Not even three weeks ago I got home from a three week vacation to Peru and Chile. It was planned largely to visit my oldest daughter who was doing PhD field work for a year in Valparaíso. Emily had been there close to six months. It was the perfect time to connect in person. The day after we came home, I used my hands to unpack and let my mind meander back through experiences, savoring each one as if I were still there. So many items to be put away or left out held the special memory of a person or place that taught us something or invited us into a new relationship. Half way through the task I realized I would soon have the luggage cared for, but I would likely spend the next year unpacking all the learnings, insights and invitations that seemed to be rising like incense all around and within me.
Not even three weeks ago, as I picked up the new cherished pair of Peruvian boots I bought, I thought to myself, “Each time I wear these boots, I will walk around all day remembering the families I bought them from. I will remember the older and younger women who helped me find sizes and try them on. I will remember the man my daughter (who also picked and purchased her own boots) found out makes the boots – each pair in three days.” As strange as this may sound, as I began to use the restroom back home again, flushing toilet paper rather than placing all tissue in a waste can (as you need to in most all of Peru and Chile), I remembered how much more conscious I had become on the trip in such a good way, asking myself and living out, “how much TP do you really need each time, Erin?” I reminded myself that I wanted to remain committed to keep asking and living into that question, grateful for the strange opportunity and invitation through travel to reflect on waste (no pun intended) and embrace this new, small-big way to live less wasteful and more committed to conservation. I saw the boots, toilet paper and so many things as small yet significant ways to remember other persons and small local business’ trying to make it.
Then, the pandemic hit. And everything changed.
When we were leaving Chile, covid-19 was just beginning to escalate in the United States and the first cases had just hit Chile several days earlier. It was not declared a pandemic yet. Our biggest concern and thanksgiving for the timing of our leaving didn’t have to do with the disease but the dis-ease or unrest that had been present in Chile politically since that “outbreak” last October. We all knew that with International Women’s Day the day after we were leaving, and a key election coming in April, huge protests with thousands and thousands of persons were planned for all around Chile beginning now. It was time for us to go, even as Emily needed to stay and we would all be monitoring events and safety hoping the election unfolded in the people’s favor perhaps bringing more hope and less unrest and violence. Yet by the time we were home three days, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. We had serious growing issues particularly in Washington and New York with California beginning to follow suit. By Friday Emily was receiving emails from the state department and thrown into a whirlwind of decisions, plans, and redoing plans. By Monday, March 16th, she had concrete plans to leave Chile Wednesday eve, postponing her field work “on the ground” there for now. By Tuesday it was clear she should try and get an earlier flight. She ended up leaving by midnight from Santiago to Miami, to then go on to LAX and finally to Sacramento where we would pick her up. Through the prior weekend in Modesto, it was clear enough folks were already concerned enough about the crisis to begin running out for food, water and other supplies folks grab up in most crisis’. I decided to go get some things like pasta and sauce, rice and beans. TP and water were on the list but nowhere to be found.
Tuesday afternoon I put on my new Peruvian boots and went in to use the restroom before going to pick up Emily with Russ. What happened?? In less than a week my new boots and the TP had a whole new meaning and invitation. I looked down at the boots and realized I would now wear them for at least weeks, if not months ahead thinking about the shop workers, the boot maker, small local business’, and – all of Peru. And Chile. And come to think of it, all of South America. My heart had shifted. My focus expanded further. My new friends below the equator needed a whole new kind of “being remembered” now. Small, local businesses everywhere needed a brand new kind of prayer as more and more would clearly be shut down to stop the spread of the virus. Chile’s biggest problem now, for a while anyway, was not going to be economic inequity or political unrest. Of equal or greater concern than police violence would soon be large groups assembling for protest possibly spreading the virus like wildfire. My eyes left my boots as they noticed the toilet paper roll. “Who would have thought that barely a week after coming home, there would come a whole other dimension to the preciousness of TP and the need to consider conserving it than I brought with me?!” The desire and now another kind of real need to ration TP in my house brought double meaning into my question: How much TP do you really need?!
There’s even more to it than that. We don’t just need to consider rationing our TP because it’s hard for our family to find. We need to consider rationing our TP because it’s hard for everyone to find and every family needs it. “How much TP do you really need” has become linked directly to other questions: Are you willing to use less TP so another family of one or many can have some or any? Are you willing to buy and use less water, pasta, sauce, beans, flour, sugar, eggs, lunch meat, etc… so others can have some? Are you willing to go without some things one day so someone else can have them some days as well? Not just in a pandemic, but every day – is it about me and mine, or we and all of us? My heart keeps shifting. My focus keeps expanding.
Not even three weeks after coming home, I continue being invited to come home to more and more of my truest self. Did I go on a vacation, or experience a set of encounters inviting me to become more of the best of who I am? Am I trying to survive a pandemic, or still learning about and practicing conservation and community? Is my responsibility to me and mine, or you and all? I’m not sure I need to make a choice between any of these. Usually more than one thing is true at a time and everyone is served best when we can hold all truth gently and long enough to savor and swallow every crumb of good there. Three things I do know. You, me, and persons everywhere are being invited daily to think more globally, and act locally in a whole bunch of new ways in order to better support and love on us all. These invitations come through our work, vacations, encounters with people, boots, and even toilet paper. And we are all gifted with a fierce, unending courage and creativity, generosity and compassion, a heart made for shifting and a focus meant for expanding – always deeper and wider – to make it so.
shift hearts everywhere
keep expanding our focus
in service of all