In the spring of 2012 I was blessed with the opportunity to go with my school to Antigua, Guatemala to serve the schools, orphanages, and community. After much fundraising and hard work with my team, we went on our way to this beautiful city. It was as if I had gone back in time. The cobblestone streets, the ruins everywhere you look that have been standing for hundreds of years, untouched. These buildings emanate culture, history, and overwhelming beauty. There was always a smile in my heart. The love and appreciation that was welling up inside of me for this culture and place was weighty and abundant. As I walked those streets I left bits of my heart in many places.
Every sunset burst with light and life. Every human I encountered was unique and beautiful. Every building was big and strange with many steps, caves, and magnificent rooftops. There was color and sound everywhere. My senses were heightened. I noticed and enjoyed every detail. I sucked in all the experience and culture I could while I was there. Every morning was spent singing songs with my friend Allison as we walked along the old streets, covered in footsteps. Every place had a story, so many stories, in every building, on every street, in every soul.
I encountered many different humans. I saw and understood something different about life each time I touched someone’s hand or looked into someone’s eyes. It was as though everything was speaking the “Language of the World” that “The Alchemist” speaks of. This “language” is wordless but loud. It speaks directly to the soul and things are understood deep inside of you. You can’t explain them but you just know. At the end of each day I had dirt on my feet and life in my heart.
Along with traveling throughout the city serving the community and schools, there was one thing we were able to do that will never flee from my heart and mind; I won’t let it. Each day of the week we were there we visited a local orphanage called “Hermano Pedro” for a few hours. On the outside, the building was old, grand, yellow, and beautiful. On the inside, there was hurt, pain, and parentless children. But, in every dark place, there is always some kind of hope. This wasn’t just a normal orphanage. This was an orphanage for handicapped children. Although all were handicapped, I never saw a more diverse group of people. Some children were playing, some couldn’t move, some laughed with us, some didn’t have the ability to respond in any way, some were lively, and some were near death.
When I first walked in and looked around, my heart was aching. The pain was emotional and physical. I felt heaviness inside of me for the brokenness in this world. I swallowed any fears I had and went to meet with some children. The heaviness was still there throughout the entire visit but what seemed like something so wrong and broken, was really great beauty and life; life like I have never encountered before. I sat with a little girl for a while. She stared blankly at the wall and never spoke. I didn’t care. I pushed her chair to the middle of the courtyard and sang to her. I placed small flowers throughout the dirty braid in her hair. About thirty minutes went by and she never responded or made a sound. I decided to put her chair back where it was and leave her be. As I parked her chair she began to cry and scream. She squeezed my hand with all her strength, begging me to stay. A light went on inside of me and as I looked into her eyes, I saw her soul. What I saw was her, the real her, her essence. I was in awe. I couldn’t speak. I could only stare, in that moment. I felt united with her, connected to her. It was a tacit conversation. This little girl, God’s beautiful creation, I realized, is a human being, just like me. Although I couldn’t see her expression of gratitude, as she squeezed my hand, I felt her emotions flow from her beautiful soul.
Yes, this little girl is handicapped. Yes, she can’t walk or talk. But, none of that makes her less of a human than I. In reality, we are all handicapped. We all have something that seems broken, messed up, or wrong. Her handicap is just seen on the outside. Regardless of her outward “hindrances” this little girl is a human with worth and purpose. God made no mistake. He uses her to express light and beauty in a way that is uncommon and strange but so compelling and noticeable. I sat with her and looked at her, in awe of the beauty of this human, this soul. Antigua is filled with many magnificent and beautiful things but I think the people are the most beautiful and awe-inspiring of it all. I am grateful for this diverse world with diverse people, who each have a soul and a story.
About the Author: My name is Bridgett Cockrell and I am a senior in high school. I have a desire for travel, a passion for different cultures, and a deep love for people. Travel has always been one of the most important things to me. I love to encounter a people and culture that transcends and expands my experience and knowledge of this world.