Today, the morning was humid and warm, as the past four days in Panamá have been. This trip had been incredibly free-flowing, and as individuals experienced life-opening moments, mine was yet to truly hit home.
Two years ago, I arrived to the waistline of the world as a wide-eyed and thoroughly confused freshman. Throughout the course of the trip, I would suffer from an inner-ear infection, see various doctors and miss days to serve at the orphanages. But luckily, by the end of the week, I got to visit Aldea SOS in Panama City.
His name is Samuel. Now twelve years old, he is taller, with light cocoa brown skin. His wide eyes are set wider than I last saw him, but he has the same haircut, the same smile. Two years ago he rushed to the bus to hold my hand as we were leaving, and ran as far to the gates of the orphanage as possible to catch a last glance of the yellow bus.
Today, I walked up the moist green earth of the orphanage to see him. I first saw him through the bars that guard the window, and he was hesitant. Perhaps is was the fact that my entire group of dance diplomats was there, but he was shy as we awkwardly greeted each other for the first time in two years. Eyes met and we exchanged smiles. I cried without realizing it and he shifted in his place awkwardly as twelve year old boys do.
What sort of reunion was I to expect? With these kids, people come and go so often, and I was no exception to this pattern. Regardless of the fact that his picture was on my wall since my last trip to Panama, Samuel had no idea what he symbolized for my life.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m an English major, and I look for tropes and meaning in my own life, that his being represents so much to me. He has been an everlasting reminder of those who have less than I, who struggle and are hungry for love. Like me.
But today, seeing Samuel doing well and so grown has reminded me that life goes on. We live, love, grow and make decisions. In what seems black and white, we find the gray. In moments of hand holding, of music, of grace, we find joy.
I watched him as he moved chairs and took out the garbage. He climbed a tree. He looked back at me. Regardless of it all, I still choose to love him, and always will. He has shown me, through his actions, however limited they may be, that human connection is first and foremost the important.
So whatever civic engagement I choose, whichever profession I embrace, I know, by his example, that human beings–in all their chaos, with all their flaws–come first.
(His favorite color is green.)