Wednesday, April 7, 2010


My new friends in Guatemala prepared me. They said that “re-entry” would be difficult. They said that it would hit me at unusual times. They said that it would bring me to tears. They were right.

Within five minutes of returning home, at 1:30am on Palm Sunday, I was standing in the dark in my bedroom, weeping. It had been a long day of traveling, and I had every intention of quickly transitioning from doorway to pajamas to bed, and then, mid-step, I froze. As I stood still in the quiet of the night, with spring peepers offering a faint chirp in the background, I absorbed all of the comforts of my home. I felt the sturdy wood floor beneath my feet and remembered all of the people I had met who slept, every night, on a dirt floor. I felt the expanse of my bedroom, with vaulted ceilings and many windows, and I remembered the mud brick homes that I had entered, which – as beautiful and traditional as they were – reminded me of small caves. And I actually felt the conveniences in my life… a bathroom only steps away, a thermostat on the wall to control the heat, a stocked refrigerator downstairs, and light bulbs… lots and lots of lamps and recessed lights and nightlights which simply required the flip of a switch to illuminate an entire room. It was in that darkness, as I thought about Florinda and Daniel Pablo and Cayetana and Erwin and so many others, that I began to unravel. Yes… it happened that quickly.

So what is re-entry? Ever since I was 10 years old, in Ms. Weems’ 5th grade class, I have understood the concept of re-entry. I don’t remember much from that year (other than being the girl winner of the multiplication contest and earning dinner at China Blossom with the teacher and boy winner, David Natoli), but I do remember this. Ms. Weems told a story about a friend of hers who had traveled to a poor area of Mexico to do volunteer work. She explained that, when the friend returned home for the holidays, she burst into tears as family members tore through wrapping paper to open Christmas gifts. Her friend was not just sad to think that the people she had met in Mexico would not have gifts to open, but she was overcome by the symbolism of the wrapping paper, knowing full well that such beautiful paper would be valued and treasured by the poor people she served. The image stuck in my head for, well… more than 30 years. I have often envisioned a small brown child, much like my own Will, slowly and meticulously unwrapping a small gift so that the paper could be saved for another special occasion. That’s re-entry. It’s the realization that what you left behind is not at all like what you experience at home… and it is the sadness, the guilt, the anger, the hope, and all of the other emotions that fill your soul and cause you to stop in your tracks and just let it wash over you… like being overcome by a great big wave on an otherwise calm seas day.

I think I may have been wrong in an earlier post. I wrote that, because of the kinds of work that I do, this trip was not as much life-changing as it was life-affirming. As I now have had some time to reflect, I realize that, indeed, it did change me. I am feeling a bit Zen… whatever that means. I am hugging and praising and valuing my kids more. I am treasuring my time – and my life - with Jay. I am thinking more deeply and acting less quickly. I am praying more than I have in a long time. I am feeling more comfortable, and perhaps even content, in my skin. I am feeling valued and validated. I am feeling blessed and grateful to a higher degree. Good changes… every one of them.

And so, when can I expect this re-entry phase to come to a close? Time will only tell, but – for lots of reasons – I would like it to stick with me for a while. I hope that certain sights and sounds and smells bring me back, if only for a moment, to the land that I have come to love… a land of extreme poverty and intense pride… a land of culture and tradition… a land whose people exude warmth and gratitude and honor.

With my “orientation” now complete, I can hardly wait to return and be put to work by my new Mayan Families friends. Oh how I’d love to make this an annual trip. And I’d love to bring Jay and the kids. And I’d love to stay for a month and do a Spanish immersion program. And I’d love to build an Onil stove. And I’d love to bring a supply of basketball uniforms for the free sports program. And I’d love to pick avocados with Juana in Tierra Linda. And I’d love to create a garden in Chuk Muk with Louise. And I’d love to secure space for a community garden in Pana with Sue. And I’d love to build a community center in El Barranco. And I’d love to create a transitional living program for the kids in the San Andres orphanage who will be put out on the street at age 15. It’s such a blessing to have so many opportunities to make a difference.

Like I have carried the Ms. Weems story with me for all of these years, I hope that you will carry my story. When you have that quiet moment, perhaps also in the darkness of the night, I pray that you will think about the bounty of your life and tip your hat in gratitude. And, if you feel so inspired, consider your next opportunity to serve and be ready to pay the toll.

Feeling abundantly blessed,



  1. You said it exactly right. For me, it was the guilt. I then started feeling guilty about everything I did - bought - saw - heard. I'm sad to say that the feeling started going away. Not totally - but not all incompassing.

    9 months after my last trip, I was visiting my parents in Florida. We were in my parent's boat going down the access waters aroung Bonita Springs headed to the Gulf. All around us were multi-million dollar homes - huge, amazing, incredible homes. And most of these homes didn't have anyone living in them as they are "summer" homes for people. I sat there on the boat, on a glorious day, and just sobbed. All I could think about was what Sharon could do with just the money that was spent to furnish those homes - the people who could eat - the homes that could be built - the education that could be provided. It was very overwhelming.

    And, I think that's ok. Having these experiences and feeling this way allows us to continue to make good decisions about how we spend our money and time so that we can continue to help the people in the land we love so much.

  2. Beth, how beautiful and eloquent. It gave me goosebumps when I finished reading it. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece and expressing so much, how many of us feel but are unable to put on paper. It is an honor and a blessing to know you.

  3. Beth you truly have a gift with words. I will now be able to name the feeling I get so often in my very blessed! Ms. Weems would be very proud of you and her story's impact on you for 30+ years...kudos to you for all you do with your life!

  4. Another beautiful piece. When I read in your previous post that this trip would be 'not so much life-changing', I remember being taken aback a bit, but then thought of my own naivete before heading to Mexico. I'm embarrassed to say that I thought I could forecast what my speech in church would be about before the trip even happened! Aren't we silly. It is wonderful that this experience was all that you had imagined and so much more.

  5. was wondering if you are still looking for a way to donate basketball unforms and how many you would need. let me know asap as I have an idea.....bridget