Learning to Love with Blistered Feet and Cement Burns

Recently, I wrapped up winter quarter of my 5th year of undergrad. This year has been nothing short of eventful and I’m sure that the final quarter of my time here at Western will continue to follow this trend. (By the way, shout out to all those taking a victory lap or two. Whaddup. 4 years was clearly not enough for us.)

In one of my classes this past quarter, our learning was dedicated to community systems and the impacts they have made and continue to make on our society. Through the use of art, conversation, literature, and other mediums, we examined how community impacts those within it. The word community is riddled with a myriad of interpretations and is important to take each into consideration when cultivating a stronger community.

Naturally, when I heard the word community uttered in class, the two experiences I have had that came to mind was working with Esperanza International in Tijuana, Mexico and walking the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain.

With Esperanza, I had opportunities to work alongside families to build homes and help foster relationships and communities across borders. While walking the Camino, I pondered over my 21 years of existence and became acquainted with other beings along the way. Although both experiences served different purposes, they also have many similarities, one of which is community.

Prior to leaving on my adventures, friends and family asked why I wanted to spend my vacations in Tijuana building homes or walking 200 miles across a foreign country. Obviously, my idea of vacationing was far different from theirs. Cause I mean, who wouldn’t want to dig ditches and toss buckets of cement or spend about 13-22 miles each day on your feet getting from point A to point B on your free time? Sounds like a relaxing time to me.

But I digress.

I expressed that these experiences allowed for me to meet people, try new foods, and learn about different customs, the typical responses any giddy traveler would share with anyone. Growing up, I traveled a lot with my family across the U.S., Canada, and the Philippines. But my reasoning for the multiple trips to TJ and the walk to Santiago was far more than an immersion into a country and its culture. These trips occurred during personal times of struggle, questioning, or transition. It was a time for discovering purpose and motivations for living.

Blistered Feet and Cement Burns

To provide some background, my Catholic faith has played a prominent role in my life and throughout my college career. Freshman year, I came to college with an unyielding faith. But as the years progressed, it collapsed and turn into something crippled by restlessness, frustration, confusion, and isolation.

Additionally, I came into college wanting to major in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in hopes of becoming a Speech Language Pathologist so I could help stutterers like myself. Once I started taking classes for CSD, the profession was not what I expected it to be. In result, I changed my major to Human Services during my junior year.

Although I have had some tumultuous times when grappling with my faith or changing my major, most of my difficulties have rested in my struggles with depression. Being part of a heritage and culture where mental health is highly stigmatized and is regarded as a taboo topic continues to be incredibly challenging.

Learning to Love

As I look back on these experiences, it became clear to me as to why I kept returning to Tijuana and why I walked the Camino. It’s made sense to me why I enjoyed having cement burns on my hand after pouring 80 bags of cement. I understood why I didn’t mind walking 20 miles with blistered feet.

It was to find community.

To feel like I could belong somewhere where people genuinely showed that they cared rather than just talking about it. It was a space where love was reciprocated. How refreshing it was to be in a space where people practiced what they preached and allowed me to feel safe, but more importantly, loved. It felt good to be remembered, to feel enough. To be part of something that was deeply emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual.

It’s been about 2 years since I’ve been to Tijuana and about a little over a year and a half since I have completed the Camino. As of right now, I’m little less than 3 months away from finishing up my time as an undergrad. And to be brutally honest, the past 5 years have destroyed me. I have spent time in spaces that were toxic to my well being and became my own worst enemy. I’ve come to question the integrity and drive for each being that comes into my life.

Despite the hardships the past 5 years have placed in my life, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Because without it, I would not have returned to Esperanza multiple times or walked the Camino. I’m forever grateful for the sense of community I experienced on both of these trips and the way it built me back up, because to be frank, I struggle to find authentic experiences like that at home.

Most importantly, I’ve really learned to trust and love myself more than ever before. Self love is so important y’all. Our lives are incredibly short and love is our greatest currency. At times, the love I pour out to others goes unreciprocated and it’s hard to accept that. And because of it, I become discouraged sometimes. But if loving others is something that’ll bring me closer to community, I’m all for it.

We’re all longing to find something to help us make sense of it all. I hope that each one of us is able to find something that brings us hope and renewal each new day we are given.

I’m so glad to have found so much meaning within rich and meaningful opportunities. Looking back at it all, the pain was all worth it. Those experiences brought me an incredible amount of healing and I’m looking forward to seeing where that love they placed into my life will take me.