Falling in Love and Serving the Poor in Latin America
When I first looked into her eyes, I fell harder for her than for anyone I had previously met. She had the most beautiful brown eyes, perfectly complementing her gorgeous smile and adorable features. I found myself constantly wanting to be near her, hold her, appreciate her company. I never expected such ridiculous circumstances to occur. I never imagined that I would travel thousands of miles, leaving my friends and family behind, to fall head-over-heels for a two year old.
Alison, however, embodied everything that made Nicaragua so captivating for me. I left the comforts of Xavier University in Cincinnati during January of my junior year completely clueless of what I had done. From the moment I stepped into the sweaty, toxic air of Managua, my world turned upside down. Throughout the semester there, I learned about a reality that at first seemed to have no similarities to my existence in the U.S. Poverty can be romanced from afar, but up close its scars become evident: kids who never have opportunities to have a decent education or get a good job; families that will never spend a day without wondering where the food will come from next; entire families who have little more than each other. My heart broke every time I opened my eyes until the moment I went to bed.
Amidst this tragedy, I learned to find beauty in the simplest of things. I never before recognized the way a smile lights up a dirty kid’s face, the satisfaction that comes from a exhausted body after a hard day’s work, the joy that comes from dancing the night away with friends who have shared your pain. I often spent my days in a daze, wondering how I could learn from this experience and take those lessons back home. I was blessed with the presence of a few Jesuit Volunteers nearby who helped me discover what might happen next. Through my interactions with them, I realized that I could never be satisfied with such a short time in Latin America. I knew I would return.
Thus, I find myself living and working in Arica, Chile with older adults. More than anything, my work entails accompanying them during their last few years, helping them to maintain their dignity. The work is exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing; yet I would never wish to be anywhere else. I became a JV, quite simply, because I fell in love—perhaps not in the expected romantic way, but as Pedro Arrupe described: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in an absolute, final way.”