By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
Pat and I were in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during the first part of June. It was a productive expedition and overall good experience. I walked over enough miles of cobblestone streets and narrow, slippery sidewalks to last for a few more years.
What I didn’t see there were traffic lights. It’s a modern town of some 70,000 people, so chances are it does have such lights; we just didn’t see them. Nor did we search them out.
SMA does not spend a fortune on stop signs, either, certainly not four-way ones. Even more odd, I didn’t see so much as a fender-bender, cars on tow trucks after collisions or hear sirens wail as police raced to an accident scene.
There was a very patient “dance” (for lack of a better word) for cars, trucks, bicyclists and pedestrians instead. Everyone looked out for their own safety and the wellbeing of others.
For us as passengers in the back seats of taxis, at first this “dance” was disconcerting. At one corner our driver might wave through a car coming from the left; the next time someone on either the left or right waved us through. None of this remembering that the car on the right generally takes precedence. Kindness prevailed instead.
SMA streets are narrow, so sometimes this meant delays of a minute or so while passengers got out of taxis, or someone was loading or unloading their trunk. No horn-blowing, whistling, shouting or waving with upraised middle fingers. Everyone seemed to understand the delay would be momentary.
City sidewalks were narrow too, but people continued the “dance” on them, turning sideways to let others past or stepping out in the street. Always an acknowledgement in some form or other to recognize a small moment of kindness and thoughtfulness, be it a smile, glance or a quietly murmured “gracias.”
I am sure city workers and residents were as busy as Americans are when we’re not on holiday. They are just as important as we are, or at least as we like to think we are. Cumulatively, these small acts of graciousness took up no more than a few minutes of their day.
We saw quite a few police in the main plaza near the cathedral. For the most part, their major task seemed to be pointing directions on a map or taking pictures of tourists with the tourists’ cameras. I am sure they were ready to respond to crimes or problems, but their gentle interaction with people created a calming ambience in a crowded area.
Over the years, especially recently, we have been exposed to parties who demonize Mexico and Mexicans. From what we saw, it isn’t justified.
Slowing down, seeing life as one long “dance” in our encounters, is a much better way to live.