Hello beautiful souls! I wrote in my last entry how I don’t know if it would be my last entry or not. After some thought, something inside my soul was telling me it wasn’t. I don’t think I can ever write an “Official Last Entry,” to this blog, but I can leave this blog in peace knowing I wrote about something very meaningful to me: connection.
Before I begin, the stories I give are there to creatively articulate a point, and not for accuracy. I am also writing in an American perspective, since I live in America. I’m not sure what I write is reflective of all Americans, but I use the “we,” to refer to America in general. I hope you find truth in this blog and not anger. If anything is offensive for some reason, please feel free to comment below:
Let me tell you a story of a man who ventured to India. This man was a CEO of a successful business and had it all; the six figure pay check, the luxury house with an indoor pool, the cars that showed off his status, the occasionally Friday night lover, and most importantly, the respect from his employees. Fear, would be a more accurate term, since he was known for firing employees every two weeks. He showed them no mercy anytime they made a mistake. He valued power and efficiency, and lost side of what is really important in life; so it came as a complete shock when the stock market crashed and he lost all his investors. In order to save his company, he had to travel to India in order to convince outsourcing companies to invest in his business. Like all great stories, things do not go as plan; he ends up waiting an excessive amount of time in Mumbai because he lost his bags.
He starts to become very impatient with the possibility of missing his bus, and in the heat of the moment, gets on the wrong bus. However, he does not realize it is the wrong bus, because in his eyes it looks like the same. After several hours on the bus he realizes not only did he miss his appointment, and his only opportunity of saving his business, but is in a rural part of India that he has never heard of. Unfortunately his international plan that he bought could not pick up a signal so he couldn’t call anyone about his situation. He walked for several miles, struggling to find a hotel that he could stay at for the night. Once he found a hotel in a nearby city, he also found out that his wallet was stolen. A local Hindu monk was nearby heard of his situation and offered shelter and food in his monetary. The monk asked for no money, but to help around the monastery when needed. The man agreed and soon learned a new way of life from the monks. It was hard for him, and he thought about quitting several times, but in the end he learned to see life through a new perspective. When the man returned to the US, his values have changed; he has changed, and decided to pursue a new career that gave him life.
Another story, similar to that one, is of a girl who just graduated high school. She was excited to go to college to study nursing. But even more so, she was excited to go to the same school her boyfriend went to. She was the queen bee in high school; smart, pretty, popular, and she was ready to be all those things with her boyfriend in college. Yet when she got to college, she started to become insecure with the amount of time they spent apart because of classes. She was also insecure because she noticed a bunch of attractive girls flirting with her boyfriend. She thought she was loosing her boyfriend and she didn't know what to do about it.
That scared her because all throughout high school she was known as the girl dating the star athlete. If she lost him, she would loose her identity. In order to save her relationship, she promised her boyfriend the one thing she wasn’t ready for; sex. The night before they agreed to do it, the poor girl found out that he already did it with another girl the following weekend. This crushed her soul, every time she would see him on campus she would be reminded of almost doing it with a guy that cheated on her. She did not know what to do, she felt like she lost a part of her identity.
When the chance came to volunteer in Haiti for a semester through one of her classes, she gladly applied. She has never been to Haiti before and it would be a good chance to get over her boyfriend. Little did she know how much of the undeveloped country she would see. She saw many people who are less privileged then her. She was exhausted, not only from the work she was doing, but also from the culture shock. She saw many things her mind cannot fathom into mere words. She not only understood how lucky she is, she also felt like her work was meaningful. That what she was doing had a purpose. She was able to see that her identity was not defined by anybody else, but what she wanted to do with her life. When she came back to the United States the following semester, she truly was a transformed person.
What do these stories have in common? Well, they are both tales about individual transformation. Actually, since I lived in West Hollywood last year, I thought it would be fun to paint a picture of how Hollywood sees individual transformation. I mean the stories that I just told sounded like a traditional blockbuster of the summer, no? The funny thing is that whenever American media illustrates inner transformation, it always takes place an undeveloped country. And while there is some validity that underdeveloped countries can show us a spiritual aspect that we (as Americans) can learn from; I have to ask, how white-saving ethnocentric can you be? The world is more complex than give and take. You do not give your resources to a struggling country, and then expect that county to provide spiritual wisdom! When did America get this notion in their head that the more a country struggles, the more spiritual it becomes?
While there may be a sense in comfort to some while answering that question, I would not like to label a place as “spiritual” or “not spiritual,” because everyone experiences spirituality differently. In the stories I weave, it is not the physically being in India or Haiti that change the individuals, it is the connections and relationships they make while they are in India or Haiti. It is not the location that gives them a transformative experience; it is the people that give them the transformative experience. The places we go and the experiences we have shape our personality, but the people we connect with transforms our souls.
I don’t mean to devalue beautiful places on Earth that people find spiritual; like Mecca and Jerusalem. I think these spiritual places are a reminder of what it means to be human. I also think loving others and forming relationships is what it means to be human. For me, I had a spiritual and transformative year in LA. If I were to revisit LA, I’m more than confident that I will be reminded of the personal and spiritual growth I experienced during my year. But I would have only experienced that growth if it weren’t for the relationships that I formed there. My YAV year is not about going to a place, “fixing it” (because it was never broken), and leaving with a greater sense of spirituality. My YAV year was about going to a place, living among the people I was serving, and developing relationships that challenged me to grow into a better person. Let’s face it, sometimes faith is not defined by a book or set of rules, but rather how we treat one another.