A few months ago, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Oxcart Parade in Santa Ana, Costa Rica. The parade features hundreds of hand-painted, beautiful oxcarts and the brahma bulls that pull them, along with the machete yielding caballeros who guide them on their way. The brightly painted ox carts have an important place in the history of Costa Rica and its economic development. During the 19th century, they were the main transport used to haul the coffee crop and other export goods from the Central Valley to the port at Puntarenas. On the way back, they would bring goods mainly from Europe to the Central Valley. For some remote farmers, the oxcarts still play a role and now and then, you see them at the local farmer’s markets. Oxcarts are lovingly made in Sarchi, which has the largest one in existence in its town square, as a salute to the agrarian way of life.
As I watched the parade, I was impressed with how well the bulls were kept in line and with the pride clearly exhibited on the faces of those whose carts were exquisitely painted with family symbols or original designs. It was an experience that will not be soon forgotten as I position it against the fast-paced, run,run, go, go world that I’m so accustomed to in the US. A part of me envied the symbolism of families pulling together so well to make life work, to share their goods and to deliver their best to each other. It took me back a bit to my own childhood when we canned the vegetables in our garden, made maple syrup from the trees, and innocently climbed trees and had the neighbors in for dinner.
I sometimes mourn the loss of innocence, of the charm and the blessing of feeling connected in wholesome and loving ways to those around us. I wonder if the internet has made us smaller or bigger. Is it easier to hide behind a screen than to go out and take a bag of vegetables to our neighbors? Jesus often told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but if we don’t know our neighbors, than how can we understand how to love them? The oxcarts represent community, working together to build and grow and survive. They symbolize the gifts people share when they not only stop to show their wares, but when conversations develop that connect them more closely.
I bought a small oxcart, about two feet high that I’ll be bringing back with me when I return to the US. I bought it to remind me of Costa Rica to be sure, but also to remember my neighbors, to reach out in conversation, to share whatever I have and to be willing to learn from those who walk the path of life with me. With so much change going on all around us, much of our hope rests in learning to create meaningful relationships, partnerships if you will with those who live and work and intersect with us.
Augustine said this about our neighbors. “The love of God is the first and great commandment. But love of our neighbor is the means by which we obey it. Since we cannot see God directly, God allows us to catch sight of him through our neighbor. By loving our neighbor we purge our eyes to see God. So love your neighbor and you will discover that in doing so you come to know God.”
Sometimes it’s worthwhile to step out of the race, to pace yourself in a gentle way, and engage the world with new eyes. Let’s take a ride in the oxcart.