems this day. Instead, I would allow my slow, simple life in the Banana Latitudes to sweep me where it might.
I finished enjoying my Tarzan Tea, which is the water from a young coconut which I slice open with my machete. For years my body had been telling me that this was a supremely healthy drink, but I recently learned something that verified that even more. During World War II in the South Pacific, the naval doctors would often run low on surgical blood. When this occurred, they would mix coconut water with the plasma so that they could stretch out their supply.
Feeling refreshed and energized, I decided to go for a leisurely morning swim. Before doing so, I scanned the lagoon carefully. Even here in the Archipelago of Bliss there are hazards and nuisances. But no jellyfish were visible, so I dove in enthusiastically.
My fondness for physical exercise is not motivated primarily by vanity. Certainly, I won’t deny that I try to look my best, but there are other more important factors that inspire me. For one thing, it is the only health insurance that I can afford. It helps me sleep soundly and deeply. Physical exertion actually does release endorphins into your bloodstream that increase pleasure and happiness. It amuses and flabbergasts people, who are about my same age, to see me skipping rope like Rocky and doing one-armed push-ups. I still abide by the wisdom in the old Greek ideal of a strong mind in a strong body. But perhaps most importantly, it connects me to my more physical, feral ancestors, who appreciated on a visceral level what lithe, strong, quick, and smart animals they were.
And of all the forms of exercise, swimming is the most connected to Nature. When you do yoga or lift weights or sprint, you never feel like you are IN the air. But when you swim, you are unmistakably IN the water. You are immersed in Nature - both metaphorically and literally.
After the relaxing swim, I pulled myself up into my dinghy and noticed that the children and the cayucos had gone. Because the sun had not yet warmed the solar shower, my fresh water rinse was chilly but invigorating. I rested on the cabin top for a few minutes – iguana-style - using the sun and the breeze as my towel.
When I stepped back into the cockpit, a heart-warming surprise awaited me. The children had left a large, plump mango for me. Aside from its wonderful taste, it is also such a beautiful fruit, with its blend of red, yellow and green imitating half of the rainbow. Soon I was feasting on delicious eggs that I had recently bought from some nearby ex-pats. They call their hens “free range jungle chickens.” I accompanied this with juicy mango slices and some fresh squeezed o.j. and a spot of rum. Sunday brunch at the Ritz could not be more sublime than this.
Soon my contentment was so profound, that it felt like I could almost physically absorb the mellowness of this day and of this sea gypsy life. I moved up under the shade awning behind the mast, and was lazily savoring whatever meandered by in the sea and in the sky and in my head. That simple act of mango kindness from the children, reminded me of my enduring belief in the goodness and generosity of the human spirit.
Most of my readers – and the majority of you are distant strangers who I will never meet – know very little about me. That is not an accident. I have deliberately revealed very little about my past. Indeed, the biography here at my blog is only 23 words long. This is not because I have something to hide. Instead, it is because I want my thinking and writing to stand alone on their own merit.
But having just said that, there was a chapter in my life that is very relevant to this particular essay/reverie. Believe it or not, I made my living for many years as a street juggler. For over 25 years I was one of the top street performers in San Francisco. One of the highlights of those decades was when I managed to “juggle my way around the world.” I left the Golden Gate with a backpack, a small duffel bag full of tricks and $4,000. After circling the globe, I returned to San Francisco 254 days later with $4,400. I had completely financed the trip by passing my hat in many amazing and exotic locales.
The gift of the humble mango had triggered a flood of memories from that journey. In particular, it reminded me of two of the profound lessons from that vagabond year. The first is that, indeed, we are one human family. And the second is that authentic freedom is precious and rare amongst that human family.
When sitting for my Political Science degree in college, I had some impassioned arguments with my professors about conflict in the world. My belief was that ordinary people everywhere could get along fine with each other. They shared common basic concerns such as: Could they support their families? Were all of their loved ones healthy? Did they have work that was fulfilling and not too exhausting? Was the household joyous most of the time? And did their children’s future appear even brighter than their own?
My conviction was that these normal people did not care that much about the color of your skin or the country of your birth or whether you worshipped the correct god - or even any god. These types of animosities were almost always incited by political and religious leaders. There are no historical instances in which a nation suddenly woke up one morning and decided to attack another country. This type of bloodlust insanity has to be carefully and maliciously cultivated by despicable tyrants.
My around the world trip proved the correctness of that conviction that my professors had dismissed so flippantly as “just an idealistic theory.” My little juggling act opened doors of friendship and understanding wherever I traveled. And it decisively confirmed my belief in the basic kindness and decency of humanity.
My second revelation on that journey was that the vast majority of people in this world are utterly enslaved by the accident of their birth. Most of the wonderful strangers smiling and laughing in my audiences would never have the opportunity to experience the many joys that had already blessed my trip. They would never view a Van Gogh masterpiece in Amsterdam or ride the Trans-Siberian Railway or stand on the Great Wall of China. In fact, most of them would never travel more than a few hundred miles from where they were born. The tragic unfairness of this wounded me in a very deep place. How did our human societies become so distorted that everyone could not have an equal opportunity to expand their horizons and revel in the magical wonders of our pale blue planet? Why could we not have “humans without borders?”
Realizing that I had involuntarily veered off into “heavy thinking,” I went down to the galley and cut up some ingredients for a ceviche. I squeezed in the lime juice and placed it in the fridge, where it would be ready upon my return. It was time to go visit the neighbors. My camera, binoculars and a bottle of water went into my daypack; and off I went for a row.
I peeked into thick mangroves trying to find a tri-color heron that flew past yesterday. I drifted over the reef waiting to see how long it would take the fish to seek the shade of my little dinghy. And I scouted some tall jungle trees looking for the nest of the golden-tailed weaver birds whose distinctive call greeted me each day.
The hours idled by so seamlessly that it startled me to notice that the horizon was beginning to turn saffron, as the sun slid into the west. I began rowing back towards AVENTURA, eagerly anticipating the tasty ceviche. But when I was only about 20 yards from home, I abruptly changed course and headed for the beach on Mango Island. That’s because I suddenly realized that it had been far too long since I had climbed up a tree - and shaken out some luscious fruit.