Sunday, December 23, 2007

Love and Loneliness

I have never been much of a romantic but I must say, as of late- love is all around. In every song I see, in every park I pass, there seems to be some sign of romance. And movies- movies kill me. I can’t watch anything which has an even somewhat romantic theme- and that’s 99% of movies. Even Transformers (car robots blowin’ crap up) had a love theme to it, and please, don’t ask how I know. It seems love in full bloom everywhere- everywhere but here.

Don't get me wrong- I love my life here. I love these kids and feel like at this moment, that’s who should receive every ounce of my energy and care. But ya know, something happened in Chile and continues on in Ecuador that is making me want to organize my life not around success anymore- but love.

I know what you might be thinking among other things (he’s gone crazy). But the answer is no- both to the craziness part, and what I think many might be thinking … I won’t find someone in Ecuador. There’s something to being alone, cursing it, and then grudgingly bearing it. Born into a generation desperate for quick fix diets and the like, it appears we rarely understand the need to experience loneliness in order to truthfully understand love. Call it what you will, judge it as you see fit- but I don’t want a quick fix. And so, the long loneliness ensues.

You wanna do service abroad? All the good stuff the brochures and recruiters say- it’s all true. But there’s another side to this that no one seems to mention. It can be lonely and it can be difficult. And ironically enough, a lot of that is what makes it worth it in the end. You have the opportunity to discover brokenness in your service that completes you. It unites you in solidarity with those you work amongst. It is that brokenness that will teach you how to embrace love.

And so I think this much is certain in the life of an international volunteer: a juxtapose of overwhelming genuine love and incredible loneliness.

I made a choice that changed my life in ways I never planned. And ya know, I don’t regret any of it, because it’s making me who I’ve always wanted to be. As Christmas looms on the horizon, it’s hard not to get a lil’ sad and feel a bit lonely. But I’m reminded of another quote I found while studying in Dublin: “Home isn’t where you’re from; it’s where they know you the best.” The past two years have changed me in such a way that I can say- I’m at home this Christmas. At home amongst the kids I have grown to love, at home with the love and loneliness that are present in my life… at home amongst myself.

I pondered whether or not to publish this reflection. It’s personal, very easily misunderstood and let’s be honest- pretty damn cheesy. But in the end, I heard lyrics from a John Mayer song “Say” that made me realize what to do. “You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much, then to never have to say what you need to say again…do it with a heart wide open and say what you need to say.”

Happy Holidays from me and the kids at The Working Boys Center!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Art of Sitting

Sitting. I realized the other day how complex it really is. I had the opportunity to visit the wonderful volunteer community of Rostro de Cristo this past weekend. It’s a community in Southern Ecuador, in a town called Duran. Coincidentally, I visited this community 2.5 years ago and it was there I realized my call to do service in Latin America.

And so going back to Duran was moving. I saw some of the same sights and met with some of the same people that moved me to move to Latin America. And in the process, I did a lot of sitting. Entering people’s houses and over the course of hours, just talking. It’s a common theme of almost any international volunteer experience. And it’s the part I struggle with most.

But this past weekend in Duran I sat like a true champ. I looked at photos of a family and volunteers I didn’t know and as they shared their story with me I shared mine with them. I soaked in sweat and gulfed down some of the best Arroz con Pollo I’ve ever had. I played dominos with a group of elderly, outcast lepers for hours on end. And in all three situations- I shared in the quiet, sometimes awkward solitude of companionship. I learned to just “be.”

In many ways, we are called less to be servants and more to be present to people. It shouldn’t excuse us from working where we are called, even needed, but rather it should permeate in our work in such a way that we never lose sight of what, or that is to say- who, we are working for.

You can only fight so much for a cause you don’t intimately know. If you want to learn about poverty, if you want to learn about love, reading Jeff Sachs poverty book isn’t enough. You have to meet the people that embody the experience. You have to embrace who they are in such a way where both their unjust suffering and their inexplicable joy infiltrate your defenses so you connect with them. And you’d want to do anything to eradicate the injustice that victimizes them.

And so, bringing this back home, I have a simple challenge this holiday season. May we all can try and see the world less through the marketing of “presents” and more through the challenge of giving all of ourselves through “presence” to those we love, and even those we don’t know. Sit with people and learn their stories. And in the process of sharing your own story, you might even learn a little more about who you really are. Happy Holiday’s Y’all.