I think a lot about stories. I read a lot. I watch a lot of movies. I took a storytelling class for my major last year.
My friend John, a YAV alum (YAVA, as we affectionately call them), told me maybe my story is about being a stranger and experiencing hospitality. "Bridging cultural barriers," he said. But I haven't really had that much trouble with cultural barriers.
Maybe my story is just that people are just people. Maybe my story is that we are all just intrinsically human.
I've learned that I know so very little. Everyone you meet has something to teach you.
…A year ago, I was receiving floods of encouragement and prayers from friends and family telling me that they were so proud of me. They admired my courage. The people of the Philippines and the children I was going to work with would be so blessed to have me. I was doing such a good thing.
These words came from a genuine place, and I truly appreciate and appreciated them. But they also made the assumption that a) I was going to be successful at what I (thought I) came here to do and b) that I had anything of validity to offer.
The more I spent time volunteering here in the Philippines, the more I realized this wasn't true. The last time I wrote about this, several people said "oh but you do have so much to offer!" Perhaps this is true, but not in the way it was intended.
I think what I've learned more than anything is that what I can offer people is my true and honest self. For the last few months, I've been focusing on building relationships with people in the Dumaguete community. All I have been doing is making friends. I've been in the business of people, you could say. An extrovert's dream come true, to be honest.
My friend Davey told me that the day we met, he was in awe of how everyone knew who I was and that I greeted everyone with a smile and a hug and made them feel welcome. I was so touched, because that is exactly what I have been trying to do.
I have always loved people, but this practice is new to me. I have begun to view every person I meet as a learning opportunity. Humans all have such vastly different experiences from one another. But when you sit down with someone you think is different from you, you learn from their experiences. You also (generally) figure out that you have more in common than you'd have thought.
I've been thinking a lot about the six degrees of separation theory. Basically, it implies that everything and everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction. In the world of social media, we're probably getting closer to four or so degrees of separation, but I digress. When I was in the States, I'd have thought I was a million steps away from knowing a "street kid" in the Philippines. Here, I see them every day.
THAT got me to thinking about how #blessed (har har) I am to have been born into a loving, hardworking, middle-ish class family in the States. I have been awarded so many opportunities because of this privilege. I am here in this beautiful country because of that privilege. But coming face to face with very different realities from my own has humbled me.
It has taught me most of all to never pity "poor" people. Poor is a state of mind, as far as I'm concerned. "Some people are so poor, all they have is money."-Patrick Meagher... While I may have thought I would, I did not come to the Philippines and "save" any poor children. I did not pull a Katie Davis and fall in love with dozens of orphans and adopt them all and love them as my own. I didn't live in a tiny village and squatty potty for a year.
…but I DID fall in love with the people of the Philippines. I did find myself here. I did learn that I am better than absolutely zero people on earth. I did learn that "in the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." (Buddha)
I did learn that every single person on earth has value. Beauty. Love. They may be broken. They may be dirty. But like I've said before, we are all just a product of our raisin'. We are all victims of circumstance. I am no more and no less human than the little girl who sells me peanuts at escaño. Her name is Charmain. She's awesome. We are all human.
I've learned that life is too short to not say true things. I've learned that being apart from your loved ones doesn't make you love them any less, it just means you have to show your love differently. I've learned that any day could be the day you meet someone important, so get out of bed and go do something!
I've learned that saying "yes" is sometimes really really hard, but always worth it. I've learned that doing the thing that makes you the most uncomfortable is often the most beneficial. I've learned that some of the best friendships come from the most unexpected places. I've learned to never ever judge a book by it's cover. Ever.
There are so many stories I want to tell when I get back to the States. But I also have to think about the story I'm leaving here in Dumaguete. What will be remembered of me?
My friend Kris told me the other day that he had no idea I was a missionary and that I was the "coolest %$@*ing missionary EVER!" I have to admit, that's one of my favorite sentences ever. I've written before about my negative experiences with the church, and I try really really hard to represent myself accurately within all contexts.
I truly believe, deep in my heart of hearts, that Jesus would (and does) totally love my friends. All of 'em. The atheists, the stoners, the tattooed, the hippies, the church goers, the Jesus-followers that don't go to church, the cynics, the assholes. Even me- and I'm at least half of that list! ;)
What I meant earlier when I said that what I can offer people is my true and honest self is exactly that. I think we all know I'm not your typical missionary. 8 piercings, a tattoo, liberal, liberated, El Amigo's number one customer, the reason you should buy stock in Red Horse, I could go on for days… But that's the way I want it. I have never been, nor do I ever aspire to be, typical.
I'm a lover. I really am. I do my best to see the beauty in everyone, even the ones that make you squint really really really hard. I hope that's what my friends here remember of me. I hope you remember that I am trying REALLY hard to speak Bisaya and that's because I want you to be your true and honest self too. I hope you remember how deeply, deeply happy you made me. I hope you remember how full my heart was just to be in Dumaguete.
I hope you remember that I am unapologetically and unequivocally myself. I hope you remember that I want you to be too. I hope you remember how much I appreciate your love and acceptance of me. You have truly helped me find myself, and I will never ever forget it. I miss you already.
Mubalik ra ko. I promise.
|This is the hardest part. </3|