Tuesday, August 9, 2011

GUATEMALA 2011: (10) Chasing Happiness

A group of us sat around the chimenia on the patio of Mimi's House tonight, watching the smoke swirl out of the top of the stack. As the wind shifted we all took turns leaning away from the smoke. The white-hot coals had burned down to a soft glow that warmed our feet. Pacaya hid from us tonight behind a wall of fog that was left over from the intense rain storm that swept across the land this afternoon. Lights from the city below seemed to reflect the stars above and the moon sat high above it all.

Cerro Alto was a level of poverty that I had not encountered. I hesistate to describe it though, because I do not want to convey the wrong impression of the people we met. These people, who had nothing... were hopeful. While they were acutely aware of their circumstance, they were also filled with happiness.

How long have you chased happiness?

We met a boy, Marvin who was 14 years old and experiencing severe scholiosis. We met a couple in their 80s who served as the caregivers of all the children in the neighborhood while the moms and dads were away either gathering the needs of the day or working. Sometimes life requires to be away for days at a time.  We walked through homes made of scrap and plastic and old cloth. We saw children who were experiencing malnutrion, infestation, and illness.

A typical example of a family residence in Cerro Alto
I saw faces that were full of hope. I saw smiles and I heard laughter. I saw a community that looked out for one another. I saw children who laughed and played together. In the midst of their devestation, I saw a people who refused to be defeated by the circumstance of their hardship.

What is it that you need to one day finally be happy?

Hope here was real because it had been given hands and feet. Hope without effort will simply lead you to disappointment. It is far too easy to sit back and hope for salvation while we fret about the ugliness of life. Hope becomes our way out when allow it to inspire our actions.

When the wheels of our truck stopped turning and we got out to embrace the children and meet the gaze of the community... we were struck by the clear and bold seperation of circumstance from attitude.

Once again, we were met with a collision. A slamming together of our perceived notion and the incredible reality of a group of people who do not allow life to determine how they live it. There is a lesson here for me, at times I can be dim-witted.

Pic via Larry Renner. Notice the disparity of the boot-print underneath the damaged and worn foot of a child.

It was beautiful to see the hands and feet of good men and women giving embraces and leaving footprints of  hope of the people of Cerro Alto.

As for me... tonight in the glow of that fire, discussing perspectives with friends with the chilled air blowing embers over our heads... as for me, I realized that happiness is where we are meant to live. Not based on circumstance, but based on who we are.

Today has been an incredible day. I have had to view the poverty of one society, and peer into the depths of my soul to examine the level of my own.

And so I lay my head on my pillow tonight a bit in awe of my experiences, and asking myself... does my belief provide hands and feet to the hope of my own life.

If you haven't before, check out what Catalyst is doing to change lives here in Guatemala.


  1. I love your sentences, "happiness is where we are meant to live. Not based on circumstance, but based on who we are." The older I get, the more I recognize that lesson. But it is also so easily forgotten in our abundance!! Thanks for the reminder.

    Alva Lee Harley
    Melissa Renner's mom :)

  2. Thank you so much. I am so thankful to know your son-in-law and daughter. I would not have experienced any of this had it not been for their influence.