Friday, August 21, 2009

Leaving

The process of leaving started two weeks ago while I was driving to work with the director of the laboratory. I said something about fall classes and he quickly asked me when I would be going home. He was surprised by my answer and I could see the wheels turning in his eyes as he started planning a going-away party for me. I called him out on it, but he would not give me any details. It turns out I'm incredibly gullible/trickable when it comes to surprise parties. Until I walked in the door I had no idea that they had been planning this party with everybody in the lab. Either they are talented or I'm a fool, either way it was a great party. I care about those people and I am grateful for all the experiences I had with them.

My ward also had a dinner for me and they all said really nice things about me. I'm getting better at being less-awkward in situations like that. In the end, I left that chapel feeling I was walking on a cloud.

It is important to note that I have delayed feelings; they either hit me gradually or much later. The first hint of emotion happened when I loaded my suitcases into the car and looked back thoughtfully at my house. I stood briefly in my room and took mental pictures. The car drove up, I slowly exhaled, grabbed my bags and left.

The second pang of emotion came at the bus station. I gave Lorena a big hug, shook hands with my professor then walked towards the bus. I loaded my bag underneath then handed them my ticket. As I looked back I heard Dr. Maureira say "make me proud". It continued as the bus engine started and we pulled away.

The next one came after I had rushed through the entire airport (I am always rushing in airports) only to walk into the tunnel and stop. Time slowed down as I realized that I might not be back here for a very long time. I made my peace. I looked around until I started getting strange looks from airport personel, then borded the airplane to a greeting from a woman from Georgia. At that point it was over for me and I was going home/leaving home.

This has been one of the best experiences of my life so far. I am so grateful for the turns in the road that you never expected but that are so much better than what you had planned. This has been one of those turns. Now, on to a new adventure.

Words are Small

These last ten days have been some of the most beautiful days of my entire life. It was so great that when you start to talk about what was truly a sacred experience, words seem too small. At times like those I sing, but it still seems to fall short. I'll share a few of the experiences of the past weeks. To understand this, you have to know that there is a list of people from my mission that I have no idea what happened to them because they moved or other things happened. There are many times when I literally lay in bed at night and think about those people and wish that I could see their faces and know how they are doing.

One of the people on that list is a really cool girl who got baptized while living with her crazy mother. Her name is Alesca. She moved out suddenly a few weeks later and I was transferred shortly thereafter, so I never knew anything more about her. Fastforward to two sundays ago when I was sitting in priesthood thinking about a family that got baptized in the same place around the same time. I felt very strongly that I needed to call them that very day (I had one week left in Chile). I went home and got out my missionary planners and found one that had two phone numbers for them. I called both numbers - no answer. A few minutes later, the second number returned the call, but it was not the family that I was hoping to contact. Instead of apologizing and hanging up like I normally would have done, I looked through my planner trying to figure out who it might be. I realized that I must have written the number for Alesca's crazy mom in that box by accident because they were beside eachother. I quickly asked her if she could give me Alesca's number and she told me that she was living in the same city that I was! I really could not believe this chain of events! I called Alesca mere seconds later and I got to see her a couple times before I left. It was a miracle.

This past saturday I finally went to my second area. It was the closest of any of them, but I had been delaying the trip. So many people had moved away from there that I almost didn't see the point in going. When I got there I was going to go directly to our mamita's house because it was her birthday, but instead I went to the house where I lived. The missionary's still lived there and they were just leaving the house. I stopped to talk to them and they asked me my name. I said that during my mission I was Elder Peterson. They stared at eachother in disbelief and said "you're Elder Peterson!!" Let me tell you, I didn't expect that response. They then said, "guess who is getting baptized today!" I was paralyzed while dozens of faces passed through my mind. They said that Alberto and Maria and their kids were getting baptized. I was in complete shock! They had one of the most beautiful families but when I left, things started coming undone. The missionaries had seen the sheet and gone to find them again, but the family always talked about me. One hour before I had to leave for home I got to sit there and watch each of them get baptized and hear them share their testimonies. It was a miracle, and I will never forget it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday Night Fever

