Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sweet lives renewed

I'm back after a week in in the Yucatan jungle and man, what a week! We spent our nights in a primitive but beautiful compound and our days working in the sweltering heat and humidity toiling side-by-side with Mayan craftsmen meticulously building a block roof and laying concrete to finish their little Sunday school.

This was my third consecutive year in Tres Reyes -- and by far my favorite. I spent some time last night after we got home about 10:30 p.m. thinking about why I do it. Why I push myself to my physical limits when I could just as easily stay home, safe and content, and throw money at this or any other such charity. I mean, money helps poor people, too. Right?

Well, sure. It does. No question. So just helping isn't the answer.

I could easily pack up the wife and kids and spend a week in some fancy Cancun resort, soaking up the sun and splashing happily in the Caribbean. So going just for the warm clime and plentiful sun isn't the answer.

Maybe I do it for myself. Maybe I'm selfish. Vain. Maybe I do it to somehow convince myself I am some kind of great person, a saint of an American who does things like this from time to time to show the world (and my friends) how freaking cool and selfless I am.

Maybe, but that one doesn't really ring true, either.

I sat for the longest time last night, long after everyone else had gone off to bed, thinking about my true motives. I'm big these days on depth and honesty, so trying to figure out why I do the things I do fascinates me of late. Weird, I know.

I thought back over the week, about how all 12 of us bonded as a team of human beings. How we sometimes argued and fumed and pissed and moaned. About how we ended up loving one another and, more importantly, respecting one another. How I was able to spend long hours at night under the tropical moon and starlit sky with my 19-year-old son, talking about all the things that we somehow never get the opportunity to talk about here at home. Things like our lives, our loves, our fears, our dreams, our hopes. Somehow, these things seem more real, more soulful, sitting at night with the jungle creatures making noises in the bush, smoking a cigar and just talking and laughing.

That was awesome. Maybe that was the reason this year. To bond with my son, even though I am incredibly close to all three of them here at home.

Maybe. Possibly, even.

But then I thought about the hard work, about how the Mayan women brought us traditional Mayan food for lunch, which we ate even though it was a bit, um, gamy and tasted odd to our American palates. I thought about the bonds we forged with the Mayan men with whom we worked hard with all week, even though none of us could understand a word the other said.

Now we're getting closer. Much closer. But that's the not it. Not really.

I remembered watching my son laugh and play with a half-dozen Mayan children, who jumped on his back and screamed his name, the only English word they knew.

Zach, they would shout. Zach! And he would laugh and chase them and they would laugh and chase him back. And we would laugh about it at night, over our cigars. About how damned cute and sweet and innocent these young Mayans are. And how poor. How damned poor they are. I would see a tear trickle down my son's cheek and I would swallow hard and turn away, lest he see a similar tear on my face.

Oh. The children. My God, how sweet they are!

I remembered the flight back to Atlanta last night, a rocky and turbulent one that had more than one person praying for their very lives, and how my son turned to me and asked that he be allowed to come back next year.

For the children.

And as I thought of that late last night, I knew why I go each year. Why I spend a fortune and nearly break my back in the hot sun. I knew in my heart why I go.

For the children.

I am so glad to be back. We were mostly safe, although there were a couple of minor incidents and injuries. And I got busted coming back into the USA with a bunch of Cuban cigars in my backpack that I had forgotten were there. Who would have thought I would end up a smuggler?

But all's well that ends well.

We'll go back next year, Zach and I.

For the children. Theirs and mine.


  1. Just because you feel good about it doesn't make it selfish. I doubt most of us would go to the lengths that you did to help strangers, especially in another country.

    Sounds like you had a great time. Glad you made it back safe and sound!

  2. Glad you're back safe and sound, and that your son had both a great time and a wonderful learning experience.

  3. I am so glad you're back.

    I know that experiences like this can't even be put into words. They just kind of rest on your soul and create peace and gratitude. Gratitude for so many things.

    And no matter how we look at service, it will ultimately end up being about how good it makes us feel. We wouldn't do it otherwise. Maybe every now and then we have to give ourselves a little push, but we know once we're doing it, we feel good. Again, yet another paradox. The more we give, the more we get...The more we put into something, the more we get out of it.

    Dontcha just love those cliches?

  4. First off, welcome home and thank God that the rocky flight stayed in flight.

    Now, about that post:


    That's an awesome experience, even moreso becuase you got to experience it with family. I've never been on a trip like that, but I've heard descriptions from people who have, and most of them are similar to what you have here.

    It's life changing. It's bolstering. It's wrenching. There really aren't words to describe the full range of emotion involved.

    One preacher I know of who went on a mission in Africa was moved because a local man thought surely an American would expect a bathtub, so he MADE one out of concrete. No running water, but they had a stove and a kettle. He used it every day, even though the concrete shredded his skin, because there was no way NOT to appreciate that kind of care and concern in a gesture.

    I've heard people say they come home and want to give away everything in their house that they aren't wearing at the time. Furniture, clothes, toys, everything, just to try and make a dent in the kind of poverty most people never see, and knowing that they don't have enough to make that dent even if they did give it all.

    All anyone can do is exactly what you and your son did. Start with the kids shouting Zach because they're happy to see him. He makes them smile, and that smile is one more moment where they aren't trapped in poverty. They may not get any money out of it, but they get a moment where they're important, and if you string enough of those moments together, then you get a life of importance. Nothing else matters.

    There is no one-way charity, and there shouldn't be. You give what you can, and the whole you make is filled by good feelings and the knowledge that you've done something that will impact future generations. If you don't know that when you're done, then the act is futile.

    Kudos to you and your kid and everyone else who went along.

  5. Truly outstanding post. Delighted you're home safe and sound. What an extraordinary experience for all concerned.

    The world needs more people like you.

    PS. Pop over to my blog sometime.

  6. Welcome back, Terry! Sounds like the trip was a complete success. That's cool that your son wants to go again next year. Thanks for updating us and letting us live your adventure through the blog!