Erna is my coworker at Sitio Çarakura, my apprenticeship here in Brazil. She is like me- she loves to notice beautiful things: “Look at that tree! It has red organisms growing on the bark. Only trees that grow in pure air have that. One day I want to see every tree covered in pinks and reds and know that our air isn't polluted.´´
She also believes in going wherever life takes her: “I don't know if I´ll live in Brazil for the rest of my life. There are a lot of places I still haven´t lived. God knows where I´ll go!´´
She has faith in the world and hope for the future, despite having to flee from her home country of Yugoslavia (which is now split into four countries) because of war. She speaks at least five languages, has a young son, and moved to the site of my apprenticeship to live in the forest, rest, work with nature, and learn about plants. Erna has every hope in the world.
But today, she stepped away from working to answer a phone call and returned visibly shaken. She had just received news that her son and his father and grandmother had been eating dinner when men with guns entered their house, locked them in a room, and robbed everything they had.
I tried and failed to find words to comfort her in Portuguese. I tried and failed in English. When we finally spoke, the conversation was both heartbreaking and inspiring.
She told me that she never used to worry about her safety. Not when she witnessed war in Yugoslavia, not when she lived alone in New York City or in Haiti, not when her friends and family told her that Brazil was a dangerous place to live. She told me that she believes every person has an energy that surrounds them and protects them from harm.
But when she had her son, things changed. She had to make sure he was safe, and make sure she was as well so she could be there for him no matter what. When she talked about her need to protect her son, I could see that the robbers had taken more than possessions; they had robbed her sense of security.
Although work for the day had ended, we stayed outside looking at the trees, which are growing those red organisms because the air here is pure. We talked about her son and about hope. We talked about how peace and love start with how we treat every person we come into contact with, and how these interactions create a ripple effect. We agreed that the world can only achieve peace when every decision made stems from love.
Despite the news she had received and the fear she felt for her family, Erna told me, “I do believe change is coming. In 20 or 30 years, we'll live in a different world. Love will win, in the end. It always does.´´
Erna doesn't sugarcoat the state of the world or the state of Brazil, she just goes to work on a daily basis ending wars, one kind action at a time. She put so much trust into the world, was hurt in return, and made the decision to respond with even more faith.
I left work and cried the entire walk home. I ache for Erna and her son and the robbers and the world. But her wisdom rang in my ears- as she hugged me goodbye, she said, “We will talk tomorrow about beautiful things.´´ And I know she´s right, because despite what some days have in store, there is so much beauty to talk about.
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