It was saturday night and I was dressed to the nines. I was heading to the ward party with my friend to learn the chilean national dance. Learning how to dance the cueca had been on my list of things to do for some time now, so I felt like fate was smiling in my general direction. The activity started out by learning the basic steps to the dance. Once we felt comfortable with the basics we were encouraged to choose a partner for some more complex stuff. I felt comfortable so I began the selection process. I had been eyeing a foxy 70 year-old in the corner with silver hair and a killer smile. Now it was my chance. I sauntered on over and gently suggested that we "cut a rug". She smiled demurely and accepted.

She knew her way around the dance floor, but I pride myself on being a fast learner. The dance required partners to be about 2 feet apart at all times, but I felt like it was just her and I on the floor (it really was just us on the dance floor at that point). I managed to keep up with her and her demure smile throughout, and I am now a semi-spectacular cueca dancer. It was pretty excellent. As to the silver-haired dame, I realized in the end that it would probably never work due to...cultural differences. I expressed my interest in being friends and we said goodbye.

I am pretty sure she still thinks about me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Snails see beauty in every inch

The other day I was sitting on a bus with a very good friend talking about life. It turns out I like doing that. It was a beautiful day and we were watching the pink, orange and purple colors that accompany any respecteable sunset. We were talking about the type of people that don't let their circumstances define them, but choose to be themselves and define their circumstances.

I said that it was almost impossible to be unhappy on such an incredibly beautiful day then she mentioned something really cool in relation to being happy. I think everybody has had the experience of being really sick and just wanting to not hurt anymore. I remember many times when I would go to sleep at night as sick as a dog and wake up the next morning feeling 100% better. She said that when that moment arrives you just breath in the air, ecstatic to be sitting there without any pain. It is so simple but it's one of those blessings that we take for granted.

I think it is like having a bag of blessings into which things are poured and things are lost. Sometimes we are not healthy and sometimes we are poor. Other times we feel like their is nothing more we could ask for. However, everybody has blessings in their lives; it is about being willing to recognize the ones you take for granted. How many times during periods of great health do we just wake up and smile because we don't hurt? How many times do we stop to take in a beautiful day rather than focus on the negative stuff?

Counting our blessings instead of our trials brings happiness instead of gloom. In short, I think being happy really does come down to seeing your glass as half full rather than half empty (and my friend supports that conclusion).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dani and Chuli

I spent this past weekend visiting my friend from the mission Elder Silva. He happens to be pretty cool, but he lives over four hours away so this is the only time I have gotten to see him. The trip was really cool and we had some really brilliant conversations. However, my favorite part of the entire weekend was meeting Dani and Chuli. These two girls are cousins and they have been members of the church for one year.

These two nineteen year-old girls are from the hood in every sense of the word. When they met the missionaries they were going to go to a party in another city that was going to last them the entire weekend. The missionaries were brave enough to invite them to church and for some reason they went. They said they really don't know why they chose to go to church, but they told their friends afterwards that the "mormon party" was pretty cool too. Ever since they were baptized they have faithfully attended every single sunday and every single activity. If there is somebody who needs support, they are there to support. If they are asked to do something they do it. The best part about these two girls is that they have been through really hard things and they know what it feels like. They also know what it feels like to be from the poorer part of the city where gangs and drugs are prevalent. In short, they have the potential to be examples for a lot of people who are going through rough times and for those youth who are straying.

Yesterday Chuli got up to share her testimony and among other things she thanked her cousin who has been her best friend and her support since long before they joined the church. She shared a beautiful testimony that was both incredibly sincere and insightful. It was a great experience to get to know those girls this weekend and laugh with them and hear their testimonies. The gospel really is the only way that we can be truly happy.

In short, the best part about being here in Chile, in case you were wondering, is the people.

P.S. In the next installment I will tell you about the sixty-five year-old woman who was my dance partner at the ward party. If she were only younger...