Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Blast From the Past, A Fear For the Future

The decision to do service abroad is the result of the accumulation of several events over my life. But it was a trip to Southern Ecuador with the Alternative Spring Break program at LMU that I must credit with giving me that final push. I had just seen poverty at its ugliest the day before. I felt worthless and utterly hopeless in the face of it, and for the first time in my life, began to buy into that pessimistic view that nothing can be done to battle the poverty epidemic. And in walked Pat.

I never got her last name or fully understood exactly what she did. But what I will remember is the talk she gave to my group that day, and the way it made me feel. “Having just seen what you all have seen” she said, “you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” She concluded by telling us that, in the face of such devastation of innocent life, “we have no right to fail.” There was a certain confidence that emanated from her in the face of such dire conditions, and it was allergic. We don’t have many moments in our lives that we can point to and say “there, that was when I decided to make a life changing decision.” But this was one of those moments. There is a bracelet I received that day, a bracelet I have not once taken off in over 2.5 years in order to always remind myself why it is I needed to come back to Latin America.

Over the last year, I had tried many times to write a letter to thank her. I had always wanted to do service but was so afraid. She gave me the courage to take a leap of faith that to this day still surprises and amazes me. And when I decided to leave Chile and return to Ecuador I couldn’t help but think about that life changing moment. I couldn’t help but wonder about Pat.

The other day, at a Mass at The Working Boys Center, a good 12 hours from Duran, I saw Pat. I knew she didn’t remember me, but still, I felt I had to say something. I walked over and, avoiding any attempts at poise and tact, said “Hi. You don’t really know me. But you gave a talk to a college group one day in Duran and well, you’re the reason I’m here doing what I am doing.” I babbled a few more incoherent words, and then just said, “you probably never realized it, but your talk that day made a big difference in my life. I just want to thank you for how you inspired me and gave me the courage to be here.”

Seeing Pat made me realize just how happy I am with this decision to do post-grad service. It has made me genuine and permitted me to love and be loved like I never allowed. And so, seeing Pat also made me realize something else. Though it may be many, many months away, I’m so incredibly scared to return to the United States. I have changed so much since I left. And frankly, I don’t know if who I am here can survive the daily ritual of life in the States. The priority to do all things out of love and with love seems to get lost. My two weeks home taught me that as much as I wanted to hear everyone else’s story, not many people, save but a few really good friends, cared to hear mine. “How was it?” was the question of the day it seemed no one truly wanted an answer to. And you know, before my time down here, I was that otherwise well intentioned but not truly caring guy as well. I don’t want to become him again, and I’m so afraid when I go back to the United States I might lose the courage to stay true to what I have learned here.

And perhaps my next moral obligation as Pat might say is finding how to take who I am and what I do here and bring it back home. In a new twist on an old theme, seeing Pat 2.5 years later reminded me that, here or there, I have no right to fail.

1 comment:

Marcos Gonzales said...

Dude, you hit it right on the button. I know exactly what your thinking, and thoughts continue to cross my mind of the sort. You can always come on down to Mexico with me brotha, there's plenty of room! I am praying for you, looking forward to being able to catch up.