A Lesson of Love

by Haley R. 

The rickety bus was cramped with overheated human bodies as it swerved between the faded parked cars and bicyclists who did not wear helmets. The driver never flinched nor even thought about slowing down, even when it seemed impossible to fit through the narrow spaces as we passed other vehicles. Dusty, run down shops lined the streets and stray dogs wandered to and fro in their unending search for leftover food. The heavy Trinidadian air could have been cut with a knife and the high temperature caused me to sweat profusely and feel lethargic and irritable. I willed my eyes closed as I tried to focus on my purpose, my mission, for being there.

I had come to Trinidad knowing bits and pieces of information about the service projects that I would complete, but having no real idea how the week would play out. When I received the itinerary my stomach heaved with fear and I almost cried when I saw the long list of activities and projects that I faced. Not only was the list long, but it was filled with jobs that required emotional exertion and commitment that made me want to fly back to the United States and into my comfort zone. The itinerary informed us that we would run a Vacation Bible Club and visit a nursing home for the elderly, a drug rehab center, pre-schools, and a school for the mentally handicapped, all which required building personal relationships with the Trinidadian people.

My visit to the elderly home is still a vivid image that is engraved in my brain as well as on my heart. I had been in nursing homes many times before since my grandfather was ill, and I was terrified of the smell of powder and moldy air and the lonesome mood that accompanied them. Visiting the nursing home was the assignment I dreaded with every bone in my body that even caused me to contemplate feigning “sick” that morning.  But upon my arrival to the confined, but clean home, I witnessed a miraculous transformation of my heart. A change that melted away my cold fear to reveal the true love and compassion that was struggling to shine through. Suddenly I was grasping the hands of my new friends and I heard the lyrics to the songs we were singing bursting from my lips. I cherished listening to their life stories and accomplishments and seeing the light in their faces that someone delighted in them. Some of the patients were deaf and blind, but that no longer mattered as I stroked their hand and prayed that God would bless them. Joe*, a man of about seventy surprised me with his cheery attitude and his soothing harmonica playing. Joe shared how he never let his dreams die even when he faced hardships and his desire to create happiness in the world.

I had come to Trinidad believing I was the teacher, the mighty American who would help the Trinidadians, but in reality I turned out to be the student. They taught me how to push my fears aside and to embrace my people as my “brothers and sisters”. They caused me envision my life when I am elderly and alone, which makes me desperately hope that someone will care enough to spend time with me. Ultimately, they gave me the dream to create happiness and the courage to love others even when it is difficult.

*Name changed