The Story of the Three Stonecutters

After running the Santiago Corre this morning, I rushed home and through a delightfully icy shower just in time to attend Domingo Misa in the serene ILAC chapel.  Those next tens of minutes, I toyed with the idea of retiring upstairs to my bed as the tired tenderness of my body, the gentle breeze that played with my hair, and the soothing sounds of La Palabra de Dios nearly lulled me to sleep. But, I am ever so glad that I somehow stayed strong during the homily, because I caught a neat little parable that has had me thinking ever since. It’s called the Story of the Three Stonecutters:

A man came across three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

There are three kinds of people in this world…We all know those first-stonecutter-types, indeed we ourselves default to that short-sightedness from time to time (especially on dreary mornings.) His is the short-term perspective; the inability to raise one’s eyes above the present momentary exchange of work for pay. In fact, its safe to say that such a narrow view breeds complaints, and therefore chokes out most daily cheer or any true sense of fulfillment. But, take the second stonecutter– his perspective is attractively furnished with a strong sense of individualism. He has high aspirations, abundant passion, and finds the purpose of his work in cultivating his talents to be the best. The limits of his imagination are the limits of mankind’s imagination; they are sky-high and greatness-bound. The driven individualist clearly will find happiness as he propels himself toward glory, but what of fulfillment? I think some of us already know the answer to this by years of trial and error. Again, with the third stonecutter, the audience is able to picture the very scene and perhaps draw parallels with individuals we have crossed paths with as he answers with a “visionary gleam in his eye.” We know something is exceptional here.  His response reveals the mindset of one who believes that a grander mission is always unfolding, grander even than his own solid successes. Not only is he making a living for himself, not only does the stone before him become more beautiful with every chip that flies from his hammer, but he is here, this very day, to play his role in a tremendous feat. He is building a cathedral. Here thrives purpose, happiness, and fulfillment. I am fond of the interpretation of the final stonecutter given by Drew Faust, the president of Harvard University:

The third stonecutter embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral—not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper. Testimony in part, of course, to the antiquity of the tale. But revealing in other ways as well. The very menial work of stonecutting becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction. This project aspires to the heavens, transcending the earthbound—and indeed transcending the timebound as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries. A lifetime of work may make only a small contribution to a structure that unites past and future, connects humans across generations and joins their efforts to purposes they see as far larger than themselves.

Through such a simple parable, we are reminded of the big picture which always overarches our daily handful of time-currency. The purpose behind our everyday tasks is threefold: to make a living, to be great, and to serve a higher good. Our God-given task is to remember all three. I was asked the question “what is your dream job?” thrice this week in various interviews. Though as of right now I am not yet able to articulate exactly what I want to do as a career, although I do have a few conditions in accord with my general talents and desires, I am sure of how I want to do it. I want to always be aware of the sublime masterpiece that we are a part of; I want to go about my everyday with the vision of the third stonecutter.

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Bucket-Shower Baptisms

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

With the gentle eyes of hindsight, these past two weeks may very well have been a dream. But as I thumb through my smutty journal and study my crude, daily recordings, I am firmly reminded that they were full of rocky ups and downs.  Somewhere in between frigid bucket-showers, raw blisters, and the endless supply of hugs, I was taught something more about myself, hard-work, and friendship. But that is old news; that is to be expected with each new, uncomfortable experience. What remains now is to attempt to share, though in much less a poetic manner than that of Thoreau, an average day in our dear campo:

6:37 am: Wake up gracefully to the sun shinning through the curtain. JUST KIDDING: the roosters have been “heralding the day” since 4:00 am. I untangle my way out of my pink mosquito net, try to journal down some morning thoughts en español, braid my hair, and then all that’s left is to throw on my muddy hiking boots (since I was clever/lazy enough to sleep in my work clothes.)

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Buenos días! Es un día glorioso.

7:30 am: Enter Olga, always with a piping hot cup of mega-sugary coffee and a cozy, back-rubbing hug. Did I mention that my campo mom is an angel?

8:00(ish) am: Gather up the crew and wade through four rivers (yep, you bet we named them all) to get to breakfast. Discuss in depth the events of the night before, i.e. who won at dominos, who got offered the most food, and who bonded with a new friend over our weird American music.

