I’m in the Mexican jungle, in a sunken cavity that feels safe from the creatures of the night. Lining the cavity’s walls, 40 or so candles flicker in the midnight air. At the base of the wall, twenty of us encircle an unlit fire pit. We await instructions from the shamanness.
Her son cradling her arm, she stands. Everyone stands.
In front of the first in the circle, the son helps her to her knees. She palms his bare feet, and recites a prayer in Spanish. Then... she kisses the tops of his jungle-dusted feet. He flinches.
When she stands, she crumples up her lace dress exposing her bare feet. A moment of contemplation and the man kneels. Afterwards, the shamanness invites all to join.
Heads dart everywhere, everyone wondering the same thing, albeit it in an orchestra of languages. Does she mean we kiss each other’s feet?
One hero bends down to the ground and blesses a pair of feet.
Quickly I swivel to my girlfriend. She prays and kisses, and I likewise. Kissing her feet, okay. Speaking to them, I feel uneasy and silly.
Partners swap places. My palms sweat, as I realize, she means we kiss everyone’s feet.
After my eighth pair of feet, I relaxed as the exchanges normalized. One lady prayed over my feet for two minutes straight. One man left his dusty boots on. Another didn’t even participate. A woman was eager to kiss my feet, multiple times she kissed my feet. Another man was awkward and nervous but gentle, held my feet dearly, like holding a baby.
Oh and this was during a pandemic.
That night, I pressed my lips against 20 pairs of feet, against the grime and the hair and potentially a vicious virus. I didn’t know anyone’s name, excluding my girlfriend. But as I gazed back over the circle, I knew each in a way that is uniquely them.
I got a peak behind the names into the person.
Thirty minutes later, the shamaness approached me, she said hi. And I lingered a moment longer than what was comfortable. A moment longer than what was expected. Because I too wanted to peak behind her name.