In the movie, Out of Africa Robert Redford’s character arrives one day in an airplane to take Meryl Streep’s character for a ride in an airplane. She, delighted, asks him, “When did you learn to fly?” And he says, “Yesterday.” And then, off they go, one day of flying lessons propel them into the air, through some amazing and beautiful sky and above the most spectacular terrain.
A movie of adventure and risk, of life lived fully, and the struggle to live with integrity. But mostly its a human story of hope in the midst of tremendous challenge. We could talk about colonialism and its impact on Africa, for that is some of the story line of Out of Africa. But mostly it is a movie about the pursuit of love and the attempt to make a living growing coffee.The themes of this movie, taking place in the early 20th century, echo some of the same themes being played out in the early 21st century, right here in my own backyard.
Recently I was taking a walk through the neighborhood I live in. In between each block, or street of houses, our “backyards” so to speak, run washes, canyons, or as they are known here, arroyos. These are ancient pathways for melting snow and rain water that runs off the mountains during early spring and the summer rainy season. The arroyos are vital to our environment, providing greenery for food and shelter, supporting the lives of rabbits, lizards, quail families, ground squirrels, birds, bobcats, mountain lions, and javelina.
This time of year however there are no floods of water running through the arroyos. The “beds” are dry, sandy, rocky. On my walks, what I see in the arroyo sand, clearly imprinted in the dryness, are footprints. Lots of them. Some of the footprints are animal, particularly bobcat. But most of them are human. The footprints of people who are running from a life of desperation through great fear toward a potential for hope. Hope for a better life that includes a little bit of money to live on and send back home.
Lately there have been more helicopters in the air. Many days there are several helicopters. They fly low. The engines are loud, shaking houses in their wake. At night the helicopters have powerful headlights that shine into the desert ground picking up movement. In addition to helicopters there are more trucks. White ones, with Homeland Security or Border Patrol written on the side, or “DHS” on the license plate. There is a reported increase in “traffic” through this area, mostly because security has tightened in other areas. All along the border are high towers with powerful cameras that pick up on movement miles away. When the camera’s detect movement they send out a warning and from there helicopters and trucks move in along the trajectory of movement. Many many people are caught and returned to the border. These people say that it is much more difficult to “get through” now than it was five years ago. Now, very few people make it and the cost for trying is high, thousands of dollars. Sometimes the cost is human life, people injured and left to die in desert harshness.
Human footprints in the sand leading where? Did these people make it safely? Or, were they caught and sent back? Many of these footprints are the result of people who have given up their hope to raise coffee and make a viable living. People who are underpaid or edged out or risk being caught up in the drug market or human trafficking. People who are desperate. And some who have become just plain evil. The footprints fill me with sorrow. The helicopters make me sad. Sad about the loss of hope and the certain return to desperation, that is the future for those being captured in the rugged desert and sent back across the border.
Lent is a season that calls me to think, more intentionally than otherwise, about the brokenness of humanity. Lent reminds me that we are all broken from something in life. More than that, Lent points us to examine how we all contribute to the brokenness of others in this global world. In many ways the average American is contributing to the violence and poverty that motivates most people to cross the border illegally. It’s a simple as the cup of coffee we drink.
But an appropriate move toward reconciliation might be as simple as drinking and using Fair Trade Coffee. Fair Trade Coffee pays the grower a living wage. And making a living wage enables people to stay home with their families, on their land. Fair Trade Coffee saves lives, reduces desperation, brings hope.
In this season of Lent I did not give up any kind of food or drink. I am not learning to fly, and I’m not doing anything particularly risky. Instead I’m taking on a discipline of prayer. More intentional prayer that takes place during long walks. Prayer that gives thanks for the beauty of this land, for the blessings of life. Prayer for those seeking new life. And especially prayers of gratitude over a delicious cup of Fair Trade Coffee.