Those are the thoughts that hit our head, right? I know, I know, maybe its not you, its me. I have those utterly deep grumblings in my soul when I know the question is going to get popped. Something of great love that you have for something that you are extremely attached to becomes the question of debate of possession. Right?
I was attending a conference in the highlands of the Andes Mountains in the region of Huanuco, which is considered to be the "eyebrow" of the jungle. The most precious and beautiful region where, according to locals, the weather is always Spring. It rests around the Andes at an altitude of approximately 7,000 feet above sea level and the mountain spring waters rush past in refreshing rivers.
There were approximately 300 persons attending the conference and I was labeled as one of the speakers for the week. Speaking on my personal experience from drug addiction, low self esteem, mixed in with a cocktail of depression and clinical anxiety, I was able to share with the countless heads of youth that glimmered across the auditorium every night.
Food consisted of the natural infusion of carbohydrates to the extent that at the altitude we were at, would not digest. I think I blossomed up like I had stepped on an air hose and inflated to the size of a sea lion. The amount of potatoes and rice that I ingested probably would have filled a large freight ship heading on exporting the product to the States.
1.) Breakfast - Bread w/ potatoes
2.) Lunch - Potatoes & rice with bread and potatoes
3.) Dinner - Rice with potatoes chopped and diced in, with a side order of potatoes, and pasta.
yeah. Did you want a potato with that ?
I have my favorite jacket. Its a black one. Its so incredibly comfortable and keeps me warm at altitude. It is black, did I mention that? It has an incredible soothing fit and with a beautiful label, (so western) "North Face" which clearly distinguishes me from the rest of the people up there in the mountains. (disclaimer below)
(drip of sarcasm pointing at my own ignorance of my brain back in the day)
One morning, with my beautiful black jacket, I was brushing my teeth, (clearly trying to remove excess potato skins from the potato soup that I had ingested the evening before). I do believe that the potatoes were starting to climb out of my hair follicles and starting to drop onto the ground. I was brushing my teeth, and I saw a youth eyeing me. As one of the speakers for the week, I thought that this was most likely normal, and I continued to brush my teeth, reaching for the pasta that was lodged in the back of my throat. Have you ever felt the odd feeling when you know that someone has been watching you for more than 30 seconds and their glance becomes more of a burning sensation that you feel in the back of your neck ? The hair rises ever so slowly off your arms, and you know that you are being stalked or watched or probed (eye probing). The dude came closer to me. I was brushing my teeth. It was clearly a private space time for me, but as one will learn in Peruvian culture, private space is something only to be had while you sleep. The dude started talking to me. So, knowing that I had to spit out the potatoes, I spat real good. (southern attempt) and I started to pay attention.
"Hey, how are you?" he asked. I wanted to respond,
"Actually, I feel like I am going to explode. I haven't had a poo since I have been here 5 days ago, and I think that I am going to vomit up your potatoes," is what I wanted to say, but I didn't.
"I like your jacket, its really cool," he said.
Moment of silence. The awkward one. The feeling washed over me. Here in this culture, when someone compliments you on something that you are wearing, it could be the clear indirect way of saying, "I want that,"
"Ahh, thanks man, it really keeps me warm," I responded, trying to sound nice and not like a typical white man from a western country that feels the need to hoard all of my possessions even though when I leave this world, nothing is coming with me.
"I am really cold, do you think I could wear that for the day, until the sun comes out," he asked. I could have choked up some rice particles from the boldness of his pointed question.
"ahh, sure man, no worries," I responded. With a lot of worry in my head, I started to take off my precious black North Face Jacket. I felt the sweat swelling around inside my potato infested mind, and I fought back the sensation to vomit rice soup all over him. To me, what seemed like hours, I removed my black North Face Jacket, and in a great effort of painful blood letting, I thrust it ever so slowly into his hands. As slow as I could, I held onto the jacket, hoping that he would come out with some joke about how he was just kidding and that he was fine.
This did not happen.
