Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Driving down what is known affectionately as, and literally was "The Red Road" on the southeastern side of the big island of Hawaii, I was, as always, struck with awe at the magnificence of its surroundings. Originally formed from red cinder asphalt, it drew a brick red crayon line along the coast of the ocean it bordered. It rose and fell in undulations that seemed to mimic the waves that at some points almost kissed its charcoal shoulders.
It was along those shoulders about a quarter mile ahead of me that my awe was interrupted by the all too familiar Puna hitchhiker's thumb begging for a ride. This particular thumb, the color of deep, dark, semi sweet chocolate was attached to a man with the bottom half of his face shadowed by his kinky, black, scruffy beard. As I passed him I took my foot off the gas while simultaneously accessing the facial recognition software in my brain.
I've been really trusting my intuition lately and felt completely safe as I pulled over and stopped in the gray gravel. He had to run about thirty yards to catch up to my car and I watched in the rear view mirror as he approached. He was the same man I had passed two days before with my girlfriend Riox in the car. "He's deaf." I remembered her mumbling. She was quite disappointed because the shoulder he was walking on was too narrow for us to pull over and pick him up.
I pressed the button on my armrest to unlock the passenger door and his tobacco stained, snaggletoothed smile lit up his entire face as he opened it. Before getting into the seat he put his calloused hands together as if in prayer, closed his bloodshot eyes and bowed his gratitude to me. I bowed my head in response then asked "Pahoa?" making certain he could see my mouth speaking the name of the nearest town. He shook his head yes and climbed in.
The moment he closed the door I smelled the alcohol. It oozed from his pores and explained the red lines crisscrossing the whites of his eyes. He lowered his window and I mine. The breeze blew in and as if Mother Nature had turned on an air freshener the smell of day old vodka and gin blew out the window.
He reached over his right shoulder and fastened his seatbelt as I put the car in gear. I smiled and signed "Thank you." He looked surprised, then pointed to himself and signed "Jump." He repeated the gestures until he saw the confused look on my face transform into one of understanding. His name was Jump! I smiled, pointed at him and signed "Jump." He clapped his hands together in delight then pointed to me. I hand spelled "Ima," put my hand over my heart, then gave him a thumbs up before pulling back onto the road.
Like starting a conversation with someone who is a native Spanish speaker when you’ve only completed Spanish 101, I was worried because my sign language vocabulary was very limited. I knew I wouldn’t be expected to sign while driving so, I tried to relax. I would soon discover that the anxiety I was feeling had nothing to do with my sign language fluency.
A former hitchhiker myself, I've picked up many a hitchhiker here in Puna and yet didn't realize until that day that I have developed a hitchhiker protocol somewhere along the way. It usually begins with "So, where you headed?" and ends with aloha, mahalo or namaste. In between there's usually anything from light conversation about weather to deep discussions about spirituality and the intensity of the Big Island's energy. Jump was my first silent hitchhiker.
A lifelong chatter box, certified even, thanks to my first grade teacher's report card comment that I would not keep my mouth shut in class, being quiet has never been my forte. I've even been known to talk in my sleep.
So then, how was I, a bonafide breeze shooter to converse with this silent traveler and why did I feel the need to? Although Jump and I had connected briefly during our introductions, I realized that the rising anxiety I was feeling was because I believed that I needed continued conversation to confirm my intuition’s initial judgment that I was safe.
My heart is not a court of law needing testimony and character witnesses, to determine guilt or innocence, safety or danger. It simply needs space to love, trust and breathe...silent space.
In the car that afternoon, in the space of our human silence I heard the world speaking. Birds chirped, wind blew, leaves rustled, tires rolled. In that vocal silence I heard my breath flowing in and out carrying the anxiety with it up and out of my body. Not the kind of anxiety warning of impending danger, the anxiety borne from my logical mind trying to make sense of my heart's truth. The truth that I was safe.
Within that safety and tranquility time disappeared and that twenty minute ride felt like mere seconds. I was surprised to find us quickly approaching the single traffic light in Pahoa.
I pulled over and stopped the car just past the intersection. Jump, the conveyor of quietude with the bittersweet chocolate thumb, climbed out of the car, turned toward me and bowed once again with gratitude. I watched him turn and walk away and remembered the first line of the poem Desiderata. “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence."