My university commute is a short ten minute stroll through my neighborhood. It’s relatively quiet most of the time, a rare thing in the Dominican Republic, where the grinding gears and roaring mufflers of delivery motorcycles, honking horns, and blaring bachata music seem omnipresent.
There is still classic Dominican hustle. The men at the barber shop engaging in their usual rapid fire debates about sports and politics, groups camped out in the shade playing never ending rounds of dominos, and the industrias ambulantes or mobile vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and an amalgam of other random products. Lots of characters to say the least.
However, one in particular stands out, Jose, who comes everyday to the neighborhood to sing, see his friends, and greet pedestrians. I first met Jose, like most do. He had just finished singing a few verses of a passionate bolero with his deep commanding voice, when he held out his hand as I passed, greeting me, “Hello brother, how are you?”
For most of my time here, he has been on the street, singing for the masses, and greeting all who pass by with visible caring and sincerity. Jose is in a wheelchair. I would later learn he has been disabled most of his life from polio, yet despite this and the hot caribbean sun, he comes daily like clock work.
It is not hard to see Jose has spirit, that he has struggled and overcame adversity, and that he is one of the enlightened few who live among us. Talking with him recently, I learned he was born in Mao, a province outside of Santiago. He was stricken with polio at birth, yet he succeeded in getting an education, studying law, and traveling the world as para-athlete.
He told me, “When I was young, my father thought I was useless and that I could only stay in the house, so I became independent and distanced myself from him.”
After traveling, Jose settled down, married, and had three kids, two of which have recently graduated from the university, and one who will finish this year.
Jose, now almost 57 years old, shared with me that he travels close two one and a half miles each way to my neighborhood because he likes the environment and has many friends. And more importantly because he wants to contribute to something. He no longer works, yet he wants to keep busy, and build a stronger sense of love, community, and connection.
He explained, “I believe in love…when I greet somebody with a song, a look, or a good smile, I feel as if I was knocking on the door of their heart.”
Jose, told me that there is beauty all around that we too often times we fail to see. That beauty exists in nature and people and that we can create it through our actions.
Everyday he comes to enjoy the everyday blessings of life and share with the community his gifts.
He is also a poet and is writing a book of his poetry called Viente poemas y una mujer, or twenty poems and a girl, in which he hopes to capture this beauty.
My relationship with Jose has taught me a valuable lesson of what it means to live with joy and purpose. Whenever I was perhaps feeling a little lost to my ambitions — some days trudging to class, my head full of thoughts, unsatisfied with myself, longing for more, to accomplish more, be more, and have more — Jose helped me to ground myself in all the good that already exists.
He showed me that the world, even with its imperfections, greets us everyday with countless songs and smiles — from the Joses of our communities, by trees that sway in the wind, friends who treat us to coffee, and all the other simple, yet simply majestic everyday occurrences, we need to do nothing else to enjoy, but be present.
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In other news, I am currently in Haiti. It is a very inspiring, yet tough place to travel and blog. I am getting myself established here and will be sharing next week some of my first impressions and experiences. Stay tuned!