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there’s that word again, כבוד


I’m sitting here in San José International Airport with a Welch’s-Smirnoff in my hand (that’s a thing!), a friend I never expected to make, and my heart heavy from the weight of having to leave this incredible country.  My boarding pass is laying on the table in front of me and I can’t help but keep glancing at it – remember, first to Florida at 1:07, then to Chicago by 10:23 – and dreaming about what it would be like to live somewhere like this forever.

I’m sitting here in the airport about to head, literally, thousands of feet up above the earth, but I feel like if they knew how much I weighed right now they wouldn’t let me on the plane.

We will be taking off in just a couple hours.

Today was my last day in Costa Rica and it was something heavy.

I got some really nice feedback on a post I wrote last week where I talked about a sense of heaviness leaving my chest after going to confession.

My inspiration for it came from a book I’m currently reading that took some time exploring what day-to-day life must have been like in biblical times.

I often find myself mentally and spiritually captured by the vision the ancient Hebrews cast for the weight of the God who is at work in the world today.  There’s this one term a friend taught me recently (and the book talks about it as well) that the tribal Jews used to use to talk about soulfully heavy things.  The word is כבוד and it could perhaps be transliterated as “kaved” or “kavod.”

כבוד appears throughout the Hebrew scriptures, certainly talking about God and talking about people, but it was originally used as a measuring term.

You can picture it.  You’re a 1st-century Jew and you go to the market to buy some manna or vino or sacrificial goat or whatever and you walk up to haggle with the gypsy for a cup of grain and he tosses it on the scale and tells you the kavod of the stuff you want to buy is so-and-so much and you give him however much money you have in return.

But over time, kavod experienced an evolution.  It came to have another meaning, one of honor and depth, of weight, meaning, significance.

Over time, כבוד in the Bible came to talk about something of respect and great and authentic substance.


I’m finishing this post on the plane now, literally thousands of feet above the earth, but I’ll have to publish it when I land because the hell if I’m paying $8.99 for forty minutes of Wi-Fi.  But meanwhile, I can’t seem to stop poring through the memories of my last day here.

My host mom took me to the fería this morning and we were able to buy all sorts of fruits and vegetables for our last dinner together.  I deeply enjoyed watching her haggle with the vendors as they sat everything from pimento to bell peppers to mangitos to piña on their tables and their little scales and eked out just enough of their product for what little money we had.  Although I personally didn’t leave with any produce, I was able to cheaply procure copies of about 45 clearly-pirated films (hello, Great Gatsby!) and a good crop of pictures from the day.

It was a heck of a lot of fun.

We went home afterwards and planted some of the vegetable seeds in our garden and cooked up some of the others for dinner.

Today was my last day in Costa Rica, and it was something earthy and weighty and piratey and green.


Now, I’ve been meaning to write about this next part for what seems like weeks.

Yesterday, on my second to last day here, three different people –  quite unaware of each others’ existence – cried their eyes out to me.  One was my professor at the University here, another, a friend I had met at Bar el Chavo just the night before, the third, I can’t actually remember but I think it might have been my host mother.

In all three cases, we were having quite a normal conversation until the person said something of real heaviness, depth, weight, significance, and then the conversation immediately shred its superficiality and shifted for the real.

The scales of indifference fell from my eyes as each of these people chose to confide in me things like abuse or depression or disappointment or heartbreak and the conversation switched from the trivial to algo serio.

It struck me then that כבוד isn’t just about fruits or vegetables and sacrificial goats, but also articulates something profoundly central to the human experience – that at any moment we can forsake the surface level to dive down deep and pull something brimming with actual humanity and realness and depth out from within ourselves.

I have taken many people in my life (both those abroad and at home) for granted.  I have assumed everybody is okay, with no כבוד, no human weight.  I have forgotten that we are never just teachers, never just students – that we’re always more than just friends, atheists, social workers, heretics, and fools; that each of us is holy and profane, perfect and broken – boasting immense superficiality and immeasurable depths.

I think that if we’re honest with ourselves (as my friends were yesterday) we’ll admit that although we are trying to swim, sometimes it feels like we’re sinking (drowning, really) in the darkest depths of our being.  If we’re being honest, we will admit that we navigate some days weighed down and absolutely inches from tears.

For me, two days ago, today, tomorrow, and the day after that is always going to be one of those days.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Pam #

    My Darling Ryan,
    As you are learning on your journey, life is light and dark all at once. Humanity or divine. Each moment we have the opportunity to choose where we our souls to live: in our humanity of character defects and flaws or in our divine and light.
    Continue to be an observer of life with your ears and heart wide open.
    It’s a fantastical trip…even in the heaviness of the dark. We are meant to WALK through our valleys of the shadows of the dark…not pitch a tent.
    Love always,

    June 14, 2013

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