Our lives are filled with defining moments. Moments that make us who we are and who we believe we are going to become. These moments remind us of where we have been, and where we have yet to go. On Thursday, March 6th, I was looking one of these moments square in the face.
Valentina’s hair was streaked with strands of dusty white and gray and she sat with her hands folded in her lap. The wrinkles on her face seemed to say so much – the crinkles by her eyes matched the smile lines on her cheeks and helped to create the perfect portrayal of a humble Guatemalan woman. I knew how much work had been put in to make the detailed, colorful shirt that draped over her frail arms. When she looked up at me, I felt as if she was peering into my soul. The corners of her mouth turned up. I sat down next to her in the waiting area and felt like a giant. 84 years old, Valentina stood about four and a half feet tall and every bit of her told a story that I knew I could never understand but desired so much to know.
She welcomed my strange presence and broken Spanish with grace. She explained to me the pain she feels every day in her knees, her struggle to walk, and her longing to feel renewed. I didn’t think that I would be able to understand that much of her Spanish, but somehow I felt every word that she was saying. After we talked for a while about cookies and achy knees, she bent down to touch her calf. I noticed a red ribbon laced into her skinny long braid. I complimented her on the bright red color. She covered her mouth with her tiny hands and laughed contagiously. I couldn’t help but join her. I told her that I needed two ribbons since I had two braids. You would have thought I was a comedian. She threw her head back and squinted her deep brown eyes, then laughed quietly but fully.
Later that day I got to thinking about her red ribbon and the way it meticulously twisted into her braid. I knew that I would remember Valentina forever. I knew that everyone on the trip would remember how the Guatemalan community has affected our lives, and how we in turn have affected the peoples’ lives as well. But what I think our team hasn’t realized is how much each Xavier student and leader on the trip has affected each other. No one has asked questions when help is needed, no one has complained about the busy days, and no one has left another student without a shoulder to lean on. I can tell you that every single person on this team has been a red ribbon in my life – someone who stands out and perfectly compliments my own journey just in the way that the bright red ribbon complimented Valentina’s gray hair.
Maybe it is Valentina’s crinkled smile and adorable laugh that has become the definitive moment in my life, or perhaps, more likely, it is the all the red ribbons – all the people – here who have defined who I am and all that I have left to become. I can tell you that I am writing to you having had conquered inception. I am living in a dream, and I never want to wake up.
March 7, 2014