Change of Perspective

It’s been nearly a month since my last posting. If you’ve come looking for an update and left disappointed, I apologize. It’s a poor excuse, but this is my busiest time of the year. Last week was our annual strategic planning retreat, so my head has been down, buried in the details preparing for the retreat rather than looking around at the bigger picture.

Two days ago I got the chance to see a broader view.

After weeks of wearing “planning blinders” — staring at statistics, wrangling over agenda items, and analyzing Guatemala in terms of poverty and problems and how we can best address them — I got the chance to just look at Guatemala.

Flying over rural Guatemala you don’t see faces of poverty, even though you can find some of the worst of it there, you see a rippling green sea of trees. On top of the ridges of the hilly countryside you see roads, but from there you don’t see them as avenues of chaos but spindly arms that reach out to connect isolated villages.

It made me smile, and remember what a treat it is to be able to fly.

Four years ago I got a similar gift. I had spent the last six months supervising the construction of the New Hope School, and was more than ready for a little vacation. Flying out of Guatemala City, you sometimes pass over our New Hope site, so I kept a watch out for it.  Suddenly, there it was, the yellow earth of the hilltop we shaved off to create New Hope Village, dotted with two big rectangles that are the roofs of our offices, and then a bunch of smaller rectangles, the roofs of the houses in the village. I had seen this before, on my last trip to the US, so while it made me happy, it wasn’t unexpected.

But then, to my surprise, I noticed something new. Two big white rectangles just beyond the others — the roofs of the school and the ball court that we had built. Just the day before I had stood under one of those rectangles with the builder and certified that he had completed the work per the contract. And now I was soaring above it, and just then I realized what we had done. I saw how we had actually changed the country of Guatemala.

Of course the point of the school isn’t the building, it’s what happens inside, and even massive, reinforced concrete structures aren’t permanent additions to a landscape. But so much of the real work we do is barely visible — what does hope or critical thinking look like? — that it helps to see something physical to remind you.

So on that flight back from Minnesota on Tuesday evening my spirits were lifted seeing Guatemala from a perspective different from the one I see everyday. Truth be told, I had spent a lot of the flight thinking less positive thoughts. I was anxious about all the work I need to get done in the next few weeks, about what the future holds for me and some people I care about, and beating myself up for things I failed to do or think I could have done better.

And then, wallowing in those kinds of thoughts, I looked out the window and saw the world below, vast and full, at once fleeting and timeless beyond our comprehension. My fears and frustrations became tiny and insignificant. And it made me smile.

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