On vulnerability and getting lost

Intern Hannah Shryer reflects on her first seven weeks in Guatemala

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I left Minnesota seven weeks ago. I stepped out the front door of my home and the tears rolling down my cheeks froze in their tracks. In the moment I took this as a sign that I had cried enough; that in order to leave my home and live in Guatemala I could not cry. In order to be ready for change I had to bury the vulnerability I felt. So I brushed away the frozen tears and left for the airport.

I landed in Guatemala a mere twelve hours later. Amidst the breathless awe I felt upon arriving in this beautiful country, I felt simultaneously trapped by the tumult of the unknown. I was a walking paradox, for I desired more than anything (as I still do) to explore each nuance of Guatemala’s culture, history, and terrain—I wanted to delve headfirst into it all and not come up for air. At the same time, however, I was sad, and achingly so. I felt lost.

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In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit explores self-actualization in terms of loss. To Solnit, getting lost means living amongst the unforeseen—within spaces of uncertainty and doubt. To exist within the uncharted, she argues, is when we develop our capacities to discover, to transform, and eventually to cultivate our truest selves.

I first realized the truth of this idea quite viscerally. It happened in a moment not long after my arrival in Guatemala. I was standing on the terrace of my host family’s home watching the sunset over the rooftops and mountains on the horizon. As the sun descended, I looked over to my left just as the faraway volcano, Fuego, began to spew bright orange lava and billowing ash. As I watched a volcano erupt for the first time in my life, my breath caught and I was rooted by the beat of my heart. My body felt like the volcano, so strong and stoic at first glance, but really just a ruptured crust. I realized that my feelings of vulnerability and insecurity were inevitable, and that attempting to silence them was an impediment rather than a show of strength. I was lost, yes, but I had yet to take advantage of that.

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The view at sunset from my home in Tecpán

Now, a month and a half into my journey here, I can say with satisfaction that I get lost every day in Guatemala. My experiences here have already been so rich, and I am still just getting started. With the companionship of my new friends and family here, and the steadfast love of those back in the states, I am able to cultivate another home. I can fumble through speaking new phrases in Spanish and trying out a recipe for rellenitos with laughter and joy. I have the opportunity to learn with profound curiosity and compassion, to listen with humility, and work with gratitude. These experiences come with awkward moments, embarrassment, and frequent mistakes, but I’m opening up to the practice of embracing it all—to giving myself over to vulnerability instead of shunning it.

As Rebecca Solnit has written, “Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.” While lost I have learned that the dark is not fear; the dark is where I can craft a home. Home is inherently mutable; we carry it with us wherever we go. From there, we learn.

One of my culinary adventures with amazing teachers
A culinary adventure with amazing teachers