Originally this reflection was going to be different. I began summarizing my experiences here and basically trying to explain everything that I have felt emotionally in words that the majority of our society can relate to. A task like that is not possible. There is absolutely no way that I can summarize this experience and what has happened. No matter what I say, I cannot make any of you really feel any of these emotions to the depth that they were actually experienced. However, hopefully what I do say reaches some of you with some depth.

As a group, we had a reflection today and were asked what three things we learned or could take away from this trip. Personally, I felt the most obvious of the three that I felt everyone in the group could relate to was how important family is here. Not only is family the number one priority to the individuals in the community we visited, it is number one, requiring all of your effort, all of the time. It is never an obligation. No matter what is going on in the lives of the people, their family gets 100%. My family here in this community was shocked when I told them how often I see my family in the states. The culture is just so different here. On top of just being there and sharing love with each other, they help each other all of the time, no questions asked. It is the rawest, purist, most direct love that exists. I am not saying that we are not capable or that this doesn’t happen in America. I am just saying that we fall-myself included. We make our own lives priority. Sure, if something happened and our families needed us, we would drop everything for them. What about when they don’t need us? What about when everything is perfectly fine? What about when they push us away? My family is very large, and we have had our fair share of fights. Why? What is the purpose? You have one family. No, you don’t get to pick them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to love them with everything you have.

The second thing that I’ve taken away from this trip that hit me much more abruptly is the fact that love doesn’t have to take time. As a culture, or maybe just who I am personally, it takes me a very long time to love. I try to quickly appreciate people for who they are, but it takes me a very long time to love and really trust them. Honestly, things happen in everyone’s past that build these walls and boundaries. That being said, I have learned from this trip that love does not take time at all. Getting to really know someone takes time, but why does it take so long to love? Love is the most beautiful gift that we are capable of as humans. Why don’t we take every chance we have to use and share it? My grandmother here expressed her love to be immediately. Every time she greeted me, it was with, “hello my precious love”. I also lost count of how many times she blessed me and asked God’s angels to watch over me. This didn’t take time. She wanted God to protect me immediately because she loved me. There is no reason why something like that has to take so long to develop.

The third thing that I took away from this trip was that acceptance can be immediate. In our culture, the majority of us think that it is necessary to learn about a person’s character before we can accept them. We also create a food chain of people who are accepted or kicked to the curb. There is no reason for something so sick. As people, do we think that we can accurately judge who is a good person and who isn’t? Why do so many of us live with an “I’m better than you” mindset? We cannot accurately judge other humans. We do not know other people’s real motives or intentions, and there is no reason why any one human should think they are better than the next. Accepting people opens the door to appreciate and learn from them. It presents an opportunity for respect. Here in El Salvador, even though Americans do not have the best reputation, I was accepted immediately.

I took away much more from this trip than I have explained to you so far. I cannot even begin to explain to you the experiences that led to this, as well as everything else that I am feeling. All that I know is that this trip has been beautiful. I got way more from these people than I gave to them. Sure, El Salvador is dangerous. Who cares? The people that I have been in contact with have some of the kindest most beautiful hearts, and even though many of them lack formal education, they have wisdom that I can only pray to have. They have helped me fill so many holes that life has created. I believe that I have grown more spiritually in the last week than I have in the last year. I know that God’s love is present in my life all of the time, but it is so direct here. On top of that, I look up to my friends and family here. They are so dedicated and they work so hard. We are spoiled in America. We believe that we are entitled to so many things. I wish that I could put so many people in the situations here just so that they can develop appreciation for something as simple as a flushing toilet. I wish that so many of the children that I work with could recognize a love like this as a possibility in their life.

Today I said goodbye to my friends and family. I did not cry, because I knew that I would be coming back. I will come back for selfish reasons, because they give me so much more than I will ever be capable of giving them. At our reflection tonight, we spread the light of candles to symbolize how when you help someone, your light does not get any dimmer. This was when it really hit me that the families here have helped me and shown me so much more than I could ever explain. They have touched my heart, and like many people from my hometown in Illinois and Colorado, they will hold a place in my heart forever. I could talk for days about what I did here and the experiences I have had, but what is really important is how overflowing the love is in this country. What is really important is the fact that I have learned what I need to succeed and grow spiritually from the experiences of one week. What is really important, is that even though we come from different cultures and have different personalities, we are all capable of treating people like we are breakable, like we are souls, and like we can all share love.