The following letter was written by Allison Dethlefs, a Junior at Creighton, and a Formation Group Leader in the Cortina Community. She was doing the Encuentro Dominicano program in the Fall, but she and her roommate Selina Marshall (another DR traveller) will be joining us in Deglman in the Spring.
Dear friends and family,
I firstly have to apologize for being so out of touch over the past semester. As with many of the best intentions, my intentions to keep up with regular updates quickly fell to the bottom of my priority list as life in the Dominican Republic set in. It’s hard for me to believe that my four months here are almost coming to a close. In another week and a half I will finally be back to the United States–this time without jetting off to another country a week after I arrive.
As hard as it will be for me to leave here, I am very excited to see you again and catch up on all of the life that has happened in the in between. I don’t know if it’s been this way for you, but at least for me, it’s been a crazy past six months…
I was thinking about it today as I rode a small motorboat out into the beautifully blue Dominican sea, the wind whipping through my hair, the salt staining my lips and stinging my eyes, white spray leaping and dancing around us as the bottom of the boat smacked hard against the waves, our destination, Cayo Arena, literally a small sand bank in the middle of the ocean. I thought about all that I’ve done in the last half year, all the places I’ve been, all the people I’ve met. Three countries. Three different worlds, all far apart and very distinct, but for me three back to back chapters of life with hardly a breath in between. As the clouds and shore line whisked by I took stock of it all, let the sheer breadth of what I’ve experienced sweep over me.
I feel like I’ve seen so much of the world since I stepped on that first plane, although I know in reality it’s all just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve climbed mountains, swam in oceans, and walked through desert sand. I’ve trekked through jungles and glaciers, swam in rivers, and rappelled down waterfalls. I’ve explored extravagant cities, run-down slums, quiet rural campos up in rolling green hills, and bustling tourist towns. I’ve eaten and learned to cook new foods, learned to dance to new rhythms, gained a new life soundtrack, and been a part of lively night life scenes. I’ve ridden in the back of pickup trucks, on guaguas, and conchos, mototaxis, M1 buses, combis, taxis, planes, boats, buses, and possibly soon a motorcycle. I’ve seen stars at night that I never knew existed, run through cities where the air is a mix of dust and smog, and played soccer and volleyball on cement basketball courts. I’ve worshiped in new ways, reflected much on my purpose and calling in this world, and become passionate in a new way about doing my part to bring about a more just and peace-filled world. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures and left drawings, paintings, murals, crafts, and napkin cranes scattered in my wake. I’ve seen ancient ruins cloaked by rolling clouds at sunrise, stood on top of the highest peak in the Caribbean, and looked down from a bridge that divides two countries over a river that will forever be stained with the blood of thousands of innocent people.
I’ve learned so many stories and met so many people, so much history and so many lessons. I’ve studied peoples and their cultures and pasts, listened to their hopes and dreams and fears, what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. I’ve played with so many kids, cooked in so many kitchens, ate at so many tables, and slept in so many beds. I’ve lived and learned and loved in another language. I’ve become a part of new communities, gained families in three new countries to the point where I’d have to think about who you meant when you asked me about my mom or dad, or siblings. I have split my heart into more pieces than I thought possible and been given so much more than I ever thought my heart could hold. I’ve laughed more than I’ve laughed in years, cried my fair share, been challenged, and pushed, humbled and broken, motivated, and moved, and infinitely blessed.
It has been such a great adventure. It has not always been fun or easy. I’ve come out with many more questions than answers, and no, perhaps I’m not ready for it to be over. The goodbyes never seem to get any easier, no matter how many I have to say. But I don’t regret any of it, wouldn’t take a second of it back. These six months have been filled with the deep, true kind of joy that one only finds when she goes out, opens herself up and gives herself away, despite the pain and the cost.
And now it’s time to go home, although I don’t know that that word will ever mean the same thing to me again. I’ve become a part of too many loving homes now to say that my heart will ever be content and complete with just one. I am excited to see all of my family and friends, to hear their stories and share my own, and–difficult though it will be–to begin the slow process of integrating myself back into “normal” life. I wonder how I will fit into the hole that I left now that I’ve changed so much, how badly the stretching and squeezing will hurt. I hope that it won’t require me to leave anything behind. But I know also that I must not live in fear–that it’s all just a part of the bigger adventure, more chapters of the story to write, more to learn, new ways in which to grow, and new mountains to climb. Nothing lasts forever, and everything has its season. It’s time to pack up my memories, sling them on my shoulders, pick a new star on the horizon, fill up my water bottle and move on. Because even though this part of my adventure is almost finished, I’m not done yet. My story is yet incomplete. And no matter where I go, Mother Teresa’s words will forever apply: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
So, there you have it. A snippet of what’s been going on in my head and life. Naturally that’s the abbreviated, big picture version with all of the real stories left out, but I hope that will give me an excuse to catch up with you face to face when my last plane has dropped me back into the death grip of winter and the craziness of the Christmas season fray. I look forward to all of the conversations and picture sharing to come and wish you the very best as the end of the year approaches. I may have been far away, but you have always been and continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. May you take full advantage of whatever adventure you’re living and squeeze the life out of each beautiful second with which you are blessed.
Muchos abrazos–lot of hugs–