At Pearson College I took this course in philosophy in which we studied free will for a month. To be honest, reading the works of Holbach and Sarte and positing if the caged bird was free or not, really was of little interest to me. Little did I know however, that the events that would proceed in the following year would turn this seemingly random subject into a large thread that continues to weave itself in and out of my life.
August 31st, after spending two months in Switzerland I caught my flight home eager to grab that Tim Horton's Ice Cap from the airport and share stories with my parents as we drove home. On the flight I met a beautifully eccentric woman who proceeded to talk to me over the next 7 hours about how she had completely turned her life around with this one very rudimentary belief: we all have absolute control over everything that happens to us in our lives. Everything that happened to her was a result of her own thoughts, and every day was a gift she gave to herself. Now, anyone who has read The Secret or The Power of Now will know that it is not an usually unique nor original belief, however, I had never met someone in my life who had followed this with such conviction. To be honest it was kind of inspiring.
However, the world was not done with me yet, my newly found insight was to be put to the test.
I’ll never forget the feeling inside me when I arrived in the airport after that 7 hour flight and saw my mom’s friend standing where my parents were supposed to be. Not because she isn’t a great person, but because I knew in the moment that something was wrong…. that all “control” had been taken out of my hands. That night I found out my mom was in surgery having 12 inches of her colon removed, and while no one said anything I knew it was cancer. Anyone who has been in a similar situation knows that the fear of losing a loved one is one that is primitive and uncontrolled, one that makes you feel sick to your stomach. That night I crawled into my Nana’s bed and as she held me she told me that God would take care of me, and that I am the type of person that takes the world onto themselves but that in reality my path is in God's hands and that I have to trust He has a plan for me. After saying a prayer together I couldn’t help but face the fact that at some level my grandma was right, things do happen that are not in our hands. At the same time however, I questioned as many have, why this god who cared for every one of his children would let my mom get cancer.
In the weeks that followed I entered a dark place, trying to grapple with my mom’s diagnosis while still unable to admit or even hear the word cancer. In the months that have followed since I left home to live in Ecuador this acute awareness of the great amount of suffering in the world has followed me too. Every day seems to present stories of hardships, everyday my host family must wake up and grapple with the poverty they live in and its seems as though every day the news I hear on the Spanish radioset is presenting an ever worsening world. Scarily this sense of nihilism began to creep into me as I saw how harsh the world was and how complex “making a difference” could be. On top of this, my own health seemed to be worsening; swollen knees and ankles, as I had somehow developed arthritis at the ripe age of 19, mysterious bites of all shapes and sizes, and a constant fatigue. Unable to walk or sit without pain, feeling distant from my mom and estranged from the work I’d been doing in this foreign language and country I reached a point where I was at a loss.
Then Came A Window
Everything seemed to change that day in December when I came home to find a window had been put into my room. Though it is small and has a hard time combating the cold dampness that sinks in through the dirt floor and tarp roof. This small window made all the difference in my life because it’s through this small window I saw what had been behind that wall this whole time, as shimmer of light filled with warmth and hope. Yes these terrible things were happening in the world and yes change was difficult to make and yes life sometimes seems shitty and unfair, but man there is a lot of beauty in it too.
I had a re-realization (one of those realizations that is important enough that you need to have it several times in you life), and this realization was that I was the only person who could give meaning to my life and the events that happened regardless if it was something I had done or something seemingly out of my control. And in this light, I began to realize that, while my life in the past year had been difficult, it had also been generous. It had provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my will, deepen my empathy, test my determination and face the world and all its problems with greater passion and more love. The year 2016 was not an easy one, however December proved to me several things. That even with all our personal challenges and even with the complexity of the issues facing the world, with the right outlook and enough determination we can live beautiful, meaningful lives and with a little luck help shape the world to be a better place.
Here is a little window full of all the light that December held.
My host my (Aida) and I putting on a cooking class to raise money for Aida to start her own Artesian business.
A few weeks later, the business has started and Aida is selling her famous tortillas and artisans at the local gringo market.
Happy family with a bike that was donated by Mandy, Steve, Jeff and Heather to the Ecotourism Organization Kuchi Kotcha (one my host dad started), which aims to increase tourism in indigenous villages to provide job opportunities and a way to share the Kitchwa Culture.
Due to the Earthquake that happened in April funding for the annual Christmas inniative (that gave every child in the community a small bag of cookies) had been cut as the government needed to channel money to its relief efforts on the the coast. Thanks to the generous donations of friends and family $500 was raised to keep this community initiative going and smiles on the faces of every kid. Everyone came together for games and giggles and left with what for many would be their only Christmas present: a bag of animal crackers and sweets.
Exploring the Ecuadorian Amazon (life long dream of mine), with my best adventure pal Steve Bridson.