Shaking Foundations

I've been thinking a lot lately.

I've been thinking about how one moment can change our lives forever.

One moment changed the lives of thousands in Japan. Isn't it sort of sad that it takes natural disasters like an earthquake/tsunami to help me realize the importance of not only my life, but of everyone and everything that I have?

This train of thought lead me to another one: It's in times like these that I realize worldly possessions aren't that important. My friend Tori wrote a wonderful post about perspective, and about being grateful for what we have. It reminded me of a perspective that I use to have on life. Read her post by clicking here.

I've had some absolutely amazing opportunities to serve others. As I watch the videos, and view the pictures of the destruction in Japan, it reminds me of a trip I took to Peru. This trip completely changed my perspective on life. I want to share the story with you, in hopes that it will help you to understand two things that I've come to know:

First, that worldly possessions might make us comfortable, and they might provide us temporary happiness. But they don't bring true joy.

And second, that every person on this earth can and does make a difference in the lives of those around them. It is up to us to choose whether we make a difference for good or bad. Simply serving our families and friends makes us better people. 

So, here's the story:

While I was growing up, particularly during high school, I felt like there was something missing from my life. I had a very comfortable life. My father had a good job, I was never worried about having food to eat, clothes to wear, or a place to sleep. We went on family vacations every summer to exciting places. Yet this nagging feeling always seemed to be present, deep down inside, telling me there was something more to life. I could never put my finger on what it was.

Mariesa, one of my best friends of all time, took me to Peru when I was 15 years old. While we were there, we fell in love with the country and the people. The poverty that I saw there had a lasting influence on the way I looked at life, it changed my whole mindset. I still remember the taxi ride from the airport to the place we were staying that first night. The sun was setting behind a hill, silhouetting it against the bright orange sky. I couldn't take my eyes off the mesmerizing sight. My focus shifted to the dark hill and as I looked closer, I saw little squares and rectangles and small movements.

It was like looking at one of those books, where if you stare at the page long enough, your eyes will adjust and you see a picture pop out of the page. Usually it's a pleasant picture of an animal or a castle, but what I saw on that hill was not pleasant. I realized that what I was looking at were slums, hundreds, maybe thousands of little makeshift homes. I'd never seen anything like it, and as I sat staring out the window in awe, I wondered how people could live like that. How could they be happy with no running water, no electricity, and houses made of tin and cardboard?

I learned something that trip that stayed with me for a while. But once I got back to the USA, life went back to normal, and I began to forget to appreciate the many things I had. Selfishness crept back into my life.

When I heard the news of the earthquake, I was devastated. Mariesa called me, and on the verge of tears she told me about the 8.0 magnitude quake that hit Peru on August 15, 2007. There wasn't much news coverage, but we knew that there had been a lot of damage. We decided before we hung up the phone that we had to do something. It didn't matter that we were just two 17 year old girls, we knew that we could make a difference. We got to work collecting blankets, clothes, shoes, toys, and school supplies.

[Don't worry, I'll be writing a lot less from here on out.]

We left on an early morning in October. As we flew across the Rocky Mountains the sun began to rise, and I sat in wonder, enjoying the beauty. I couldn't sleep for excitement. I was beginning a new adventure, one that would change my life forever. I couldn't wait to return to Peru, but I dreaded seeing the destruction. An earthquake is bad enough when it hits in a place that has building codes to prepare them for natural disasters, but in a third world country, things are much worse.

We stayed at Mariesa's grandma's house the first night. The photo below shows about half of their living area. It's a two bedroom house that is home to 5 adults. Broken beer bottles are cemented to the top of the walls to serve as a security system. The kitchen is a 3X4 foot square. They were lucky enough to have running water, but it was dirty and very cold.

We stuffed six fifty pound boxes of the items we collected (which is the amount the airline allowed us to bring) into the back of Mariesa's cousins taxi, and stored it inside the walls to prevent theft. There wasn't much room, but they were gracious enough to let us borrow 1/4 of the house.

Mariesa and I were lucky to have a bed to sleep on that night. We shared this tiny twin bed. And Mariesa is a cuddler! Evertime I started drifting off to sleep on my little airplane pillow, I was disturbed by one of her extremities. I didn't get much sleep.

The next day we began our drive to Ica, one of the cities that was hit the hardest. I had a terrible stomach ache. We stopped to eat and I ordered what looked like the safest thing on the menu: chicken noodle soup. Little did I know it would include the chickens fallopian tubes! The broth was good though... It cured me of my stomach ache and we continued on to our destination. We weren't prepared for what we saw when we arrived:

The images of the rubble lining the sides of the roads, and the mountains of bricks where homes use to stand were burned into my memory. People were still living in camping tents, nearly two months after the earthquake.

We saw churches that collapsed while people worshiped inside. On our first stop, we found a makeshift church, made of blue tarps, with a colorful picture of Mary inside.

On our second stop, we found most of the buildings and homes were completely destroyed:

Looking at the photo of the three year old girl, with her dark hair and chocolate brown eyes, as she clung the the stuffed animal we gave her brings tears to my eyes. I remember feeling the heat as I stood in the dark orange tent that was her new home. No matter how hard we tried, this little girl and her brother refused to smile. If I remember it correctly, their parents were missing. I shared a piece of their heart ache.

Their faces and hands were dry, cracked, and smudged with dirt. Imagine how good it must have felt for this little man, when Mariesa went to work with a wet wipe:

These children touched my heart. And I'm wondering where they are today? What are they like? Do they have a stable home? Is there food on their table each night?

The amazing part is that even though most of the people we saw had nothing but the clothes on their backs, they were happy. They smiled. And even though we couldn't give them much, they were grateful for what they got.

Would you be happy if this was your toilet?

While I served the people of Peru, I felt devastation, sadness, and helplessness. But I also felt joy, love, and thanks. That little part of me that knew something was missing from my life was gone. And in it's place was the happiness that came from serving others.

Sadly, I often forget about the lessons I learned on that trip. I get caught up in my busy little life, and I forget that I'm not the only important person on the planet. I'm ready to stop living a selfish life. I'm ready to start serving those around me, whether they are across the hall, across the street, across the country, or across the world.

I'm challenging you, yes you the person reading this long drawn out [but hopefully worth your time] post, to be happy with the cards you have been dealt. And to start consciously making a difference in the world. If we all started doing little things for each other every day, the world would become a much better place.

New quote of the month: "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."  –Leo Buscaglia

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Baylen & Mariana said...

Great post Sara GT! Very touching. You inspire me in more ways than one. We could all use more of this. Thanks love!

Mary shaver said...

Thank you for this great blog! I knew you went to Peru and that it had touched your life but I had no idea what you had done there! Well done Sarah!