He put the jacket on.
The day went by, and I went on to speak at the conference, and continued about my day. The entire day, however, I was fixated on locating that dude with my black North Face Jacket. I watched for it at every opportunity that I had. The sun came out like a saving grace of glorious salvation, but nonetheless, the jacket didn't come back. I began to worry. I started to worry about the black North Face Jacket getting dirty. What if he spilled rice filled potato double baked pasta soup on it ? Would those potato leaves ever come out ? Do potatoes have leaves ?
The next morning, I woke up, and felt cold. I felt raw. I felt helpless. There was no black North Face Jacket to reach for and I still hadn't been able to poo either. The worse of loss and needing to lose potatoes out of my body was starting to wear me down. The days past slowly. On the last day of the conference, I looked across the hallway, and wondered how I was going to ask for the black North Face Jacket back. I needed it back. I contemplated how I was going to ask for the jacket back. I thought about stealing it back while he was eating potatoes. I thought about conniving with others in a thickened rice soupy way to get the jacket back. I thought about throwing him into a poo stall where potatoes smell filled the bathrooms and demanding it like a proper white man from the west who was all caught up in the modern day labels of fashion.
This was not going well. At the end of the evening on the last day, there was a sharing time of the adolescents. All of the participants gathered in the youth hall to share their experiences of the week.
I didn't want to be anywhere except on a plane or a bus back to Lima with my black North Face Jacket and a roll of toilet paper in my left hand for when the week of potatoes decided to leave my body.
We were all sitting in the main auditorium and I could see this dude with my black north face jacket. The jacket was no longer black, but had turned a dusty grey color, for which I was highly disappointed. I thought about throwing hand sanitizer all over him. I was getting the courage to go up and ask for my black North Face Jacket. I knew I could do it. right before the closing of the evening, this dude got up out of his seat and headed up to the front. He was going to share.
My heart started to pound because I knew this was not going to turn out well.
He started to speak. His words, I shall never forget... nor the jacket he was wearing... in case you didn't know...it was black, with a North Face label on it.
"I just wanted to share about my week and what an amazing experience it has been. I have felt that I have come closer to God, and more than that, I know that I want to leave my life of crime and drugs. I came to this conference so frustrated, angry, and mad at my family," - he started to cry... (this is the emotional part, right?)
Why," he stammered, "why do I only have two pairs of jeans and why do I only have two t-shirts that I own?" he bawled, "why did I have to be one of the people in this world that was born poor?" he sobbed... " Why me, oh why me..." and he covered his hands in his face, " all I ever wanted was to understand if God loved me so much, why did I get born into a poor life, a poor family, and a poor country, and why do I have to be one of the poor people in the world, with no dreams and hopes for the future, just living here, off the land," - he sobbed...
I sobbed. I cried. I was horrified. I think I was crying for two reasons.
1.) What a selfish prick I am.
2.) I will never see nor be able to ask for that North Face Jacket back.
How sad is it that I became so attached to a material thing that it completely possessed and consumed my thoughts for the conference. Instead of focusing on the needs of others, I became wrapped up in my own self materialistic world of "self" that I forgot to keep my eyes focused on the things that mattered.
There is truly something to be shared in learning about giving people something to drink, something to eat, something to wear, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Its legit. Its real. It changes our lives.
Often, in helping others, truly, we are the ones that become the one that gets the help needed to become a better person.
Thankfully, three years later, someone gave me a black North Face Jacket as a gift. What I had released and let go came back years later. What a humble lesson to learn. What a humble life to live, and what a humble journey to walk. Who are we to hold onto what we think is ours? Who are we to think that the material things that we own really belong to us? We are just passing through? It's time to let go and release. Think of child slaves. Think of those in sex trade? Think of those who are trafficked with their lives? And we worry about our black North Face Jackets? Shame on me...
Let us reach out and help the person next to us as Mother Teresa once replied when someone asked her how did she know who to help next.
Today, let us begin.