Little Things: Pura Vida
Daily Arts’ Community Culture Editor Erika Shevcheck ponders the small things in life her bi-weekly column, “Little Things.”
I learned the true meaning of benevolence in a flea market.
As a 16-year-old American traveling in a place like Costa Rica, I didn’t know much about the culture, the way of living or its people. While there, I learned of the immense fighting the Costa Rican natives, called Ticos, had to suffer through for their independence. I learned of the consistent poverty the majority of Costa Rican communities battle every day. I had truly entered a universe unknown to me.
“¿520 años y dónde está la paz?”
Translation: “520 years and where is the peace?”
These words were spray-painted on a cement wall in the center of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
As I stopped at a flea market in the city, I looked in many of the corners and crevices of the tent. I looked at wooden jewelry boxes for my best friend and wine holders for my parents. I found homemade candles and oddly shaped purses; I did my best to bargain prices with the Ticos.
But as I tried to lower prices, I was ignorant to the reality of these people. They sold handmade items for a living –– they stood every day in the heat trying to sell some sort of material, material they re-crafted with their bare hands. It wasn’t materialistic; it wasn’t bogus or cheap. It was someone’s precious work, their creation — their child, in a sense.
Strolling through, a ring maker caught my eye. He sat at a wooden table with a burning, iron rod in one hand, wrapping and twisting metal to shape rings. There was a pre-made ring in the shape of a treble clef that laid on the table.
“¿Cuánto?” I asked the man.
He proposed a price in colones (Costa Rican currency) that was equal to about five American dollars. Before I left the tent with the newly bought ring, the man told me to wait one moment.
He held up long piece of copper and cut it with pliers. He began to wrap the copper around the hot, iron wand.
“In Costa Rica, our motto is ‘Pura Vida’ or ‘Pure Life’ in English,” he said to me in broken English. He did not look up.
When he finished, he cupped his hands around the ring. Lifting it to my eyes, he showed me a hidden P in the middle of a V. The letters represented the words “Pura” and “Vida.” Sun rays filtered through the tapestry ceiling of his shop, and the copper ring illuminated slightly. I smiled, and once again asked how much.
“No, no. No money. It’s for you,” he answered. “Enjoy your time in Costa Rica, and remember, if the V points towards you, you give yourself the energy of pure life. If you point it towards others, you give them the energy to live pure and to live happy.”
My mind raced back to “¿520 años y dónde está la paz?” I thought of the suffering the people of Costa Rica have faced. I looked at this man who wrapped metal for his life. This man had given me more than a free ring — in a sense, he gave me hope.
Pura Vida is more than a lesson; it’s a greeting, a healer and an overall way of life.
The piece of metal wrapped around my finger reminds me each day that I am grateful for my own life –– it reminds me to be fearlessly optimistic and continuously thankful. It reminds me that impoverished, kind-hearted people live in this greedy world, but are still fighting for Pura Vida.
In that instance, I placed the ring on my finger with the V facing the ring maker.
I offered the man even the smallest tip. With a bright smile, he refused. He sat on his throne of creations in his kingdom of hope.
To learn more about finding the meaning of life in wrapped metal, email Erika Shevcheck at firstname.lastname@example.org