Dilemmas have their day in December. Another slice of pie or another size of jeans? A mediocre gift or heart-felt good wishes? Clay pot piñata or rock-hard paper mâché? As if the existential burden of ceaseless basic decision were not enough. It really isn't enough, because this kind of choice can give us more power, more guilt, more gratification, more gastronomic delight. And heightened anxiety, trivial as it may ultimately be, sure does a bang-up job of making us feel more alive. What sums up December more than intensity of life, in awe, criticism, flavor and nascent hopes? Gifts are opened, a year comes to a close. Baby Jesus dolls are lifted out of their February cribs, and salt cod recipes are guarded once again in the kitchen. Looking inward and then trying to live it out.
While my brother was here with us, an unexpected dilemma arose, testing more than just will in the face of Christmas dinner's spread. We went to Tenayuca, the larger if less exquisite of Tlalnepantla's two excavated pyramids, and slowly walked our way around the serpent-lined base, eyes open to the remnants of colored paint and the ragged, map-like traces of stone-smoothing stucco. It was an archaeological Christmas gift of sorts, the unwrapping having already been done.
Yet it was hard to imagine life there, stone steps and altar bases leaving too much space in between sight and understanding. And then we came across a considerable pile of disintegrating sugar bags, the open seams revealing its terra cotta contents: thousands of ceramic shards, numbered by meticulous archaeologist hands, and left in a corner to dilemma us nearly out of our minds. Because when plumed-serpent worship eludes our grasp of the human scope, we still understand dishes, and the fragile handles of an old pot. Their era came to an end, but these small windows into a world had been brought to the surface again, and then discarded, gifts with no place of their own.
It was so tempting to take one, to reach out and pocket the work of a Chichimecan hand. They'd been left to the elements, further crushing each other under their own weight, and the weight of the dilemma bore itself down hard. Wouldn't a little pilfering be doing an actual favor? Is not a pot shard's place of honor on a shelf more noble than a neglected, moldering pile? Wouldn't having a small piece of history at home make our daily lives, somehow, better? If the ground beneath this whole swath of the city is one enormous, unexcavated site, what would really be lost to research if, with a sliver in our pockets, we had a large slice of wonder in personal gain? Wouldn't the possession of past, mysterious life make us feel, as we like, more alive?
In the end, we couldn't do it. We turned and left the dilemma and the fragments' siren singing behind. The fellow on duty said the shards, after much puzzle-piecing, weren't found to be parts of any recoverable whole, and plans to re-bury them near the pyramid were all he'd been told. They'd be put away again like Christmas recipes, waiting for a different day or circumstance to be brought out at another time. They, like the artifacts found daily across this historically wealthy country, will become someone else's dilemma, well past every December, as long as archaeology exists. I'll be thinking of them, glad to settle back in to much simpler choices, involving things like piñatas and their own brittle pots of clay.