The city thrums on and on. I conjure up silence in my mind, but it’s like trying to remember the face of someone I haven’t seen in some time. It’s a blurry image. It’s a skill I have not mastered – envisioning quiet when the rush of blaring traffic out our window is broken every three minutes by car alarms, ensuring we don’t forget this ‘anthem’ of Quito.

So while J was conceptualizing a mural project, the girls and I hitched a ride with some friends to the country for a day. The short venture into the northern hemisphere acquainted us with a dead volcano crater re-purposed into a checkerboard of homesteads.

We did not have time to make the 1000ft hike down into the crater, and time or not, would not likely have made it back up. Instead, we poked at the eeriness of living in a crater. Is it really dead, or merely in a deep slumber? What do the tremors feel like from in there? But most fun was to read the sign nearby announcing “The Crater Hotel.”

Only partway to our destination, we made our way back to the van. One little girl, who loves all things adventure, sorely wanted to continue on horseback. A small sigh and momentarily protruding lip told me she had added this to her mental bucket list. Which compelled me to add it to mine. But only for a time when that lip is resting in its grateful state. Then, the most poignant image of the day met us at the cabin where we picnicked and rested. A 70-yr-old man driving these bulls, plowing his field. Only his face and hands were exposed to the dry heat of the day. He trudged on for hours without stopping, not even for water, and I knew that I would have collapsed long before. When he finally stopped, several hours past our arrival (who knows how long he had been going before we got there), it seemed more out of grace for his animals than his own need for rest.

I was initially reluctant to photograph him, but when he saw my camera, he smiled generously and waved, slowing down and nodding. I think he appreciated the interest.

How many of us have the stamina and will to spend our days forging through the earth with 6,000 year old technology? No other company but those animals, no earbuds, no breaks or even a coffee to carry him through. He didn’t even stop for water. And if we showed him an easier way, would he know what to do with the time? He may well teach us a thing or three of peace and contentment.

And I thought I was a Luddite for giving up cell phones.
But this is a flavor I’ve little tasted, and forgotten what I had. Not to romanticize his perception – I never even spoke to him – but this I could see was a living gratitude. To labor long and hard and look up with a smile, to take an infrequent breeze as grace enough to keep you going.

As we left, I knew we would visit that little cabin again. And then I added the second thing to my bucket list that day – to meet this person, learn his name, and hear his story.

And to sit at our own window in the city, and gratefully hear the space between the noises as grace enough to smile.

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