I keep thinking about my jeans. I mentioned them before, but they have taken my mind hostage this week. This week… the week after our brief stay in Guatemala. They were crisp, dark, creased, and new. I had purchased them off a sale table at The Gap, Tri-county. I sat on the carry-on bag as I forced the zippers to meet at the top. My new discount jeans were tucked away, folded in with unblemished gloves, a new white bandana, and soft white socks and t-shirts.
Guatemala is on my mind. The soil of the land was under my nails, it found it’s way into my mouth on multiple occasions, and the reddish tint of the ground had worked into the skin of my arms. The intense tropic sun branded my back. My boots carried home the dust of our labors that stirred the dreams of our new friends.
During my work-week now as I wear my starched shirt, tie, and polished shoes I glance down to my wrist to see the bracelet that was a gift handed to me by a child, and tied by my wife. I sit on the soft grass during soccer practice and notice the mortar that is clinging to the ridges in my wedding band, and then laugh as I notice that it has also stowed away inside the circle of the ring and has acted on my finger like sandpaper. Kinda funny that I haven’t noticed, but understandable. As anyone on that trip will tell you, we have multiple scratches, bumps, strains, and bruises. And we cherish them all. We can tell you the story of how we earned each one.
There is honesty in physical labor. There is an incredible satisfaction that creeps up on you at some point when you find yourself sitting in a pile in the dust. It happens when you look up and see the progress around you, and you know that the result is good. That moment feeds the soul at those crucial moments when you feel that your work is worthless and you simply cannot lift another brick or attempt to level that block that has been taunting you through countless failed attempts. And then you catch a glimpse. Your eyes fix on something that stirs your heart. You rise up and push on with a fresh breath in your chest.
You see, we were “Team Bad-Ass.” We shortened it to “Team B.A.” so not to offend. Our name is a secret, so you cannot speak of it. We bled, we got sick, fell down, and we ate lots of pink bismuth (well, maybe that was just me). We cried. We screamed when ants got in our pants (ok, again maybe just me), and we were afraid more times than we can remember. I wore pajamas in the black market (I didn’t pack enough clothes) and I drove a van through insane chaotic traffic. We were scared a lot because we are soft, spoiled Americans. And we were aware of this. And, we were determined that our fear would not stop us. When things got dicey, we reminded ourselves of who we were.
We were inspired and challenged by the spirit of the men and women who worked beside us. We saw their courage in the face of challenges that would cause us to wither. We attempted to rise to as close to their level as we could stretch, simply so we would not pull them down to ours.
We broke bricks with machetes and trowels, and fussed un-holy epithets under our breaths (at times louder than intended). We spread sunscreen un-evenly on our skin and gave ourselves glowy patterns on our exposed skin. We doused ourselves in DEET and stepped in dog poop. We learned our limitations, and we learned the difference that direction and hope provides to impossible odds.
My jeans are now nearly worn through on the knees. The thighs and calves are worn pale. The backs of the knees are permanently wrinkled. The bottom hems are frayed, and the entire garment has taken on the reddish hue of the Central American earth.
The grit is gone from my nails, and my skin is again scrubbed clean. And it all makes me a bit sad. I long for the honesty of the work. Water has never tasted so good. The shade of a tree, the kiss of a breeze, and the coolness of a rain-shower…these tactile moments were completely life giving.
So why do I share this with you? Simply because I need to. It was my experience. It was immeasurable and unparallel. I want you to share it. I want you to be changed. It was beautiful and it was crass. It was honestly human, and it was completely God.
The work we did on that land was purely insignificant as compared to the work that God completed between those who gathered there for a vapor-moment in time.
I am so thankful that I was there. I am so thankful that I know who I am.