I woke up before the crack of dawn to groggily slide my way into the backseat of my brother-in-law’s truck, squeezing in four sisters with me. As we were making our way to Cotopaxi for a giant parade, I looked out the window into the sky that was still dark, and saw Mount Cumbaya rising through the clouds and stars with a snow-capped peak. From where I was (on top of another mountain), it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Arriving at the parade, I began to tear up with joy, being surrounded by my fellow Zuleños singing and playing their instruments proudly and preparing to represent our village. The night before, I was slightly weary of saying “yes” to my family’s offer to travel five hours away, leave at 3:30 a.m., and meet a ton of new family members. It sounded exhausting, both physically and mentally, and I was nervous. However, it turned out to be the best “yes” I have said so far, even if just for that view.
As people, we love to classify the world around us; it helps us wrap our heads around the craziness of it all. No matter how open we are, we often enter into situations with a certain pair of lenses based on family, education, social norms, language, culture, and location.
I have a lot of time to look inside myself here, and with that time comes truly seeing who I am as a person. New experiences are showing me new sides of myself – how I react to three hour hikes through the forest, or thinking that I am leaving the house for an hour to end up chopping firewood for four hours, or actually feeling fulfilled from the work that I do.
I remember a time when I was telling my mom, “I hate how sensitive and empathetic I am. It is really hard for me to get through what others would consider emotionless, normal situations without becoming totally overwhelmed by my feelings.” She proceeded to tell me “Jill, our best qualities are our worst qualities. You carry the burden of heavy emotion and deep feeling with you every day, but remember the gifts it has brought to your life. All of your friends, even most people you meet, can love and relate to you more easily than almost anyone else. You have the ability to connect in ways most people can’t. At the same time, look at the ways in which this is inhibiting you, and work to fix it.”
My old self cringes as I admit this, but defining something as good or bad is completely unrealistic and shows how little we look at the big picture. People, places, and things are made up of countless different parts, but we tend to hone in on one tiny part to classify the whole. In the book The Blue Sweater, people who have gone through some of the most horrific, degrading, and violent situations to ever occur (the Rwandan Genocide), thank God for the newfound beauty of life they gained, offering the reflection that “we understand that you can only have great joy if you also have great pain.” I am not saying that we necessarily need to experience negativity to feel positivity, but it shows how even the worst situation is often not completely “bad.”
Amidst the greatest evils we are able to find the astonishing good. In war, we see the greatest loss of human life, but the strongest bonds formed. In fear, there is a breakdown of human integrity, but a stage for bravery to arise. In loss we experience heartbreak, but achieve the discovery of our deepest selves. With being let down by those we love most comes the greatest disappointment, but also the realization that we all have faults. In abandonment, we endure a painful confusion, but also a gaining of independence.
And this does not just pertain to typically “bad” situations. In falling in love, we can share our whole selves, but can easily lose our identity, dignity, and independence in the other person. In service work, we offer a compassion for others, but often without stepping out of our own perspective, and in turn doing little to address the real needs of someone else. In peacetime, there is a sense of security and freedom, but also a complacency and lack of knowing what we truly believe or need to stand for. In a “perfect” childhood, we gain a stable sense of love and belonging, but often lack the ability to empathize later in life.
Even these examples cannot be defined because there are so many pieces and perspectives to look at. Of course, we all tend to like certain things more than others, but the more we try to clear up our perspective lenses, the more the beauty in all things is revealed to us. Humanity itself proves the point that the labels good and bad do not exist. We are beings that are capable of the greatest compassion and yet, at the same time, the worst atrocities imaginable.
The reason I could never see things, especially people, in this light was because I have always been scared to admit that my friends, my family, and most of all myself, have the potential for evil inside of us. I thought that if I ever admitted it, the world would somehow fall apart. But now I realize that what we are capable of is beautiful, in all of its messiness, and I would not be able to appreciate the selfless, amazing acts people chose to do if I didn’t know that they could have chosen to do the complete opposite.
We have to acknowledge what is inside of ourselves, because if we don’t, we can never fully love ourselves for all of our parts. Actually, we can never fully love anyone else either. We will live in fear of the cartoon devil fighting the angel on our shoulders, giving the non-angelic more and more control over our lives. When we look at those negativities in the mirror, it is very scary at first. But as we continue to face the aspects within ourselves that need improvement, we can not only relate to all of humanity better, but we can also work to improve the world, starting from the inside. Judging ourselves for mistakes leads to shame; the way we judge ourselves is a reflection of how we judge others. As for me, I am tired of being disappointed in people. It has nothing to do with how they act, it starts with how I love myself. As I am (slowly) working on loving myself for everything that I am and forgiving myself when I mess up, I see direct correlation with my acceptance of others. Every part of life has some good in it, and I am going to try my hardest to find it. It is so beautiful, and it is so difficult, but I think it is so beautiful because it is so difficult.