Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Why Am I Here?" By Marcos Gonzales

Growth comes from being stretched and broken open. The only way for a seed to grow is for it to break through its shell, a flower blossoms through its bud, an insect breaks through its cocoon. There’s a breaking that needs to be done. And that breaking isn’t always painless. Its difficult and challenging and most of the times it sucks. I find myself asking, “What the hell am I doing?” a lot.

A few weeks into being on the island I volunteer on I put up a question on my wall: “Why are you here?” A lot of times, the answer only serves to further my discomfort: I don’t know. I’m broken, and my time in Micronesia has served to prove that in ways I never allowed before. But I realize that all my times of ignoring my brokenness I was only stepping away from possible areas of growth, and in stepping away I have only allowed myself to live on the surface level, avoiding the problems that lie deep within me. To be at peace is to realize that the problem is there and the answer is not and that’s okay. It is through these eyes I am trying to see this world I inhabit.

To get new eyes is a difficult challenge. And more and more I struggle with the nature of why I came out here. I feel that I am taking advantage of my presence here. I struggle trying to answer the question “why am I here?” as I get these new eyes. An exercise of my privilege? To take two years out of my life, to not have to worry about money and paying loans and to go do something for “me” to have “an experience.” Then after I have received “my experience”, I get to go home and leave the challenging unjust situations that these people who have walked with me teaching me cannot. Or is it something else?

It is hard to reconcile the privileges that we have as volunteers while being here. I often think more about the negative effects of our presence here; creating dependency on volunteers, instead of us trying to work ourselves out of a job, charity versus justice type shit. We aren’t here to do charity, but rather to live in justice and to try to find the poverty that exists within all of us and realize that we are just as broken as anyone else around. And only then, with that realization, can we begin to work together to lift ourselves from our poverty. It is at that moment the new eyes work, and it is there that we find justice, and we find it together. It’s painful, and it’s hard to take a look at the ugly parts of myself that I so often try to hide. But I struggle to find some hope and value in our presence here.

The fact is that globalization is shrinking our world more and more. Even on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that doesn’t even show up on a map unless it’s magnified a million times. Values become so distorted and money becomes the central message or goal that the youth focus all their energy towards consumerism. A term out here they use a lot is “Big Money”. They ask me, “Why would you come out here, where you can only make little money, when you could be back home, making big money?”

A tiny spec on the map, a place where once all that the people needed could be found on their land and in their sea, has changed to a land where people are chasing “big money.” And of course it is important not to write off the fact that some “things” are beneficial to life and that money in itself is not evil. But the idolization is, and I think that line gets crossed far too much. So much so that we can no longer see where the line is drawn.

And I think that if anything, it’s important to serve as very real and present response against all these twisted ideas. I find too often that there is nothing that I can say about the culture that these people live in. It is not my place to say what is right and what is wrong for these people. But I do know my culture, and I do know the evils that I see have broken down and continued to spread poverty where I come from. And if I can help people see that and in someway help prevent that same brokenness to travel to other places… then I can find importance in this experience.

“Why are you here?” That I might learn about a way of living that isn’t centered on money. Ultimately, I am here to learn more than I could ever teach. And everyday I walked into that classroom, little did my students know that I was their pupil just as much as they were mine. And together we grew closer to understanding one another, and in that understanding, kinship was born.

It’s never been easy. Growth comes from being stretched and broken open. The only way for a seed to grow is for it to break through its shell, a flower blossoms through its bud, an insect breaks through its cocoon. There’s a breaking that needs to be done. And, as painful and challenging as it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marcos doing one of the things he loves most, playing the guitar.

Marcos Gonzales graduated from Loyola Marymount in 2006. He has spent the last two years with the Jesuit Volunteers International, living and serving in Chuuk, part of the islands of Micronesia.

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