Today I took a wrong turn and ended up in another country.
It was supposed to be a day of reflection, rejuvenation, prayer, and writing. As leaders and healthy humans, it’s important to step away from school, the computer and the email inbox. It’s important to get some distance for inspiration and creativity. Today, I took one of those days.
I decided to start my day with a long run at the Tijuana Estuary. Here, a winding sandy trail opens up to a breathtaking panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, with San Diego to the right and Mexico to the left. Driving southbound on I-5, I found myself looking for an exit that was already in the rear view. By the time I figured it out, I had passed the last United States exit and was on my way to crossing the International Border into Mexico. At the inspection point, I pulled over and asked two federales, dressed in fatigues, if it was possible to turn around. They flatly directed me to the two-hour border wait in the Zona Rio Central.
What? This was not the plan. Instead, it felt like most other days at school. You likely get it: You drive into school with clear priorities, only to discover that there are fires to put out, unexpected assemblies, teacher absences, or parent concerns. So you pivot.
So I pivoted. Instead of starting my day in a multi-hour traffic jam I decided to head toward the coast. I did find space and time to reflect at Playas. I ran along the beach at Playas, sipped a locally brewed café americano, read some sacred scriptures, and let the ocean breeze clear my mind. I even texted my friend in Tijuana to meet up for tacos.
The adventure portion began on my early drive home. If you’ve ever tried to find the correct border crossing entrance points in Tijuana, then you know that it’s a bit like finding your way through a maze that your fifth grade substitute teacher gave you to kill time. I ended up in a medical lane, for emergency vehicles. Eight dollars cash, which was all I had in my pocket, is what it took to get a taxi cab to lead the way out of the circular streets back into town and onto the general border crossing. While it’s pretty hard to be rejuvenated in the middle lane of a traffic jam, I did my best to stay in a reflective zone. It didn’t help that peddlers consistently knocked on my passenger window, trying to sell me tostilocos, framed pictures of El Chapo, and wool Dodger blankets.
One of the things that struck me was how many children were employed in efforts to bring income into their families. I kept thinking about how these children should be in school. I kept wondering if they got to play with their friends. I kept thinking about my own children, and about the students at my school.
I kept reminding myself that these kids are our kids too. It’s true, they live 15 miles south of my house on the other side of a double iron wall. But, they have the same image of God in them. They have great minds and deserve the opportunity to grow them. They could be our next scientists, our next entrepreneurs, or our next educational leaders. Very few look beyond the car window-chicle transaction and see futures for these children. Likely, they don’t see roads to success for themselves. But it is possible.
After all, our oldest son, Ricardo, grew up in Tijuana before he came to San Diego with his family. Today, he is a scientist, businessman and leader. Ricardo holds a Master’s degree, contributed to research advancing cures to cancer, and has aspirations of starting a biotech laboratory. Most of his family still lives in Mexico. The difference for him was that he got the chance to be challenged, supported, and believed in. Idling in that mass of cars at the border, I reminded myself of the blessing I received in getting a front row seat to Ricardo’s story. I even got to play a part in it!
I wonder if any of these children, walking up and down the oil stained concrete, selling chicle and ceramic statues of the Virgin Mary through exhaust fumes, will get their shot. I wonder if they will get to attend school, have mentors, or receive praise for their writing.
I fear they will not. But I pray they will. After all, those kids are our kids too!