The moment I saw San Sebastian Plaza I fell in love with its understated beauty and meandering pathways that entice lovers to sit together on the shaded benches. The younger brothers and sisters are here too, playing games taught to them by their parents, just as their grandparents had done for their children. Balls are tossed high into the air or kicked close to the ground. Races are negotiated to the piccolo squeals of girls, and the exuberant shouts of boys on their bicycles bent over the handlebars. Such is a typical day in San Sebastian Plaza, heirloom games as valuable as any jewel being played by a fresh team that is anxious to grow old.
I recall how simple our tools were when we were children. Our sticks were also long guns, locked and loaded for an imaginary enemy lying in wait on the harsh plains of rubble and ash in a land streaked with warfare. The rifle became an ice axe, clawing old snow to balance our precarious traversing of shifting glacial fields older than antiquity, it supported us wobbling across vine bridges, thread-woven over crocodile-infested lagoons foaming with hunger. Carried just so, the rifle and ice axe became a baton leading the way for a hundred-strong brass band, glinting instruments marching down Pasadena Blvd. hours before the Rose Bowl. It was also leverage against stone and, if necessary, hold the white flag of surrender. It was an oar pushing us closer to home and, at last, kindling to start a fire.
A sigh of contentment. The soft mummer of conversation, the sun-streaked splash of water diving into the fountain. The songs of children.
Although I miss a day or two from time-to-time, I try to spend at least a moment in the plaza every day. I believe you can find whatever you are looking for if you only know where to look — and I found my space here. There is always a fresh blossom to marvel over and always a hearty greeting from the many shopkeepers that surround the square. Best of all, one need only squint the tiniest bit to glimpse the pageantry of horse-drawn carriages and scrap-wood paneled wagons, one billowing fine gowns, the other bearing fresh produce from the campo. Braying mules and praying sinners.
Sitting quietly in the shade of a fine old tree, I return not only to daydreaming but my own perplexity of how best to age gracefully and with gentleness. How to smooth the rasp grating between who we feel we are on the inside and who our culture tells us is staring back from that mirror. It is a conundrum as old as time.
I am always pleasantly entertained watching children play in the plaza. The gulf between us is obvious. The secret that draws us together is less so. It is a fallen branch of seeming little importance until it becomes a staff to support us, a tool to balance us over troubled waters, a baton, a light-saber, and in time a flame that lights a clearing overhead and offering warmth in the timelessness of fire and all the stories it contains.