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  • Reverend James Squire

Kuna Yala




Our dinner guest last evening was our neighbor, Paul an architect, who has sailed to various parts of the world including from here on the Chesapeake to Belize. The sail took two and a half years with a good bit over ocean waters out of the sight of land. His wife, Gail his sailing partner, died tragically, drowning when she was finishing a triathlon a few years ago. Paul is the kind of guy who when he saw a woman in our local food market weighing in her mind what she was going to buy putting some things back as very little covered the bottom of her cart went up to her with a surprise. He said, “I have been blessed to have much in life. This may help you in your decisions today.” He gave her a hundred dollars bill.


One of the great fictions that gets a chuckle from folks who sail is the advertisements that portray sailing as a relaxing enterprise. Nothing could be further from the truth. During the nights and days when you are in open water, you find yourself sleeping four hours and then awake for four hours. It is those four hours when you are cruising and the islands that you visit that make it a once in a lifetime experience. My personal experience is that there is nothing like having the sails trimmed in such a way that you seem to be gliding through the water feeling that you are truly at one with the Creator. The boat vibrates slightly underneath you in the water. You are in sink and connected to the One who created you. Israel means “one who runs with God.” It could just as well mean “one who sails with God.”


We always enjoy hearing about Paul’s adventures on the high seas. Last night I asked him a question that you would think would have come earlier to my mind. What was your favorite spot to visit in this two and a half years sail? He quickly responded with Kuna Yala which is part of the San Blas Islands which is a series of 378 islands off the coast of Panama.


They have kept tourism away for the most part. The people on Kuna Yala work hard to carve out their life there. But they constantly said to Paul that everything was free. Furthermore, he said that they are the happiest people that he had ever seen. They are givers and not takers. One day a native islander approached Paul’s boat and needed gas for the small outboard that he had on his canoe. He was taking his wife to a hospital on another island to have a baby. Later the same gentleman returned to Paul’s boat with a full dinner for his newfound friends.


One of the valuable experiences at EA is a trip that students take with a colleague of mine to Haiti, one of the poorest areas in the world. Students who go to Haiti and then take ethics with me have their values turned upside down. When discussing values in the course many will often reference their experience in Haiti that they stood in wonder regarding “how people with so little could be so happy.”


One of the ideas that I teach in ethics is “all anger is based in missed expectations.” Think about the last time that you were angry and you may see that you expected one thing and got another. What I relearned from my neighbor and my students who had an enriching experience with the poorest of the poor is that the expectations of the people they visited are not distracted by anything but their pure joy in experiencing “less is more” and joy, not pleasure, that comes in the form of appreciating everything around them and being a giver and not a taker filled with gratitude.


I always love to share in a small world experience. When our neighbor mentioned the San Blas Islands as his favorite spot, Vicki declared that she had been there. Panama was the companion diocese of the Diocese of North Carolina so on a mission trip to Panama, she also went to the San Blas Islands.


One of the videos that I showed in ethics class was the story of the ill-fated climb up Mt Everest

that was written about by Jon Krakauer in his best-selling book, Into Thin Air. The video is narrated by Beck Weathers who was one of the climbers who survived against all odds. Mt. Everest is the opposite in location from Kuna Yala, but the message is the same as what people learn when they visit Kuna Yala. Weathers concludes the video by saying, “I have traveled the world over looking for meaning and purpose. I discovered on Mount Everest that meaning and joy were there in my own backyard in the lives of my wife, Peach, and my children.” Weather’s expectation led him on a journey where he got more than he bargained for in adventure and a search for joy and meaning. You see his hands and face that are disfigured from frostbite.


You don’t have to go to Haiti, Kuna Yala, or Mt. Everest to learn that what you are looking for is right there in the people who you love and in turn love you. Haiti, Kuna Yala, and Mt. Everest strip away enough so that you can see this truth and value most clearly. You can’t avoid the truth of what creates lasting joy in your experience in those places. The problem with human nature is that we constantly look for love in all the wrong places with inaccurate expectations that stand between us and “that peace which is beyond all understanding.”

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