By Claire McGrath
I just returned from an incredible trip to Belize, where, along with a few other Mount St. Mary’s students, I had the opportunity to experience the culture, paint the Belize Red Cross building, visit some schools and interact with students, and see some of the sights that this beautiful country has to offer. I experienced the richness of Mayan culture (which is just one of the cultures that makes up the people of Belize) and had the chance to do some service. Out of everything that I saw and did during this transformative experience, the people I met had the most lasting impact on me. During my stay in Belize, I had the privilege to meet many Belizeans who welcomed me into their homes and their lives.
The first few days in the country, I met Julio and his wife, who cooked meals for us, told us stories, answered our many questions, taught us about the Mayan culture in the Maya Center Museum that they run, and showed us their small chocolate factory (which, with its one room and few small machines, isn’t quite the sort of factory we are accustomed to). Ms. Amelia and her daughter-in-law Olga cooked a delicious meal for us in their simple but welcoming home. Reyes, a Mayan man living with his family in the village of San Antonio, allowed us to stay in his guest house, and we went to his home to dance and enjoy his marimba playing with other locals of the village. The next day, after eating a wonderful breakfast cooked by Reyes’ wife, Jenni, he took us to see his cacao farm, and then we sat around the table in Jenni’s kitchen as she taught us to grind cacao and made us a cacao drink. One of my fondest memories of the trip is sitting in Jenni’s kitchen, chatting with her and the other trip participants. It reminded me of being at home, sitting around the dining room table, chatting with friends and family.
I felt so honored that Reyes and Jenni, Ms. Amelia and Olga, Julio and his wife, and so many others invited us, complete strangers, into their lives and made us part of their family for a brief time. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered such hospitality. We came as outsiders to their culture, their villages, and their families, yet the Belizeans we encountered opened their arms and hearts and drew us in, inviting us to be united with them, to learn from them, and to share in their experience. Their love knew no boundaries—all of the divisions our society has set up to separate people who are different from us did not exist for them. I think that so often, we set up boundaries for our love. Perhaps it is because we are wary of people who are different from us. Or, as much as we may be reluctant to admit it, perhaps we think that some people are less deserving of our love. Perhaps it is because we are afraid that we won’t be loved in return. Whatever the reason is, there is a part of us that is afraid to give away our love completely and freely, and so we set up limits and restrictions dictating how much love we give out and to who.
What I experienced in Belize was an outpouring of love that wasn’t confined to neat, well-defined boundaries. It overflowed beyond the divides of culture and country and reached out to people had little in common with them. It was a love that drew outsiders in until they were no longer outsiders, but brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. This is the kind of love we are challenged to give away. We are called to give away all of our love equally to those we like and those we do not, to our next door neighbors and people across the globe, to members of our immediate family and members of our global family. Our love should be fearless, transcending the boundaries that divide us, reaching out to the people who are the most different from us, the people who are pushed to the fringes of society. Love cannot be contained in a nice, neat box—it must always be overflowing, spilling over to all those around us. The Belizeans I met loved me in a way that invited me to feel their pain and their joy, and to walk alongside them on their journey. It was a love that unites. This is the love that I want to imitate. I want to love until the boundaries between myself and others are washed away, and we may walk side by side.