Humility, gratitude and kindness are just words. Words that when we hear bring peace, joy and even emotions that may be difficult to convey, explain, or understand. Words that are very often forgotten. I have forgotten these words, many times. Times when life just seems empty, or dark. Times when I am engulfed in my own self. Its a tender mercy from God to help us remember that without humility, kindness and gratitude, we are empty.
My tender mercy was given to me by the children of a small community in the outskirts of Manila, Philippines. Angono. It seems that when I find myself giving hope, support and love to those in need, I am the one who ultimately receives these things in return above and beyond any amount I ever imagine.
Arriving in Angono, I was welcomed with open arms, flowers, music, dancing and the biggest smiles on children I have ever seen. The school was decorated with crepe paper, drawings and other items made by the students. They had plastic sandwich baggies that they filled with air and tied to the ceiling to make sweet little balloons. Their school uniforms neatly pressed and washed for this special occasion. Their shoes, worn, scratched and many with the soles missing, or half gone with holes to see their little precious toes poking out. These little souls already changing my soul forever just in the first moments I met them. Some shy, some giggly, and some ready to hug and laugh and play, these children taught me humility, gratitude and kindness like I have never understood before. I am not sure if the translation didn’t convert right but I was referred to as “Miss Jeen” (pronounced Gene). The teachers, moms and dads, students and other locals called me Jeen. I loved it! “Miss Jeen” look at this, Miss Jeen, come see my desk!
Little hands would reach out to me desperately trying to touch my skin, feel my hair and look at my dangling, sparkly, earring that I was wearing. Holding their school notebooks out to me with a pencil wanting me to write my name, then followed by bursts of laughter and giggles. Taking pictures on my iPhone and then showing them their own faces with more burst of laughing. One young girl saw our picture on the phone and said look Miss Jeen, we are beautiful. Yes, I replied, very beautiful. In a place where there are very little worldy things like, iphones, computers, video games, cars, there was in abundance humility, gratitude and kindness. I was almost ashamed thinking of all that I have. The very shoes I was wearing cost more than these families see in a year. The hot water I would bathe in after a long day out in the blistering heat is more clean water than they see in months. The car I drive, the home I live in, the late night del taco runs I indulge myself in, are more than these precious people can and will ever dream of. Why is it that the ones who have the least are the ones willing and ready to give all they have? Why is it that those with empty houses, little food, holes in their shoes or no shoes at all smile the biggest and laugh the loudest? It is because they are kind to one another, take care of each other, are thankful for what they have and live in the most humble of circumstances. Thank you Miss Jeen, thank you for our school! Thank you Miss Jeen, thank you for bringing us food and giving us new paper. Thank you Miss Jeen, thank you for helping us.
I will never forget these “thank you.”
Indonesia was a completely different journey. We started at 5:15 am along a nicely paved highway that turned into a windy, steep,paved /dirt road that no bus or vehicle bigger than a moped had any business trying to navigate. As our altitude ascended, my amazement quickly followed seeing small huts and homes built on the side of this treacherous road. Just when I thought my understanding of humility was clear, my heart reached an all new level of awe for these people who make their lives right there in the middle of the jungle on the side of a road.
After leaving our bus behind, we boarded Land Rovers to take us to the villages. The scenery soon changed to beautiful wide open rice fields with a feeble man in each one raking or collecting the plants that still baffle me how they get rice from them. Tea Tree bushes started to cover the entire landscape and mountainous valleys and peaks took over with an occasional hut or small store here and there. If I were to live there, I would choose this place. It was like going back in time to a different century where the technologies of our world now cease to exist. It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth that I have been. Hours of mud and bumps in my bright red land rover, surrounded literally by thick jungle on both sides, still in shock that there are people who make their homes here, I arrive in our first village. I show up with North Face pants on, power bars, and a cold water bottle to a sight I was not prepared for. Children, teenagers, and adults cheering and waving at me with huge smiles and excitement that can only match Christmas morning. Kids standing in the rain with no shoes or shirts on ready with open arms to greet us. The people had prepared food, goodies and treats for us, that may have been all they had for the week.
My understanding of humility, gratitude and kindness quadrupled in those first 5 minutes of being in this village. After dancing and singing for us, they showed us the new building they use for preschool in the morning and a women’s center in the afternoon. It was a one room area made of tightly woven bamboo husks with bare walls except for the little pieces of art work the kids made especially for our visit. There are no desks here. With limited supplies, the kids used worn out crayons to color numbers 1-10 and pictures of themselves with their friends playing. I thought of the classroom I had as a teacher and all the amazing supplies, art, decorations, plants, heat in the winter and of course desks. Boy, I was sure spoiled. My students have no idea just how spoiled we really were. Their playground consisted of one teeter toter, a few old wooden boxes and a big rock that the kids would jump off of. I remember going out to recess with my students, which was one of my favorite things to do, playing on a beautiful playground with a full soccer field, kickball field, swings, slides, a jungle gym and even painted concrete lines for 4 square and hop scotch. Boy, we were spoiled.
I have my home sprayed every month for spiders the size of a dime from getting in, these people share their yards with spiders the size of their faces and pythons the size of a school bus, not to mention many, many other creatures that look like they are straight from the movie King Kong! I kept asking what happens if a child gets hurt or needs medical attention with no hospital or doctor within 6 hours. The answer was, they deal with it like they always have, together. These people working hours and hours a day just to have food and not very much food on their tables each day, and here I am sometimes to lazy to drive to Harmons to buy food already prepared for me. They don’t ask the question what do you want to be when you grow up, it’s I won’t grow up if I don’t work to have food on the table.
Being back home has been hard for me. Laying in my king size bed with my heated blanket and comforter makes me feel ashamed. I keep wanting to ship all I have to the people I met. My cupboards and refrigerator are full, I have clean, hot and cold water, a car, clothes and many other things that add up to more than most people in the world see in a lifetime. I am more than lucky. I am blessed. I am blessed in ways that I only understood when surrounded by those who may not be as blessed as myself.
I miss their faces. they are not just names or pictures, they are real people to me. I miss who I am when I am there with them. I forget myself. Life is simple, happy, and I feel fulfilled surrounded by beautiful people. I will live each moment remembering the humble, precious people of Angono and West Java. They have changed me and blessed my life more than they will ever know. This Thanksgiving I am most thankful for remembering how to be grateful, kind and humble.