As I approach the end of my time here in the Dominican Republic on March 22, I am chipping away at my DR bucket list. While my focus during the week remains on my work with BLUE Missions Group and research for my degree in Sustainable International Development, I am taking advantage of my few remaining weekends to see and do the things that I would regret returning to the States without having experienced. For example, I am posting this entry from the capital city of Santo Domingo, instead of Santiago de los Caballeros where I live, so that I can visit the old colonial zone this weekend where, among other things, I will find the first monastery in the “New World”. Last weekend’s travels began with a trip to the 27 Charcos.
Based on what I’d read on-line about the charcos, I was expecting to give myself a good scare jumping off waterfalls in beautiful natural surroundings. On the bus ride over, I was already envisioning the photo I would take looking down from the highest jump… which I could then use as a metaphor in my vocation promotion efforts!--- something about the need at times to calm your nerves and leap into the unknown.
Thinks didn’t quite go as planned.
If my Spanish were better, I would have known that “charcos” refers to the pools formed by the stream flowing down the mountain… while suitable for jumping and swimming, I didn’t find anything like the waterfalls I had imagined. For another thing, I ended up ruining my phone/camera: it turns out that the ziplock method of water-proofing is not always 100% reliable. Even so, it was hard to get the picture that was so impressive in my mind’s eye, in part because the highest jumps (7 meters) didn’t seem so high that day. Furthermore, I somehow barely even got the butterflies at all, and the whole thing felt too safe to authentically deploy as an example of pushing through fears. It was still a memorable daytrip, and absolutely beautiful. It was just a different kind of experience than I was expecting in some ways, and not quite as daring.
If God laughs at our plans, I must be quite the jester-planner. This time the unexpected gift that God gave me though was a prompt to reflect on some of my personal evolution throughout my life journey. Please forgive the navel-gazing that follows—I won’t blame you if you stop reading here.
One thing I’ve noted over recent years is how much of my superficial behavior and instincts differ from those of my childhood, even while I remain the same person on deeper levels. For one thing, I always used to consider myself incredibly timid. I was terrified of power tools, uncomfortable with spiders, and certainly not the type to jump off even the little cliffs that I did last weekend. With a little bit of age though, I think I have become more prudent while less fearful in a way that doesn’t feel paradoxical… I’ll handle a chainsaw, wrangle a snake, and have leapt into the abyss both metaphorically and literally on a few occasions. On the other hand, I have also become a much safer driver. I don’t think I am choosing to live in a manner objectively riskier by any means, but rather I have grown to be more clear-sighted about which so-called risks actually present true danger. Once I recognize a fear to be irrational, I am simply better able to talk myself through it than I used to be. I think this comes from a better knowledge of myself and my place in this world.
I am fortunate at this point in my life to be gifted with a certain confidence. This does not mean I consider myself to know or do better than anybody else, but rather that I am generally able to accept my mistakes in action and judgment without succumbing to self-doubt. Knowing that this self-acceptance is my normal state, I am less threatened by my personal flaws and limitations, and am also able to notice—after sufficient time for reflection—that when I do throw myself a pity party and begin to question my self-worth, it is a sign that there is something throwing me off-balance to which I need to pay attention. In several years, I might experience this internal dynamic in a different way, but it is where I am now.
I am truly grateful for having had the chance to grow in different ways, and am also very mindful that any healthy growth has only been possible through the support of those who love me without condition. We don’t always correctly identify and recognize these people in our lives: we underestimate some relationships while overestimating others. Regardless, one thing I have learned, and that we Marists often emphasize on our youth retreats, is that self-love is very much related to our experience of loving and being loved by other people as well as God. At their best, these relationships are stable and reliable, while still remaining dynamic rather than static.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about friendship this year. For those who have a hard-time with self-love or accepting the idea of an all-loving God, my ideal is that through my friendship, I may be a channel of as much of that love as possible. If such radical acceptance can change me, and there is any chance that my acceptance of another can encourage that person’s self-acceptance, what is there to lose?
A central part of this week’s blog post was reflection on my personal growth over years. The “ear candy” I have chosen to accompany this theme is Closer to Fine by Indigo Girls, which imagines a general progression toward wholeness—although many of us of course experience this journey as more of a zig-zag or spiral. As much as I enthuse about promoting the power and promise of youth, in our “brain food”, Frank Bruni reminds us of the gifts that also come with age and experience. His reflections on this issue transcend the specific examples he gives within the mainstream of the US Democratic party, so I hope his chosen examples will not prove to be an obstacle for any who do not share his politics.
Ear Candy: “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls
Brain Food: “In Defense of the Gerontocracy” by Frank Bruni
Come back next Saturday for a new post!