On Sunday, we had our first full day without rain in a long while and the priest at church reminded us to give thanks for and enjoy the sunshine, while also preparing our homes for the still much needed rain that is sure to come. He had reason to tell us to stay vigilant as there has been some severe flooding in Tiquipaya, so much so that mud is entering people’s homes. However, his phrasing gave me pause. Even when things are good, the sun is shining and there is a calm, we still need to be preparing for the rain that is also nourishing and surely will come.
As much as I love those moments of sunshine, I have realized that I am very much a child of the rain, of the desert, of Lent. For goodness sake, I do Lenten Yoga all year round with the woman saying things like, “Crack open your heart,” in a cooing voice. Going to those dark places within myself and exploring those spaces with others is very natural to me. I read that, “The desert is that uncharted terrain beyond the edges of our seemingly secure and structured world, where things begin to crack.” For me, mission has largely been desert. It has been exhausting and confusing and shattering, but also so life-giving. I’m more alive than I was a few years ago (or perhaps maybe just more aware of the life within me), more open to the ebbs and flows of my own faith journey, of life.
Whenever I go to the US, I realize how not normal my experience has been. It is not normal nor socially acceptable to drop stories about a student being raped or a kid sleeping on the streets to secure a spot for market day or a child buying their mothers alcohol for Mother’s Day. I find that sometimes I do it for the shock value, to jolt people a little bit to go beyond what they are exposed to everyday. I think perhaps I also do it to justify the extremely sensitive, teary-eyed creature I have become. It’s as if to say, “I’ve seen some intense stuff. Don’t mess with me.” But the fact of the matter is, we have all seen intense stuff, bore witness to extreme pain. We have all accompanied people as they die, left relationships, been wronged, been left completely vulnerable. Life is uncomfortable, period. I think maybe the difference between me and some of my North American millennial counterparts is that I’ve given myself permission to not be fine.
Work has been extremely busy, with my boss being on maternity leave and me helping her from time to time. Last year we had around 15 volunteers and this year we have one, which happens to be me. I am training a new street educator to visit the children on nights and weekends. We have visitors from both the US and Peru who came to the Center to learn a little more about child labor, mixed with a good dose of small talk. Some of our kids, who should now have all of the necessary paperwork to start school, are still not in school. There is too much to do and not enough time to do it. I am stressed and I am not fine.
And yet, it’s easy in this work or in any service profession to look around and to belittle your experience and see others who were dealt a much more complicated deck than you. However, honoring my experience does not take away from theirs. If nothing else, being able to enter into my own struggles and suffering makes me much more able to hold space for struggles and suffering of others. When people ask me about my mission experience, I try to explain how I have been made more human (or just more accepting of my humanity). I have learned how to give thanks both for the rain and the sunshine, Lent and Ordinary Time.