On reentry, culture shock, and the cereal aisle.
They said this would happen upon reentry. The shattering. Erik and Rowan picked me up at the airport. Smiles plastered wide, I embraced fully, leaned my weight into theirs and became part of the family again. Rowan's delight in me, my return, brought back thoughts of children in Bolivia, their faces expectant with the hope of seeing the parent that abandoned them long ago.
With my suitcase in the trunk, I returned. Many parents in Bolivia never do.
I cry quiet in the car as we drive past fast-food joints on the interstate. My hard-shell heart starts to crack.
Everything I encounter is now seen through a different filter.
I'm in the produce section of the market, I'm holding potatoes. I lower my head, close my eyes to see Bolivian women, farming with worn hands and raw hearts, I hear their stories echo in my ribcage and I remember the bowls of fresh-plucked potatoes we were offered at each home. A woman comes up behind me, "They've gone up in price since yesterday." She clicks her tongue in dismay at the added few cents, she adds a shake of her head for good measure.
More cracks. I'm splintered. Tears sting.
I'm standing in the cereal aisle. Stacks upon rows of brightly colored boxes howl at me and I try to focus in through the blur of the tears, barely being held back by the edge of my eyelids. I look for the snack that Rowan likes so much, trying to find the one that has the least amount of sugar. Quaker logo in-hand, I think of the family of ten. The Pablo's. Eight children, one room. Little to no work and little to no food.
And it happens.
I lose my proverbial shit in front of the boxes of Frosted Flakes and I sit on the floor next to my shopping cart full of "necessities" and weep. Knees pulled into my chest, my arms folded on my knees, head hanging low in the dark between. Heavy, wet tears fall and I feel desperate for air. For hope.
Someone asked a few days ago if I experienced any culture shock while I was in Bolivia.
Whatever shock I experienced there doesn't hold a stick to how I feel about coming home. Bittersweet seems too kind a word. Too gentle. My soul feels ravaged and I am laid out, peeled back and raw.
I oscillate between wanting to sell everything we own, and wallowing in a half-gallon carton of cookie dough ice cream and mindless movies to numb the remembering.
My writing wasn't compelling enough. I didn't say enough. I didn't find enough sponsors for the kids. I set expectations for myself and now I've returned and I'm still looking at the bar I perched so high above me. I'm frozen. Unable to move. Even now, as I sit and type with my laptop perched on my legs, I question - what's my next move?
Now that I have seen, I am responsible.
What do I do, now that I'm home, wrapped up in this American life? How do I continue the work that I started? How can I press forward? How can WE move forward, as a community of believers and big messes?
I have that old Sara Groves song in my head:
Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces Calling out the best of who we are
And I want to add to the beauty To tell a better story
And maybe that's all I can do right now. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, stumbling and clumsy, add to the beauty. Make life just a little bit better for one person. Fight for that one child, that one moment that brings redemption in dark places.
I think of Maria. The beauty in her eyes and smile are God-gifted and exquisite and she is made in the image of her Maker. I had nothing to do with her inherent beauty as a child of God. But, by His grace and through the profound work of World Vision, I'm able to add to that beauty. Provide her with a little bit more. Make sure she sees a doctor every year. Has school supplies to study math. Remind her, from thousands of miles away that she is deeply loved, valued and prayed for.
And that's what World Vision does. One child at a time. One family at a time. One community at a time. Build them up, one by one. Save the life of one, you save the life of many.
All photos © Amy Conner for World Vision