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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

The Tampico man

I could not have been older than 13 at the time yet, to this day, beyond seven years afar, I cannot forget the Tampico man. 

My family and I were bound for the golden Mexican beach of Tampico. On a gentle September evening, the temperature would begin to subside in a matter of weeks — we would be fools not to ensure a brief visit to the waves. As we walked, free and boundless water to the right of us and monotone, mindless traffic to the left, I spotted him. 

I halted my stride. My family continued without a glance back, leaving me to imprint the memory. 

He sat alone on a bench. The beams of the sun hit him face-front, yet he welcomed them with an open set of saggy arms and legs. Shirtless, his blemished skin proudly displayed a belly that had been victim of one too many beers. His receding hairline exposed his years, an effect worsened by a handful of rebellious gray streaks that dug into his skull. His pants were stained and torn with use and were accompanied by shoes of similar condition. 

He stared off into the horizon. Nothing, nothing at all, he did. 

There was no music to listen to, no device in hand to entertain himself, no person to distract him away from his thoughts and the world before him. His gaze was too acute and movements too subtle and distinct for him to be intoxicated. If anything, he was painstakingly aware yet void of the agony that tends to ensue. Hours later, when my family began to embark homeward, we would find him in that exact same position. Not one thing had changed. One would think he was to be bored out of his mind. 

Still, for some indescribable yet unwavering reason, I could not shake the feeling that this man was immeasurably happy. I knew nothing about his life or the condition regarding his frame of mind, but joy radiated unabashedly. It was in the way his eyes shone, the motion his head imitated of his swinging feet, tap-tapping away at the beat of his internal song. His crooked, yellow teeth peeked through his lips to give the slightest of smiles — a genuine one. The kind you use not to smile at others but at yourself. Without doing one thing, he was pleased. 

There was wisdom in that. A wisdom that I may never achieve. 

Throughout my life, I have repeatedly been taught the lesson that to do nothing is, above all else, an ultimate waste of time. A failure. Every day shall be a stepping stone for the next, a perpetual search for the sharpening of skills or acquiring experience to display at a later time. A never-ending struggle to achieve something because to achieve nothing is the worst that could happen to you. 

Yet, is it? I wonder, how come we have turned time itself into a contest? Why is it that the phrase “time is money” has been distorted from an appreciation of time to a glorification of mind-numbing, maximized productivity? 

Since we are young, we must commit because if we do not, someone else will. Someone else will claim your spot in your dream school or your perfect job. All action taken in a different direction is reduced to nothing but foolish distraction. 

We all play these games and climb these ladders for what? Money? Fame? Most of us can rationalize a secondary or tertiary goal so as to justify it, yet more often than not, it boils down to mere bloviating. 

We have forgotten that there is no shame in the lack of achievement. We certainly would enjoy its presence, but if alas, it is not there … is that truly immoral? Are you bad for stopping the climb, taking a seat where you are and being okay with it? Is this truly a “wasted opportunity” as opposed to those who never stop the climb, who die halfway through their next step before even once appreciating how high they have come? 

I am not arguing for a hedonistic approach to life whatsoever that, too, misses the point of the human experience. Nor am I saying one should renounce their life goals. I simply feel as if we routinely tense ourselves and sharpen our every instinct toward a direction that was never supposed to be. The society we have constructed is not inherent to you. You cannot be surmised in one sheet of paper, and you cannot be contained to a pristine corporate job. You are so much more.

And what is this “more”? I absolutely believe in it, I can feel it in every conversation, in every touch, yet in the end, I am not sure I can say. Nevertheless, if anyone has an idea, I think it would be the Tampico Man. 

In that perfect memory, forever frozen in time, it seemed as if he did not care whether he was the master of his skill or the greatest earner of his industry. He minded not what others thought of him or whether he had achieved his societal maximum. He did not live in the biggest house in the greatest city or have the highest income or the best body for everyone to crave. He was simply glad to exist, and that was enough. 

I feel like the Tampico Man was more human in that one moment than I have been in longer than I can remember.

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.