I am in the Dominican Republic at a four and half star resort with my best friend. The sun is bright, the ocean breezy, and I eat mangoes and passionfruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have napped a lot, and read good books from cover to cover. I sit on the shore with my feet on the waters edge, encouraging the ocean to kiss the tips of my toes with each breath she takes.
When I hold my life in the palm of my hand, this year scrapes through my fingertips like a shard of broken glass. It was harder for me than most others. This vacation was a well needed reprieve—a chance for the pounding waves to soothe my jagged edges again.
Last night I met Miguel. He introduced himself to me as Michael Jackson. I laughed.
Sarah thinks he’s twenty-one; I guessed twenty-seven. It’s hard to tell. He reminds me of a slinky: tall and stretchy and very flexible. When I watch him dance my breath catches in my throat because it feels like I’m watching someone do the very thing they were born to do. He works for the resort. During his day shift, between 9:30-6:30 he’ll work odd jobs, then go home for a break, coming back at 8:30 to take part in the entertainment. This means he’s often working 16 hours a day. He says he doesn’t mind. Miguel is a natural entertainer.
He is rail thin and tall, his skin milky and smooth, his teeth bright against the night sky and his dark skin.
Maybe it’s the book I just finished by Jodi Picoult—Small Great Things—about a black woman being sued by a white supremacist. Or maybe it’s everything that has been happening in the States with Charlottesville. But this week I can’t stop thinking about racism and about people and I am wondering if we are all the same or if we are all different or if maybe we are both.
I asked Miguel to dance for us. He had told us he doesn’t like the styles of his country—salsa or marimba—but instead he’s created a style of his own.
He hands me his phone after he’s programmed the correct song. I hold it in between Sarah and I so we can hear.
Miguel looks at us. “Listen to the music, but keep your eyes on me.”
“Got it,” I say, my eyes never leaving him.
He starts to dance and it is magic. Each beat of the song is a different move, and it is fast but smooth, a thousand actions but simultaneously one long movement. I cannot stop looking; cannot stop thinking that God must have given Miguel limbs if only so he could move them this way.
Are Miguel and I the same? I wonder. Because he works at the resort I am a guest at. His shifts are 16 hours, and back home mine are 8. He works to give his mother money and pay for his father’s chemotherapy treatments, and when my mother had cancer her treatments were free.
“You work very long hours,” I told him. “You must be tired.”
“It is worth it when I meet people like you girls and others like you,” he replied, smiling. “You actually talk to me. It is hard sometimes when people come here to the resort and treat me like a slave. Like they forget I am a person too.”
Today it rains all day. I have not seen rain like this before—thunder that cracks across the sky so loud I watch everyone in the resort jump, startled. The ocean looks angry, swirling the sand into the centre of the sea.
I see Miguel and we invite him to come sit with us.
“You Canadians are amazing,” he says.
Sarah and I laugh. “Why do you say that?”
“You treat me like I am one of you, like we are no different.”
Sarah nods. “We’re not different from each other.”
Miguel smiles—it stretches wide across his face; as wide as the ocean stretching before us. “I think so too. When I look at the world I don’t see countries, I don’t see colours, I just see lots and lots of people.”
Perhaps our lives have been vastly different, Miguel’s and mine. I grew up in North America with food and clothes and water I could drink from the tap. Miguel grew up praying for rainy days like this in order for their food to grow so they might be able to eat dinner.
But I look at Miguel and see a beautiful smile and bright, animated eyes. I see a young man who has a dream to dance, a man who doesn’t see countries or colours but only people.
And I think: that’s what I want to see too.
I wonder what the world would like if only we could see people. If instead of classification and segregation there was more unity. Maybe that is simplifying it too much, but maybe simple isn’t a bad idea.
Tonight Miguel will dance again.
Just him and the sky and the people who paid to be here. Maybe we are all different, but maybe—just maybe—deep down we’re all the same.
I’ll watch him while he dances—while he does the very thing he was born to do—and I’ll witness his dream explode from his being. Just me, a girl, and him, a boy—both of us fundamentally human.
Tonight, that will be enough.
Tonight, it will be as it should be.