Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Things Go South

The line for customs and migration at the Tocumen Airport in Panama City snaked back and forth between nylon tape barriers. It was going to be a while. I figured at least three hundred people stood between me and the customs officials sitting in front of the fancy computers, finger-print readers, and cameras. Might as well check my phone for any messages.

It had been a long day, traveling from Tucson to Panama. Rain had followed us as we traveled south, and a storm was forecast to hit Panama for the next four days. Rare heavy rain right in time for our visit and for time spent with Sean, but that was not the only thing hanging over, or going south, during the trip. 

My phone came to life with a flurry of texts: "Someone kicked in your front door and tried to kill Philip (a neighbor) with a shovel." "A police helicopter and three squad cars were here looking for an ex-con that somebody said you brought to the ranch." "You have endangered the community with your vile irresponsible disregard for safety." "Why didn't you tell people that someone had trespassed in your house back yard you left? Even rattlesnakes get warnings here."

It only got better from there.

Welcome to Panama and two weeks traveling, I thought to myself. Sheesh, what a way to begin...

I knew I would have a lot to clean up when I got back home to Tucson, but for now all I could do was feeble explanations and triage. They were out for blood and for someone to blame for the crisis of security.

So what does one do in such situations?

I can tell you that an ineffective response is to get defensive or to refute the concerns of single mothers worried about their children. So I caved in and took full responsibility for endangering the community, my neighbors. I would keep quiet about he had been a long-time member of the prison writing workshops, had been featured on a national news program for his writing, had been given opioids when hospitalized for pancreatitis and fallen back into drug use, had biochemical toxins pickling his brain, was desperate and had burned every bridge left for him to burn. No excuses, just what is. And none of that mattered. It served only as preamble. What had transpired was its own context, the trigger for a narrative of fear and blame. I saw that there was no way to counter that, so I would have to bend with it.

"Yes, I made a mistake inviting an ex-con to the ranch to help me remodel the bathroom," I wrote.

That helped a bit, but people wanted more.

"What have you learned from this?" "How will you ever regain our trust?"

I went contrite, rolled over, exposed my belly. The story is too long to tell I decided. I live with some risk and engage with some hot-button social realities. Sometimes things go to hell. I take it as part of playing the game, the cost of doing business in a world rife with danger and inequity.

I kept all of that to myself. I tried to see things through their eyes. Yes, they are afraid and want to protect their children from drug addicts and desperate characters. Got it and I'll say it again and again.

The fires have died down and the pitchforks put away for now.

I offered to meet with anyone who wanted to know more, but no one took me up on that. I just got a few more slaps on the wrist for being such a bad neighbor.

Oh well, there are always so many sides to to any event, so many stories competing for traction and proof that who we are is right and that the world spins according to our versions of it.To keep the peace, it's sometimes best just to shut up and listen, for now, anyway.

A more capacious narrative will take time to tell, and openness to take hold. Odds are not in my favor, but I hold out anyway. The work of framing a different way of seeing takes courage and time. Steady boy, steady. 

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