Connections and Community Count

Let me back up a bit and talk about how I came to be in Guatemala in the first place.

I am a people person, a connector, a collector of friends.  I take keeping in touch seriously, as my GPA my first year of college reflects.  It turns out that spending countless hours in the library sending emails is not exactly the same thing as spending countless hours in the library studying.  I, unfortunately, did not learn a tremendous amount by carrying my books back and forth to the library and sitting in the computer lab.  Educational osmosis, apparently, is not a thing.  Ah, life lessons.  But I digress…

The point of my connector story is that I traveled to Guatemala with a friend I met on a semester abroad program during college.  We have kept in touch for over twenty years, and though we hadn’t seen each other in seven years I texted her out of the blue one quiet weekend day this fall and mentioned that “I was trying to get ideas about where I can put my efforts to save the world and researching what others were up to”.  Her response, to paraphrase, was to check out the Maia Impact School program in Guatemala and consider joining her for a trip she was organizing to attend the inauguration of the new Colegio Impacto school building at the end of October.  The rest is history.

But it wasn’t as easy as an idea and an action.  There was a heck of a lot of soul-searching and then logisticating to get me on the plane.  The soul-searching was primarily around leaving my family.  I had never really done that before!  I love to travel, but I hadn’t traveled solo in over a decade and in fact hadn’t left my kids for more than two nights ever.  Life got busy and complicated and for a long time I wasn’t in any condition physically or emotionally to go anywhere.  I didn’t have time to plan a trip, let alone go on one, so it just wasn’t part of my reality for a while.

But I’ve been around long enough to know that life is short and I’ve faced enough adversity to know that it’s also unpredictable.  I take the phrase “seize the day” to heart.  And, honestly, I was desperate to go on this trip, but also terrified of leaving and rocking the boat.  I am a worrier and a thinker, and now that I have little people and a husband counting on me, I kept hearing these messages in my mind that “life is good, it isn’t worth the risk”.

And then my village stepped in.  The women in my community not only told me that I should go, but that I NEEDED to.  One friend explained how important it was that my children see me as a person, with my own interests and passions.  Two others gave me a crash course in Spanish.  And all of them offered before and after school childcare coverage to make it possible, while emphasizing that my husband and children would be okay, and pointing out that since I would be leaving on October 31 they could survive (probably quite happily) on Halloween candy if absolutely necessary.

So I booked my flight and visited the local hospital’s travel clinic (because even though Guatemala is fairly innocuous as developing countries go, I need to be extra thoughtful about travel with my medical condition) and before I knew it I was leaving for the airport.  That’s when my flee instinct really kicked in.  In the predawn hours, with my ride waiting outside, I insisted to my husband that I didn’t actually have to go, that just dreaming of the trip was enough.  He reassured me that I’d feel better by the time I got on the plane and that they’d be fine.  And so I went.  And, he was right, I was okay by the time I arrived at the airport.  And, wow, how luxurious to be alone, to read a book, to watch a movie, to think, to sleep…all uninterrupted!

Before I knew it, I was touching down in Guatemala City (check out my Arriving in Guatemala post).  Within Guatemala I traveled to Antigua, Sololá, Panajachel, San Juan La Laguna, and Santa Catarina.  I traveled with a group of women who were immediately like family, all kindred spirits, all seasoned travelers, and all strong, smart, kind, passionate women.  They each brought different strengths to the group; different insights when we would talk about the problems in Guatemala, in our own country, in our own lives; different interests and pasts; and different dreams and hopes.  But we were connected in this moment in time, in this spectacular place, at an incredibly powerful moment for the organization and the girls we were there supporting.  Through this trip I connected with new friends; I reconnected with friends from my past; and I reconnected with myself, my passions, and what stirs my soul.  I couldn’t have done that without taking a chance and taking this trip.  I couldn’t have done that without the support of my family and my community.

While traveling I recommended Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” Ted talk to one of my fellow travelers.  Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.  Whatever my co-traveler and I had been talking about, it seemed relevant.  Needless to say, I hadn’t actually watched it in ages and didn’t have enough battery power or cell service on my phone while I was traveling to re-view it myself.  It’s been an open weblink on my Iphone for a couple weeks now, but I finally got to watch the first ten minutes of it again this past weekend.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I jotted down the notes.  In her shame research, Brene found that:

[The one difference, the one variable, between people who have a sense of worthiness, who have a strong sense of love and belonging, versus those who struggle for it and who always wonder if they are good enough, is that they believe they are worthy of it.]  “The one thing that keeps us out of connection is a fear that we are not worthy of connection…what these people had in common was a sense of courage.  Courage, the original definition…was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.  These folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.  They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.  And the last part is that they had connection.  And this is the hard part – as a result of authenticity.  They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.  You have to do that – absolutely – for connection.”

I take from this and my own life experience three main things:

1.  Always be true to (imperfect) you.

2.  You can’t practice compassion with other people without being compassionate with yourself sounds an awful lot like you can’t take care of other people if you don’t take care of yourself (oxygen mask people!).

And, 3. Meaningful connection with other people is incredibly important.

Oxygen.  Compassion.  Authenticity.  Connection.

Hope.

2 thoughts on “Connections and Community Count

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