In my earlier twenties I spent a bit of time down on the border doing missions work. While I enjoyed the work, in time I found the utter lack of aesthetics draining. Nothing is quaint, sweet, organized, or well-designed. Paint is chipping, holes in buildings are patched with cardboard or lamina, garbage is everywhere, city-planning means staking your claim wherever you can, green is a rarity. If you are a sensory, sensual person, this visual helter-skelter starts to wear on your spirit.
But on a recent trip to the border, walking across the bridge from Mexico back into the U.S., pulling my luggage through lanes of traffic, I felt something unlike my former disgust. And it wasn’t just nostalgia. Suddenly there was something I loved about how fast everything moved back and forth. I loved the grit, and the prevailing every-man-for-himself sentiment. Everyone carried baggage—the bags slumped over their shoulders was only a fraction of it.
You don’t have a lot of time to look around, especially if you’re in a dress and boots with jewelry and nice luggage. For reasons of personal safety, it’s better to look like you know what you’re doing and just keep moving. And you don’t stop when you get to the other side, either. There isn’t any place to stop anyway. You just keep trucking until you reach your destination, which on this trip happened to be McDonalds. But once there, discharged of my bags, I could finally take a look around. You can almost feel the grit. You look into the faces of the people crossing and you wonder where they’re going, what they’ve come from, and what they’ve got to hide.
It’s beautiful in the most awful way, and you almost like it because for once something is real.
We think we’re so clean in our green suburbs with our Costco and Home Depot and manicured flower beds, but we’re hiding something too, and I don’t know if our sugar-coated grit isn’t all the worse. Maybe I like the border because I crave something that can’t be covered up—depraved as it is. Maybe I crave being there because I want it to be glorious, but in a way that is as genuine as it is now genuinely gruesome.
I don’t think there is beauty in ugliness, but there is something enchanting about survivalism. There is something invigorating about people who don’t have the resources to cover up their mess. Those are the ones Jesus came to wash clean. I soak in the reality of this place—depraved to the point of ripe for a miracle—and I can’t help but smile.