I never expected to see my first dead body on a diving vacation to a tropical island.
But there it was.
Just dangling there.
Suspended 20 feet above a small dirt road in the middle of a small village at the center of a small island, halting morning traffic in every direction.
I didn’t get a close look. Frankly, I didn’t want one. When we realized what it was, I averted my eyes. I looked elsewhere. I looked into the crowd. I looked at the sea of upturned faces. At the motionless bodies watching in anticipation. At the expanse of these villagers from this small village.
And it is there I found the humanity in Honduras.
I spent much of my time traveling feeling elation and independence and accomplishment and a sense that with every plane, train, automobile, and footstep I was moving myself. Moving myself towards the person I was supposed to be. Moving myself down that path that we so succinctly call life.
I did not spend much of my time traveling feeling anxious or fearful or consumed by worry. But, sometimes I did. Some days I dreaded the next step. The next plane, train, or automobile to bring me to a destination that I knew would test my limits or feeling of safety. These were generally places with US Department of State travel warnings and newsworthy attacks. Places that garnered the sidelong glances from concerned family and friends.
Murder capital of the world.
San Pedro Sula.
Capital city of the murder capital of the world.
It seemed like a good idea when looking at how much cheaper flights and accommodation and diving packages were compared to the neighboring Belize. But as the trip got closer and my interpretation of the travel warnings changed from “total overreaction” to “I am going to die,” I got a little nervous. It’s funny how we can convince ourselves of just what we want to believe until the time comes to face it.
Especially when a good travel deal is involved.
It was just me and Baggy Red Trousers, off for 10 days of diving and reading and eating and rinsing and repeating. We spotted each other from afar in the Miami International Airport and shrieked with glee. We toasted with plastic cups of free international flight beer while a burning red sun fell on the first day our journey. We tried to fill eachother in on the months and months since I got stuck on Switzerland. Love, jobs, travel, family, it came tumbling out through our plane to taxi to shuttle to ferry to tuk-tuk journey, all the way up to the front steps of our little rented apartment.
Fast forward 7 days and 8 dives and 6 books and 14 avocados and countless mugs of lemon ginger tea and there we were on the morning of our last day of SCUBA diving. The temporary loss of electricity went nearly unnoticed during our morning breakfast routine. We were off the grid after all, unphased by a little cut in the lights. Then right on time our tuk-tuk arrived and we were off.
Off, that is, until we hit the traffic.
Traffic? Well, this is odd. Even our stoic driver seemed curious.
Have no fear. A few quick maneuvers, a narrow side road, a hopped curb, and we circumnavigated the village center gridlock. Despite the open road ahead, our tuk-tuk driver pulled off and lumbered his large frame out of his teetering three wheeled chariot.
Realizing we would not be going anywhere fast, we followed suit and suddenly understood that flicker of electricity.
It had seemed to last just a moment really.
Just a moment to us but the flash of a lifetime for another.
I had never seen a real dead body before, just a few of those open casket affairs.
I had also never felt the very moment that the flame of an entire human life was snuffed out for good. The moment that a being crossed from living into the eternal expanse of whatever it is that follows. The moment that a father or son or brother was lost into the afterlife.
And there I realized, standing at the outskirts of this little village, that the life hanging limply above us had ended with that mere flicker of electricity.
A presumably routine fix for the town electrician ended with darkness falling across the island. His body was caught by that ubiquitous safety harness, holding him to the towering telephone line. We watched his world gather to pay homage.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also, we learned, takes a village to lower the dead.
The removal of this electrician from his safety harness and the passing of his body down the telephone pole was tender and kind with an intimacy unrivaled. There were no screaming sirens or blazing alarms. There were only hushed voices praying and gentle arms cradling. It was a body, still warm with the buzzing of a vibrant life, being carried by the hands of loved ones to the comfort of its final resting place.
It was a whole village tending to just one member. It was a community coming together at the height of vulnerability, at the most fragile moment of the human condition. The world stopped in that moment, and it seemed the very being of that island paused to bring down the dead.
It was kindness. It was unity. And it was humanity.
In the worrying weeks before my departure, I built Honduras up in my mind to be a place of violence and death and drugs and danger. What I found instead was a simple place where life runs into death and an entire village halts with the extinguishing of a single light.