Peru, Thornton Wilder, and the Luck of Destiny

Destiny. Synchronicity. Coincidence.  Just after returning from Peru, and musing on the good luck that brought together 14 women to travel the back roads and highroads of modern and ancient Peru, I remembered Thornton Wilder’s 1927 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. 

In the novel, a Franciscan monk witnesses five people fall to their death when one of the finest bridges in all of Peru breaks and they are hurled into the gulf below.  Brother Juniper spends the next six years trying to answer the question, “Why these five people?”

Luckily, we 14 women had a pretty good idea what brought us together.  We came from diverse parts of the world (the United States, Canada, England, even Pakistan), yet we were all drawn to the weaving culture of the Quechua women, to the stories of Peru that come alive through her narratives, and to the experiences we would hopefully capture in our journals.
Qaisra Shahraz, one of the women from England (originally from Pakistan), faithfully transcribed every moment in her journal. This wasn’t surprising, since Qaisra is a critically acclaimed novelist. She had also received, just before leaving for Peru, international recognition from National Diversity Awards for Lifetime Achievement because of her interfaith commitment to equality issues and the celebration of diversity.

Before leaving Peru, Qaisra gifted Brenda (the other trip leader) and me with copies of two of her novels.   

I am about to turn the last few pages of The Holy Woman, a 559-page epic novel set in modern day Pakistan. It’s a page turner, filled with an authentic (although fictionalized) inside look at the romantic lives of Muslim women.

The characters of Qaisra’s novel, with lives driven by one destined moment after another, could easily ponder the same question that drove Wilder to write The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.” Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley speculated that this question has haunted humankind throughout history.  “Is our fate random or is it planned and controlled by some higher power?”

Our trip to Peru was in many ways also a predestined story of romance.  Peru is an enchanting country, easy to fall in love with - her landscapes magnificent, her people gracious - the women we met quietly living heroic and humble lives.

At the very end of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the narrator ponders, “…we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.  Even memory is not necessary for love.  There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Peru is both haunted and blessed by her past.  It is easy to remember this when walking on ancient cobblestone streets, your fingertips tracing the lines of ancient Incan walls.  It is also easy, when walking side by side with women who have their own stories to tell, who also lead quietly heroic lives, that love truly is the bridge. 

But the most memorable thing that we shared?  The smiles - the simple, spontaneous smiles that transcend all boundaries, reminding us that when lives are destined to meet, it is a very lucky thing. 

To get on the Wait List for more information about the next Weaving Words & Women retreat (April 2018), please contact me.


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