It's true, I haven't been punished in a long time. I've suffered consequences, of course, like those suffered after telling the woman with the scissors to "go even shorter," or those that happen after deciding that devouring a third, thick disc of cinnamoned chocolate is, really, a good idea. But I haven't done much to merit castigation--or its Spanish equivalent, castigo--since I parked my car on Spring street in a dubiously-marked no-parking zone. One hundred and five dollars later, I've tried keeping to the general straight and narrow.
But like most of us, even if it doesn't mean hair shirts, flagellum or a cilice--or even a string of rosary beads, for that matter--I've certainly been known to be hard on myself. Like the day two weeks ago when half of our zaguán, or tall metal gate, gave a slump to the center and would no longer close. Patricio flexed his biceps and got to work with the welder to fix it, but dropped the tiny, steel hinge ball in the tangle of green grass. Working his hands through through the blades nearest the ground, like searching for a lone tick on a wily gorilla's forehead, he was lambasting himself for a split-second fault of the hand.
Eventually, he found it, but not before my own personal reproof could put me in a figurative corner. "With a magnet, we could find that thing in a matter of seconds," Patricio said, and my mental Rolodex flipped back twelve months ago to the days I packed his belongings and we moved into our own little house. Clinging fast to his old wallet chain, curled around a collection of keys in the back of a dressing table niche, was a pair of huge magnets, perfect for finding steel balls in the grass.
I marched inside the house and took the key/chain box down from the closet, sure I'd find those thick, metal discs and sure to relieve Patricio of his grass-combing. But they weren't there. I even checked twice. And I realized that those magnets had probably gone into the black, plastic bags that went out to the curb. I walked back out into the yard, dragging my feet with and with a face full of compunction.
"I think I threw them away," I said.
"Oh, I doubt that," he said, "I know you'd never throw anything of mine away without asking."
Um, right. Of course I didn't inherit the habit of throwing things out from my dad. I remembered the day we returned from a Wyoming vacation to find that he'd had enough of our five cats and had taken them all to the pound. (We got four back). I'm not sure it made it any easier for me to see that Patricio chose gracious denial in the face of what was likely the case: that I'd thrown his good magnets out, and who knows what else that he might ask about someday. Contrition was certainly the word for the afternoon, though it did end happily with the zaguán returned to working order.
I managed to punish myself mentally over some metal, and soon discovered that metal can also by punished. In the world of penitence through prayed rosaries, bells rise up to a quasi-human status, names, potential for punishment, and all.
The Catedral Metropolitana that presides over the north end of Mexico City's Zócalo boast 30 different bells. Symbols of God's voice, the oldest, Doña María, left the foundry in 1578. The largest, Santa María de Guadalupe--a youngster at 215 years--weighs in at 13 tons. Not all the bells are rung every day, marking the hours of services or calls to prayer. And some, the punished, might not ring for years.
One of the bells, an esquila that rings with the centrifugal force of its turning, pushed on by human hands, is known as la castigada. She was punished with silence for fifty years after knocking her pusher in the head and sending his soul heavenward. It wasn't until the next jubilee year that she was allowed to ring again, though always with her scarlet cross. Perhaps being la castigada made her really seem more human, but she was certainly the bell that evoked the most tenderness from me. The tour of the cathedral's belfries is well worth it--to see the city from a bell's eye view and hear the angelus rung midday. But it was the penitent bell that made the trip unforgettable, to see that the voice of God had suffered in silence, too.
(More silence from this blog, as well, until next week. We'll be in the mountains of New Mexico, and thankful. A happy Thanksgiving to you, too!)