Typically when Dan and I move we take only that which we can fit into our two cars. We start with the must-haves: pots and pans, underwear, Coda… and move on to the nice-to-haves: vases, pictures, maybe a plant or two. When we get to our new apartment we unpack, make a quick trip to the nearest grocery store, and try to feel sincere as we collapse into our rented bed saying, “Home, sweet home.”
We’ve been in San Diego for a little over two months now, but I am still hopeless to find my way around without my GPS. The other day I got lost while driving and unexpectedely came upon Mission San Diego de Alcala, the oldest mission in the area. Excited by the beautiful exterior, I parked, grabbed my camera from the trunk and started clicking away.
I’m always intrigued by the reverence that accompanies places of historical significance and places of worship. The mission is both, dating back as far as 1769 and operating today as a parish. People quietly walked the grounds, read historical plaques to their children and observed the archaeological ruins and remodeled rooms depicting life in the 1700s.
I joined a group as they peered into a model of founder Friar Junipero Serra’s bedroom. I could picture him as he tried to recreate his native New Spain (Mexico) when he set up a mission in the New World. There was his sleeping hammock, the (to him) familiar white stucco walls and terracotta floors, a personal relic or two. I was struck by the idea of displacement, of being moved from known surroundings and placed somewhere altogether different.
I continued down a long corridor that ended in a small garden where a large white cross stood. I was eager to capture the shot, the long tunneling hallway ending in the focal point of the cross. I thought it had neat symbolism, you know, the straight and narrow and all. I must’ve shot a dozen photos, each on a different setting, but for all my effort the cross would not show up in any of the pictures. It repeatedly came up as overexposed, meaning there was too much light in that section of the picture to record a concrete image. I found the fact mildly amusing, decided not to force the shot and instead went to see the cross up close.
The cross was near a plaque honoring the memory of Padre Luis Jayme, the first Christian martyr in California, who is said to have greeted attacking Indians with the saying, “Love God, my children!” before they killed him. I wasn’t sure how to take that. On one hand, that is a peaceful, sacrificial moment where a man greeted hate with love. On the other hand — are you kidding me? He greeted them with open arms? Was that a moment of faith, naïveté, or something else altogether?
I pondered these as I walked backed to my car but as usual, questions were plentiful and answers were, like capturing the image of that cross, evasive. I strapped on my seatbelt, turned the ignition and was just about to put the car into drive when I remembered that I did not want to get lost on my way back home. I reached for my handy GPS, programmed the destination, and pulled onto the road.