CIW: The Beach (Part 6 of 6)

I seek beauty.
I seek love.
I seek justice.
I find community.

It is the end of a long week outside the Publix Headquarters. Only 8 of our motley crew remain (Benjamin, Cassidy, Dave, Elena, Evangelina, Jake, Julia, and me) . We pack into two cars and leave the church. We make our way, slightly disheveled, to the sandy shores of the gulf coast in St Petersburg. After about an hour’s drive, we struggle to find an entry point to the beach. Hotel, hotel, house, restaurant, house, house…

Finally, Julia receives a call from our lost clan of 3, who inform us of a hidden public entrance down the road, to the right, and across the bridge. “Yip, Yip!” I declare in anticipation. We arrive and climb out of the packed car, throwing luggage off our laps. Beers and sleeping bags in hand, we trot along to the melodic water – calm, friendly, and slightly chilly. Most of us wade out into the water immediately. I let the tips of my toes touch. Cassidy, who had strategically maneuvered into a pretty orange floral dress, ventures out the furthest under the brilliant light of the moon, calling the mystical forces to her. When Cassidy returns, the PBR cans are broken off their plastic holders and handed out. We raise our arms.

“Arriba (raise upwards)
Abajo (raise downwards)
Al centro (raise outwards)
Al dentro. (raise inwards)”

We laugh and fall down onto the beach. It has been a rollercoaster week in Lakeland and we are all reeling from the event. To help release some tension each person takes a moment to share a few reflections from the week. One says the CIW, “they are like family, like coming home.” He shares his feeling of inspiration and wisdom from the people whom he met and knows. A few speak of how much they learned and how stress can be beautiful at times. The conversation shifts when those living in Immokalee speak of the beauty and pressure in there, at home. They speak of working every day, even though it wasn’t in their contract, but because of their dedication as well as the pressure – or maybe guilt. They speak of a man who has a beautiful garden in front of his trailer, leftover flowers collected from his years of landscaping. One speaks of living with a CIW staff member who speaks some English, and she speaks little Spanish, surprised that they somehow made it work.

I didn’t notice at first, but I realize someone is translating. The process never arose into conversation, but rather done with an ease and sense of normalcy that shocked me. The casual and fluid nature, by which it entered this relaxing, let go, pure fun environment, astonishes me. It remains so outside my experience where language barriers often raise feelings of awkwardness and detachment.

After our circle comes to a close, I stand up to take a lonely stroll down the beach. My emotions cannot be pieced together nor taken apart. I start to sing. I sing whatever comes to mind, sometimes laughing at their corny, idealistic nature. Words about justice, love and honesty, about growth and pain escape my lips. When the explosion of melodious sentiment ends, I have no answers, but feel better.

I return and lie down next to friends, under stars, and listen to the sound of waves. I reflect back to the last day of the fast when one man speaks directly to the farmworkers. He says, “I know we have sacrificed a lot to be here, a week’s pay is a lot. It is time away from families and has repercussions for those we love back in our home countries. We are putting our bodies and lives at risk. We are fighting for our dignity, justice, and the lives of our children. Know that at the end of the day, Publix will come to the table!”

With these words on my mind, I finally maneuver myself into sleep, curling around the lumps, feeling both safe and exposed.