We have one last weekend to spend in Guatemala, and then we’ll start making our way back home. Before we know it, we’ll be back in our daily routine, hanging out with the friends we miss, eating foods that we are more accustomed to, walking our dogs down familiar streets, and sleeping in our own bed. Of course, we have mixed feelings about returning. One part of us wants to stay on vacation, while the other part longs for the familiar.
The hardest part for me is to return a changed man, and then to stay a changed man. What good is it to be touched in the heart, and even to extend a hand to help, only to return to the familiar and be the same person I was when I left?
On one of our last mornings in Antigua, we took the chicken bus to Santa Maria de Jesús, a small farming community at the base of Volcán de Agua. While sitting on a bench in parque central, an elderly woman “walked” toward us. I put the word “walked” in quotes because the woman had a deformed foot and could barely walk. To use her deformed foot she had to twist her leg up to plant her toes on the pavement, and then gingerly step forward to place her other bare foot on the pavement, and then back again she would contort her leg to plant the deformed foot. She slowly, painfully slowly, approached us. I have a strong hunch that she broke her foot or ankle one day, and since she is extremely poor, she could not afford to have the foot set properly for healing. God knows how long it has been that way, and I expect it will be that way for the rest of her life. In an instant my heart became heavy with sadness for her. She stopped in front of us and said a few things in a language I did not recognize, undoubtedly her native indigenous language. I reached in my front pocket and gave her the 3 quetzals I had stuffed in there, and then she smiled broadly even though her smile contained only one tooth. And then she continued on her way. That type of experience should change me for life, but my fear is that I will return to Salt Lake City and after only a few weeks I will return to the man I was.
In contrast to my experience with the elderly crippled lady, that afternoon I went for a walk in an exclusive gated community being built not far from our homestay. Though many homes are still under construction, several people are already living there. A couple approached me walking on the sidewalk, and hearing them speak English, I introduced myself. I learned that they live in Washington State, and also own a home in Antigua (and who knows where else). I also learned that the prices for homes in this gated community in Antigua start at $500,000. Now I hate to be judgmental, and I pray that I don’t talk bad about someone and be completely wrong, but the people I met on the sidewalk seemed shallow and plastic to me. He was about 60 years old, and was fit and casually well-dressed. She seemed to be about 50 years old, looked like a walking Barbie, and had a face full of make-up, a wooden smile, and what I expect were plastic boobs. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if they were dead or alive … the whole encounter seemed stiff and cold and lifeless to me. Why is it that some people have so much, and others have so little? And why do the filthy rich seem so fake and dead, whereas the filthy poor seem so real and alive?
So … spiritually speaking … I don’t yet know how I am going to get from Guatemala to Utah. I don’t yet know how I can return a changed man, return a better man. Perhaps there is something I can do now while I am still here to prepare myself for a successful transition, I just don’t know. Maybe the first few days on American soil are the most critical, maybe during those first few days I need to sit myself down and beat into my head, “You are not the center of the universe!” It could be that it will require daily effort for the rest of my life to be the type of person that gives more to others than I receive. Or, it might just be that there is no great secret, and that I (and we) should simply embrace each day as it comes, and live in such a way as to please God and not to displease God. There’s no mistaking the times that we displease God, and even if you are reading these words and are a devout atheist, there’s no mistaking the times that you screw up and hurt yourself or someone else. Each of us knows right from wrong at the core of our being … and each of us feels better at the core of our being about doing what is right than doing what is wrong. Moreover, LOVE is the universal principal that applies to all people, everywhere, all the time – LOVE is what we all want, and we all feel more alive when we are extending love. So I still don’t know how I am going to get from Guatemala to Utah, but I do believe that there is a way to do it well.
FINAL THOUGHTS – We arrived safely in Salt Lake City Tuesday night, and yesterday was something of a blur as we spent the day retrieving postal mail, starting up again the services we had suspended, loving on our dogs, and settling back into our daily routine. As I write these words it is early Thursday morning, about 3:30 AM. I woke up this morning with that “fire in my bones,” the feeling that I just need to start writing regardless of what time or day it is, regardless of how the rest of my day is impacted. Thus, this is the last email update I will send to the family and friends on my distribution list regarding our trip to Guatemala. However, if you are so inclined, you can continue to follow my blog at weluvutah.blogspot.com.
So … how best can I conclude this series of updates? What is a good way to sum it all up? Today is a new day. In reality, it is the only day I have because there is no guarantee that tomorrow will come. My life is really starting to feel like a vapor, my life seems to be evaporating before my very eyes. Everything has changed, and yet everything feels the same. Out of gratitude to God for the opportunity to travel to Guatemala, should I rush out there today and try to make the world a better place all at once? Should I focus on me, on my family, on my immediate circle, on taking care of the daily affairs of life? Or maybe it would be better to approach today peacefully, reflectively, lovingly, trying not to control anything or anyone because I know that God is in total control. I guess I still don’t know how to get from Guatemala to Utah, but that’s okay … One knows.