August 21 2017

The Connected Human Experience

“God always wants our future to be bigger than our past. Not equal to our past, but bigger, better, brighter, and more significant” - Matthew Kelly

Last Thursday, I went to a coffee shop between work and basketball. I’ve been driving a lot here—a major contrast to my life in Guatemala this summer—and decided it would better serve my internal life to do some reading instead of racing home only to turn right around and leave again. I opened my book and settled in for a few minutes. 

“Is that a good book?” asked Lee. 

Lee, I later found out, is a pastor in the neighborhood. He looked a little shocked when I flipped the book over and said, “Yes, it’s called Rediscovering Catholicism,” a book about the Catholic Church in modern times. We had a nice conversation about the Montbello neighborhood, the school where I teach and our respective faith backgrounds. 

That rarely happens in the U.S.

Reverse culture shock is a real thing, and what I’m noticing is that the biggest difference on a personal level is the difference in community with strangers. 

In Antigua, on my morning walk to class or Escuela Integrada, I was greeted by everyone I passed on the street. “Buenos dias,” “Buenos tardes,” or “Buenos noche” was normal. With everyone, whether you knew them or not. Frequently, I would see families from Escuela Integrada and the kids would come bounding up, eager to say, “hello.” People I never met before smiled and shared a “Buen dia,” despite my height, color and very apparent extranjero (foreign) status.

My last week at Escuela Integrada, the teachers and staff surprised me with a going away party and beautiful gift. We sat around the kindergarten table in tiny little chairs and talked about differences between the U.S. and Guatemala. One thing that emerged quickly was the lack of human connection in the U.S. 

People get in their cars, drive to work, drive to the gym, drive to the grocery store, drive to dinner. It’s a solo venture. When they arrive at their destinations, Americans put in ear buds and sit alone. We are a culture desperate for community, and we’re doing all the things that draw us away from that very desperation. 

As our conversation continued in the kindergarten classroom, the teachers said that even if they are driving, they pull over or shout out the window if they see someone they know. Conversations in the streets are valued, and, what was designed to be a five minute salutation can easily turn into an hour-long reunion. This might explain why Guatemalans run on Latin time… And it’s a beautiful tradition. 

When Lee stopped to talk to me at the coffee shop, I was surprised and comforted at the same time. It felt normal. I thought for a moment I was back in Guatemala. Lee didn’t know me. He asked a very simple question and, in doing so, opened up the space to encounter a perfect stranger.

The biggest things I miss from my time in Guatemala this summer are the conversations, whether it be with a group of ladies from Costa Rica over breakfast in our shared house or with a family high in the hills outside Antigua. We didn’t necessarily talk about the most profound problems in the world—though I did with the teachers of Escuela Integrada—but we experienced a shared curiosity about one another. 

The connected human experience is valued in Guatemala in a way that would greatly benefit the American people, especially now. All that is required is a little shared curiosity and a little risk-taking to open up the door for conversation. 

Going into this new school year—kids come back Monday—that is what I hope to impart. It may be uncomfortable at first, it certainly was for me when I initially arrived in Guatemala, but it’s a skill that we need our young people to know and embrace if we have any hope for a "bigger, better, brighter, and more significant" future.

God, be with us on the journey. 

Your Faithful Writer, Autumn 

Photo: The teachers and staff of Escuela Integrada welcomed me with open arms into their school and their lives this summer. I cherish those conversations.