I never finished sharing my story from Peru. I don’t know why. It slipped away from me. I fell back into the pattern of my daily life. I got reconsumed by parenting, work, grocery shopping, running, and finding pockets of quiet. The magic I felt in that country stayed inside of me, but I lost it in my day-to-day routine.
Our world is filled with a lot of fear these days. The events that fill our news have always been there, but we have sharpened our focus. The events in Paris have made us all stop and pay attention. In the midst of the terrifying news, I watched a segment where a dad explained the events to his young son. He told him to look at the flowers. The flowers were there to fight the guns. He told him to look at the candles. The candles were there to remember the people. In the simplicity of focusing on the good, I saw the fear physically leave his four-year-old body.
Peru and France are separated by more than six thousand miles, yet my mind keeps wandering to my last day in the Sacred Valley as I watch the world news. Just like the young boy turned to his dad for answers, I am turning to a point in time where the world felt like a celebration.
It was my tenth day in Peru. Homesick and heavy-hearted, I laid in bed wishing I could go home one day early. I had hiked Machu Picchu Mountain. I had explored ruins, ate local food, and stared at the stars. My heart was full, and I missed my family.
A stomach ache sent me to the lobby of my bed and breakfast. I was looking for comfort. Tea harvested from the vegetation in the B&B’s garden cured my stomach, and a conversation with the staff cured my heart. He opened a binder, flipped a few pages, and pointed to a place I needed to visit. I took his advice to find a sacred ruin not too far outside our small community. I would need to find a taxi to take me. Knowing my Spanish is nearly nonexistent, he wrote down instructions on a scrap piece of paper, I took a photo of the place he showed me in his binder, and I set off on my quest. He left me with one piece of advice: when you get there, ask the universe for what you need. The universe already knows what you don’t need, so ask for something that will make you feel whole.
Taxis were always lined up in the main square in Ollantaytambo. Step one in my journey would be easy. As I walked down the cobblestone street towards the square, there wasn’t a taxi in sight. When I got to the square, the street that was normally filled with taxis was empty. Not sure of what to do next, I stood there. I stared at my piece of paper, and I stood there. How in the world was I going to find this place now that I was determined to go? I needed to visit this temple. I needed to make an offering to the universe. My soul needed the world to hear it.
A local policeman must have recognized the confusion on my face. He spoke to me in Spanish, and I was more confused. I handed him my piece of paper. He motioned for me to follow him. I followed him away from the square. I followed him down winding local streets. Minutes later I followed him into a local market. He motioned to a man to join us. In Spanish they discussed something. I assumed he was telling him what I was hoping to do. After many reaffirming gestures, he introduced me to a man and handed him my piece of paper. Hand gestured communication continued. I wanted to go there. He would take me. I got into his personal vehicle with who I assume was his wife and daughter. My adventure began.
As we got further away from town, I started to second guess my decision. Who are these people? Where am I going? Am I crazy? Are they crazy? Fear crept in. I took notice of my surrounding. I made mental reminders of landmarks incase I needed to walk back to my B&B. The river is on my right. The mountains are to my left. As we arrived at a point where the road, railroad tracks, and the river all intersected, he stopped the car and motioned for me to follow him. I grabbed my backpack, and I followed. We followed the railroad tracks for at least a mile before we pushed through shrubs and bushes (avoiding cactus) and made our way up a mountain. The soil was loose. I slipped so many times. My legs were filled with fear. What was I doing? Where was I going?
As I swallowed my fear, I finally looked up. In front of me was an unassuming temple. I would have walked passed it. As I got closer to this temple built into the side of the mountain, I felt it. My eyes might have missed it, but the energy in the air would force anyone to stop. I was overwhelmed by the peace I felt in the air. My fear melted. I sat in awe of this place that was filled with love and wishes. My questions turned away from fear. Curiosity took over. How many people journeyed to this spot? What were they searching for? How many dreams were offered to this universe? How many of those dreams came true? In that moment, I was the exact same as every person who stood in this exact same spot. Our eyes were the same. We all took in the otherwise unimpressive rock, but our hearts were also the same. We all knew this place was special. Our dreams are all the same.
As I travelled to this place, I knew exactly what I needed. I was going to ask the universe for strength. I wanted to feel strong. I wanted my heart to have courage. I wanted the universe to scoop me up and give me wings. In that moment, I realized I have wings. I have courage. I have strength. I just need to trust it. I need to trust the journey. I need to let go of the fear that causes me to look down instead of up. I simply need to look up. I have everything I needed. In that moment, I was filled gratitude that can not be defined. It was the same gratitude I felt as I stared at the newborn faces of my boys. It was the same gratitude I felt when I realized my husbands hugs made the world disappear. It was the same gratitude I feel when I let my guard down, and I welcome life.
I sat on the dirt floor of the temple looking to the valley below me, and I remembered I wasn’t alone. The family the brought me there laughed with each other. They told their daughter a story. They showed her the details of the temple. They searched each corner of the temple, and I sat there. I was paralyzed by my love for the world. I saw love in their faces. I saw gratitude in their interactions. I saw past the blinding fear that took me up the mountain, and I saw a family that is deeply rooted in love.
As we made our way down the mountain back towards the river, I saw a husband and a wife who flirted when their daughter wasn’t looking. I saw a dad who carried his daughter down a mountain on his shoulders. I saw a man who offered me his hand every time I slipped. As we pushed our way through the undergrowth on the mountain side, they motioned for me to stop. The cactus beside us was filled with fruit. Using a leaf as a glove, they pulled the spiking fruit from the cactus. They rolled the fruit around in the dirt to remove the needles. They used their fingernail to split open the shell, and then they offered me fruit on the inside. Hidden behind a guarded plant and thick sick, was one of the most delicious fruits I have ever tasted.
I spent the rest of my day with this family. They took me to local ruins scattered throughout the Sacred Valley. As I walked back down the cobble stone streets towards my Bed and Breakfast, I looked up towards the stars and whispered thank you. I almost spent the entire day in bed missing my family, but instead I found a family who reminded me of everything I need in life. It’s simple. In a community where most people don’t have running water in their homes, I found love and gratitude. In a community where people work hard all day so that they can feed their family, I found spirit and heart.
When Cole asks me if our world is going to war again, this is the story that I tell him. I tell him that our hearts can not be consumed by fear. We can’t stop looking up. We can’t stop feeling. We can’t stop giving our best. We need to see the flowers and the candles. We need to find the fruit inside the cactus plant. We need to offer our hand to someone as they lose their footing while trying to climb a mountain. Paris and Peru are separated by thousands of miles. The United States and Syria and every other country are separated by thousands of miles, but we are all the same. We are all standing on the same soil, staring at the same temple, sending our wishes into the universe. There is ugly in the world. There will always be ugly in the world, but we owe it to ourselves and our communities to see beyond the fear.