TweetI just got back from El Salvador. My body is fatigued, my mind is foggy, and my heart seems to be in a coma from all that it was exposed to.
I am tired.
The only sadness I feel comes from my regret that I didn’t have time to write. Each morning was early – a 6am rousal – and each night my mind was saturated with image and heat, too tired to process anything. I jotted down fragmented and unfinished notes and questions, torn pieces of leaf from being in the fields. But already my return to the United States brings forth a tidal wave beyond my control and I feel helpless swept up in it again. The fast pace. The next thing. Phone calls. Emails. Projects. Unreturned messages. Appointments. Questions. Demands.
All these things, pebble by pebble, put dents in my now softer soul. And that makes me sad. Trying to hold onto the peace of the mountainside of El Salvador is like trying to stand still on a roller coaster.
A seemingly impossible task.
Even the news – my favorite sites and bloggers – are different. I read what they have to say about the world and it’s so sharply negative, so divisive. Even when I’m agreeing with the overall point, the accusatory, whistle-blowing journalism reads jarring, almost spiteful.
Even as I write this, my neighbor’s lawn maintenance workers are using machinery that echoes down the street. No stillness. No peace. Not even on a Tuesday afternoon.
This was my 8th or 9th trip to Latin America in my life and it was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt. I don’t know if it was my familiarity or just not having time to be afraid that was the biggest factor, but bI realized that living unfraid is truly the only way to move forward. It helped me begin conversations and give greetings to people that I didn’t know without wondering if they would judge my horrible spanish speaking skills. Perhaps I just trusted the people more to see my sincerity and not the language barrier that helped me speak more freely, live more loosely with the people there. Whatever the reason, my heart beat softly there and my ears felt more open.
I felt alive.
And I returned here, I immediately noticed the differences again between US culture and Latin America. A TSA worker in Newark snapped at my friend for going the wrong way. No one talked to each other in line waiting to get through immigration, and everyone seemed absorbed in their cell phones. These observations deepened my introspection. And sadness.
I thought about what it means to be poor and how many of my travel mates cannot comprehend such a life of material absence. On previous trip to economically deprived countries, I usually kept quiet because my opinion differed. Of course the injustice of poverty outraged me as it always did, but the simplicity of life uplifted me. Life is not measured by the size or cleanliness of our homes, but what our minds and hearts are filled with. Poverty of healthcare, education, food, clean water, and basic housing are atrocities against the spirit, but inside that devastation reaps a rich spirituality of simplicity and unassuming existences that I find attractive. Without romanticizing the poor, they have the capability to give thanks freely and openly for what they are given without second thought. The deprivation of luxury and convenience, to us US travelers, is unbearable, but to them the coming and going of death and suffering is a part of life and somehow, in the complex equation of understanding cultural differences, I find their relationships come with more ease, more community, and more understanding than I’ve seen in my own country or city here in United States. We’re hardly “united” at all.
I’m not advocating that the poor remain in their state of suffering. I’m not advocating that we relinquish all the possessions and assets that we have to try and find a deeper sense of self and community, but there is an undeniable truth to the poor that goes unnoticed. In the blinding state of unjust severe poverty, North Americans seem hasty and eager to feel better about the situation. There’s no place to put that kind of suffering in our mental shelves. Many of us have no reference for such inequality and helplessness. Most of the people I have traveled with leave feeling “bad” and throw more toward charity and education non-profits. Acts of charity has its place and is needed.
But acts of charity are not transformative.
Neither is feeling bad.
The world – from El Salvador to the Philippines to Shaker Heights, Ohio – is full of injustice. So much so that it would be easy to abandon any thought of helping because the cause is so overwhelming. The governments are corrupt, the illusion of self-preservation is strong, and the pedagogy of scarcity pervades first world countries. The question “What am I to do?” becomes the question. Erroneously so. That question gets you nowhere.
If you’re like me, an ordinary person with heaps of privilege and many responsibilities, “to do” becomes another issue to tackle. Like another item on a “to do” list. If you examine the option of “doing” you’ll find that it truly does not get you anywhere, and only further feeds one of two things: 1) self-relief to avoid accountability or 2) self-guilt for not being able to save the world
Rather than asking “What am I to do?” the question becomes “Who am I to be?” Who you become, in response to what we have seen with our eyes, is the ultimate question of accountability. Regardless of religious or non-religious belief, education, status, ability, or citizenship, we are all accountable. Even to those we do not know by face.
If we claim to lead lives of love, how can love be reserved only for those we know? Aren’t we capable to love those we do not?
Loving those we do not know is done by who we are, who we grow to “BE” not by what we “DO.”
“I am” is the answer to the question how to go about living in this world, how to adjust our lenses to look at life, at one another. We cultivate our BEING so our actions automatically follow suit.
Be. And then, naturally, you will do.