This post is written by Education/Community Outreach intern Rayna Healy. It’s beautifully written as it is emotional. I hope you have tissues nearby…
Recently I heard a quote that resounded with my summer: “I only know myself in relation to a community.” Before arriving to San Miguel I spent two months backpacking by myself. I did not spend more than three nights in one place for the duration of my trip. I felt as though as I began to know more of the world I was simultaneously becoming detached from it. Therefore, when I arrived to San Miguel as a Community Outreach Intern, I was surprised by how overwhelmed I felt about becoming part of a community again.
To get to know a community it is important to know what they value and to appreciate the social capital that unites them. That social investment came unexpectedly for me when I learned that Norris, the lady who cooks for us, held a Bible Study every Thursday on her front porch. On my second night in San Miguel, I wandered over there. At night the pink porch was lit by a single bulb and three benches precariously held neighbors from all around the community. A podium stood on the opposite end. They opened with prayer. When they pray, they all speak at the same time, urgently. It seemed strange, even a little unsettling the first time I heard their breathless pleas and thanks. After the prayer they sang a welcome song for me. Each person in attendance came and shook my hand or kissed my cheek. I never questioned whether or not I belonged at this Bible Study. I was instantly invited to Church services and birthday parties and I began to see familiar faces on the bus. I even had children who would help chase off the neighborhood dogs when I felt threatened. My weeks of being alone melted away as I immediately had a family fussing over me and loving me again.
Every Thursday I make my way back to Bible Study. Without fail each Message mentions the gratitude and amazement that people of two different cultures can sit together and praise the same God. Whoever I sit next to shares their Bible with me and often rescues me from some bug or other that tries to nest into my hair. I’m always greeted warmly with hugs and jokes and smiles. Norris, when giving a message, never fails to mention the inspiration and love she feels at work and thanks God for the opportunity to spend time with Kalu Yala.
Bible Study became especially important in my life a few weeks ago. I received the devastating news that a friend of mine had passed away. I spent quite a few days holding on to the news alone, trying to make sense of it myself. I began to realize that my hands weren’t big enough to hold onto this alone, far away from my normal support group, so I pulled Norris aside, fighting the flow of tears that were still hanging on precariously inside me, and asked if we could pray for him that night in Bible Study. She made the arrangements. She asked me if I wanted to lead it. I was too nervous. Communication in Spanish is never easy but certain things are hard to articulate in any language. So they prayed for me. The chanting prayer that had made me uneasy on my first night all of a sudden provided deep comfort. I have no doubt that the prayer was heard because so many voices and so much love were part of it. The comfort that those words wrapped around me is still tangible. I loved learning how to be alone but being so effortlessly and lovingly accepted into a community has been something far more valuable, especially during that tough time when being alone was not enough.
As the summer comes to a close I reflect often on the community that I have been learning about in San Miguel. Whether or not you believe in God, something I learned in Bible Study is that people around the world believe in Love. They believe in love enough to come together on a porch once a week and sing to it. Everyone in San Miguel has touched me with love: the librarian made me a necklace, a child helped me make a slingshot to keep our rooster in line, we enter school and our students begin to cheer at the sight of us. As I turn over the quote in my head about only knowing myself through a community, I realize that what San Miguel has given me is extremely valuable. It has taught me that I don’t need to support myself alone. I have many hands, many new family members, to help catch pain or give hugs or hold hands on the way to the soccer field. The San Miguel community demonstrates that love is a universal and inexhaustible resource and as I have become a part of this community, this resource has become a part of me as well.
Written by Rayna Healy.