It all started with me getting lost.
I didn’t know I was lost until children from the community in the middle of the jungle of Peru surrounded me and started poking me to see if I was real. Apparently, A white man with a beard is a rare occurrence in the middle of the jungle.
As I struggle to understand what they are saying to me in their unique Spanish accents, the unanswered questions pile up in my head because I couldn’t access google to give me the answers.
Is this really happening? Am I dream..
Before I could finish my thought, one of the children poked me again to remind me that this is really real. I am not dreaming.
The children called out for “Joel”. Out of a small house walks this old skinny man with puckered cheeks. As he starts talking, I start realizing that I do not know as much Spanish as I thought I did.
After 10 minutes of muddled speech, over-exaggerated hand signals, and misunderstandings, I came out with all the information I needed. I am 2 hours away from my destination, The sun is going down in 30 minutes, A huge storm is moving in, and Joel will let me stay at his place for the night.
It took ten steps to walk to the door, through his shack, and into the back yard, where I was greeted with a pleasant smile from his pregnant wife, and the confusion of his two toddlers.
Hold on… That’s his wife?
“Cuantos anos tienes?” I ask Joel.
“66” he replies.
But she can’t be any older than 18.
I try to justify it in my mind.
Earlier in my trip through Iquitos, I learned that the age of consent is 13 and it is common for 18–21 year old men to date 13–15 year old “women”, but almost 50 years of age difference? And 2 young children with another one on the way?
I am intrigued and wondering if I should really trust this man as wind gusts through the shack, lightning strikes, and the thunder booms. The stray cats and dogs scurry away to find shelter as it starts raining cats and dogs.
I turn around and watch another storm brewing inside as the girl, Joel’s wife, is yelling and pointing in Joel’s face, raining down upon him with insults and accusations. The only thing I can understand is “otras mujeres” (“other women” in English).
I turn around and watch the storm intensifying outside. Thunder that was almost louder than the sound of someone kicking a wooden wall five feet away from me. Thunder almost loud enough to drown out the growling.
Hold on, growling?
I turn around and see the girl holding Joel by his shirt shaking him viciously against the wall while yelling and growling in his face. It was as if each time she kicked the wall it became the thunder, as her emotions poured out and she tried to blow it all away with the hurricane of her words.
Joel didn’t react, becoming the body of water that sits still, while simultaneously feeding the hurricane.
I guess that means I have to bring the light to break up the storm.
But first, I closed my eyes and opened them. Sometimes I wake up from dreams when I do that, but fortunately, this was real life.
Fortunately? Yes, you’ll see what I mean.
I walk up to them and stand an inch away from the eye of the storm. I do not know what to say, and even if I did I would not be able to translate it into Spanish.
That was the greatest gift because sometimes words cause more miscommunication than silence itself.
I decided to implement what I teach in workshops. Simply hold your space, Be you, for you can only change yourself. Whenever you try to force things to happen or force others to change, it wastes energy and creates more problems. Just be you, hold your space.
Ok thanks, Mr.Ardizzone. I didn’t know you were going to give me a pop quiz today.
I stood close enough to them to break up the fight, as I entered into a state of love, compassion, and gratitude. I encapsulated them in the bubble of gratitude that I was creating for us.
Part of me thought I was nuts until I noticed the girl react. She stood Joel up and threw him to the ground five feet away from me. She did not want to let go of her anger, yet. As they struggle, I move closer, but she quickly stands Joel up and forces him against the wall again.
After five minutes of indifference, Joel finally speaks up, saying something that brought the girl to another level of hate. She reaches into his underwear, grabs his genitals, and tries to tear them out. Joel starts unloading punches into her face. She feels nothing as she uses the other hand to try to choke Joel to death.
At this point, I could either run away from this difficult situation or step up with certainty that I will not let anyone get hurt more than they already have.
Even when the storm covers the sun, the sun still shines, right?
I grabbed the girl’s wrists and squeezed in an area that removed all the strength from her grip. She finally let go and as Joel ran out, I took her arms and crossed them over her chest. We sit back together as I held her in my arms. All of her anger turned to the sadness as she let out years of pain and oppression.
I don’t even know her name. I can barely speak her language, and yet we are having a full conversation.
The language? Unconditional love.
We collaborated to form a waterfall of letting go. My arms provided the path and the cliff, her tears provided the water.
After exhausting her voice without one word being heard, she finally felt understood, and she didn’t have to speak a word.
Unfortunately, she did not feel heard by the one person that is at the root of her pain. Joel walks back in as if nothing happened. She says something in a gentler tone, he says something back with very little emotion. She walks out.
Joel asks if I want oatmeal. I nod my head “yes”, and point at the doorway, hoping that he understands my expression of “you’ve got some explaining to do!”
The girl comes marching back in with a machete. Joel casually puts down the pot and looks at her.
She turns the machete on her pregnant belly, takes her other hand and begins to force the machete in. I look at Joel, he does not react, time slows down, and every possible gruesome conclusion of this scene flashes through my mind.
Just before she broke the skin of her night gown and her belly, I choose the one conclusion that I didn’t picture yet.
I swiftly grab her wrist and redirect her momentum. Now, she and I are struggling with the machete in the air. She uses all of her strength to turn the machete on me. Time slows down again, as I make another important life choice, NOONE is getting hurt anymore than they already are, especially not me.
I move out of the way of her force and direct her to the floor, as I rip the machete out. She finds a small knife on the floor and tries one more time. I redirect her force and rip the knife out of her hand. Joel hides the knife and machete and heads toward another house in the community.
Cans, bottles, and utensils clash on the floor, as the girl throws all of her things in a pile.
Joel comes in followed by the girl’s brother, sister, and mother. Surrounded by family, the girl finally calms down and is able to sleep with a new found hope for the future instead of hopelessness.
After a night of sleeping with one eye open, both shoes tied, and my backpack doubling as my stuffed animal, a rooster signaled to me that I made it through the night. The girl received the same signal and rushed out the door.
“Necesito a ir ahora.” I said to Joel trying to act like I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion and adrenaline.
I ask for a drawing of how to make it to my original destination. Joel happily draws me a picture.
One hour and a half later, I finally arrive at a jungle paradise for healing, connection, and collaboration. As I lay, under a mosquito net listening to the birds of the jungle, I am finally able to gather my thoughts and emotions and ask “why?”
Once I let go of the need to know, and began drifting off to sleep, the answer struck my brain like a bolt of lightning made out of epiphanies.
Your presence in the present is all you need. All you ever need to be is here now. If you weren’t fully present last night; you, Joel, the girl, and the unborn child would have been severely injured or dead. Only when you are fully present right here & now with every ounce of your being, can you experience life to the fullest, literally and figuratively.