Greetings from the Summer Trip. Emily and Diana are two of our traveling teachers and this has been their experience thus far. Stay tuned for pictures:
“Yeah, because, you know, YOLO”
Sitting on the plane about to leave Seatac airport last Wednesday morning I was listening in to the conversation of my two GV participant seatmates. One had been a student of mine in Spanish class at Nathan Hale the past year and the other was a Junior Leader, a participant returning in her second year to take advantage of a new leadership opportunity. As a young teacher, I usually feel pretty competent keeping up with the slang of my students, but now they had me confused.
“Yolo…?” I looked at them, waiting for an explanation.
“Yolo – you only live once!”
“Ahh, got it.”
The term was new to me, but the idea, of course, was not. “Life is short”, “Carpe diem”, certainly we’re all familiar with the idea of making the most out of life, but it’s something that I, and I think many others, still struggle with seizing, putting into practice, feeling that we are really able to live. During the past week in Guatemala, YOLO has proven to be a theme. It’s been taken to a new level for me, however, and I’ve seen the same thing happening in the student participants as well. If you only live once, we are realizing, then each moment takes on a new, grand significance. I have found myself, and the students around me, slowly feeling ourselves overcome by the grandness of each and every moment we live here, overwhelmed by the importance of giving our all, our best, our absolute presence to each minute that passes.
Typical mornings in Guatemala consist of splitting into three separate groups for a few hours of community service work alongside Guatemalan teens. One group works on reforesting a nearby area, one on the construction of a school close to the reforestation site, and the last, which I am a part of, works in a “hospital” in the center of the city of Antigua. While referred to as the “hospital” by GV participants, this institution is really a permanent home to approximately two hundred Guatemalans, children, adults, and elders, with mental and physical disabilities whose families cannot care for them. The grand majority are in wheelchairs and most cannot carry on a conversation. Many do not speak at all. Most are never visited by family or friends. Our work there is simply to spend time with these people. Time. Moments. On our first day in the hospital, as I sat holding the hand of an old woman who could not respond to my question of “¿Cómo se llama usted?” but slowly lifted her head to look into my eyes and smile, I was struck by the power of that small moment. Some days as we return from our snack break for the second part of our morning in the hospital, I’ve caught myself thinking “Oh, only 45 minutes left – how is that enough to make an impact? We need hours, days, weeks, months!” But without fail, I am reminded again and again of the enormity of the briefest of moments. I have seen heads slowly shifted, with great effort, to make eye contact. I have watched lips that seem to have spent years pursed into a frown breaking into an unexpected smile. I have heard raucous, joyful laughs exploding from the mouths of people who cannot speak and whose eyes seemed empty at first approach. I am continually overwhelmed by the power of a few minutes, even a few precious seconds.
I know the student participants are experiencing this same shift towards a more present, conscious experience of the moments in their life. Last night we had our first whole group reflection. Sitting in a “GV circle” (a powerful ring of interconnectedness arranged so that everyone can see the eyes of every other person in the circle) we shared what had most struck our hearts in our time so far in Guatemala. Over and over again, I heard students speak of wanting to give more of themselves in every moment of their work, of becoming aware that the root of happiness lies in simple moments spent with people they care about, and of feeling their worldview and attitude toward life permanently shifted. They are changing, they recognize that change, and they want to bring it back to the United States with them.
We all know life is precious, but through the work we’ve done in Guatemala, be it physically demanding or heart wrenchingly emotional, we’ve been given the opportunity to internalize the incredible power of each moment we live. We will return to Seattle with a deeper understanding of what it means to be present, an enormous gift, because, you know…YOLO.
Last night as I lay on my bed reflecting on the day, I could not believe a week had passed since arriving to Guatemala for the Global Visionaries summer 2012 trip. So much had happened in just that week. A week ago from today I felt jet lagged, irritable and I’ll admit that being surrounded by 40 teenagers all day every day with a jam packed activity schedule of activities sounded less than awesome at the moment.
I’m a Spanish teacher at Garfield high school and to anyone who teaches they can empathize with how hectic and stressful the end of the year is. I frantically tried to wrap my head around the experience that was about to come but found myself feeling anxious and unsure if this was really the best way to spend my time off, after all I had just come from devoting my time and energy for the last nine months to 150 students.
I chose to be on the reforestation team because I looked forward to the physical challenge and being out in nature. And let me say, the first day was HARD. I didn’t take into account how much the altitude would affect me, as well as just how physical the labor would be. We “gringos” paired up with the “chapines” or “Guatemaltecos” to learn about the work we would be accomplishing. After hiking up a steep hill we had to walk another 20 minutes through the lush vegetation carrying machetes, water jugs and a box with snacks for our group. I was shocked at how weak I felt. After all, I go to the gym three times a week and practice Bikram yoga once a week. I lead an “active” lifestyle by American standards. I was in awe at my new chapin friend Mich and how what took me 5 minutes to cut down, be completed in just three swings with the machete. And while I needed to take constant breaks for water and catching my breath, the chapines worked for three hours straight without any breaks.
After a few days of working closely with the chapines and feeling more confident with the tools, I felt powerful up on the hill. Looking over at all the weeds and invasive plants we cleared in just a few days is one of the most accomplishing things I have ever felt. Knowing that we are helping the farmers and working side by side with the chapines of the area is both incredibly satisfying and humbling.
But the most incredible aspect of this experience is seeing how hard every single person in our group works. Chapines and students alike are all exhausted and sore from the previous days work, but no one complains. This really helped me to get out of my self-involved funk and realize that what we are accomplishing is much bigger than me and my problems and has provided me a much needed perspective. Being surrounded by such positivity, beauty and peace has truly been therapeutic lesson I will never forget. Gracias grupo reforestacion, I am so grateful for you!