9:00 am: I finish dunking my last piece of bread in the breakfast hot chocolate and hop into the bed of the community truck– the guagua. We try not to bruise our tailbones on the way to one of the worksites: the tank, digging, or tubing. Let the games begin!

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NB: when given the opportunity to ride in the bed of a truck, always say yes.

11:00 am: After a few hot hours of working on and off, the kiddos come by during their recreo.  They insist on singing us a new song that they learned, and I find myself fighting back tears because children are just so beautiful. Especially these ones. Always holding our hands, they fawn “mi hermana” before scampering back to la escuela.

12:15 pm: Lunch break, gracias a Dios! We all traverse back to the meeting place, a small patio surrounded by chickens, dogs, and mud. Before we carry on, we bow our heads to sing “Bendigamos, al Señor…” Never mind that we still don’t know the tune of the third line. 😉

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1:00 pm: Although uncomfortably hot in our jeans, we recline and some manage to nod off while leaning back on their plastic chairs. After washing my hands and face in the outside spigot, I daydream and watch the still, bright green montañas.

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2:00 pm: And it’s back to work; some sigh and some sing. By this time, much of the community has joined in the fun and we progress quickly despite the lack of palas y picos, our tools. I have a newfound appreciation for loose, light dirt.

3:00 pm: One of the local madres brings out grape and orange soda. Although never a huge pop drinker, I don’t think I’ve had a more refreshing beverage in my life– ¡Ah, muchas gracias! By this time, almost every able-bodied adult is trying to contribute in some way to the construction of their aqueduct. Some even dig with their bare hands.

5:00 pm: And finally, the aqueduct is another day’s work closer to completion! Our sore feet drag us back home over the rivers and through the woods to wash up before dinner.

5:30 pm: I arrive at my front porch to find my family reclining in plastic chairs and chatting up a storm.  They gleefully greet me and insist that I sit down to cool off and relax before I take a shower. I always open up with, “Ay Dios! Fue un día glorioso.”

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6:00(ish) pm: After another rousing prayer concluding with the beautiful “Oh-h Padre Nuestro,” we dig into the abundance of plantains, salami, yuca, and salad spread before us. I have a new appreciation for ketchup and hot sauce, as they are somehow able to make all the above taste like a gourmet meal (or maybe that’s the hungry tummy talking.) We thank the cooks profusely, and some of us girls get a free cooking lesson from one of the older women. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that those wrinkled, brown hands work nothing short of a miracle when it comes to the challenge of raw food and open flame.

7:00 pm: More members of the community roll around, and we engage in cards and friendly banter while the elders avidly matchmake the eligible young men and women (but c’mon, what a great story that would be!)

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8:30(ish) pm: The River Crew gets a ride back home in the guagua and we arrive to find a gaggle of our neighbors hanging at the local colmado. The party starts as the bachata music is turned up and the dominos are brought out. Quieres bailar?

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10:00 pm: Although my sister was with me, I decide to scamper home at a decent hour in order to pass some time with the adults in my family. We watch baseball and do our best (necesito practicar español más) to discuss adult things. Somehow, the conversation frequently turns toward the importance of education (surely they knew the kiddos were listening awake in their beds), and I don’t mind at all since I have a lot to say on the subject.

11:30 pm: It has been a long, long day for us all, but I know that my family will patiently keep me company until I explicitly yawn and declare that I would like to sleep soon. We hug, scuffle back under our mosquito nets, and I turn off the light after recording the new Spanish words of the day. While thoughts of home drift to me in the dark, I catch the whispered Ave Marias of my abuela and am reminded to dar gracias a Dios for my day. And now it’s time to rest. Hasta mañana, mi familia de ángeles– si Dios quiere 🙂

Dive Right In

“Lean into discomfort,” is a great phrase that has been echoed many times here. While well-intended and assuredly well-received, it dawned on me that I’ve just never been one to inch into the water. If I’m going to get my feet wet, I might as well go all the way, as quickly as possible, and with feigned bravery written on my face. I recently had the pleasure of receiving a lovely letter in the mail, which contained a lucky little reminder: I have no doubt in your ability to dive right in. So do it! Lately, I have been the tiniest bit guilty of complacency and choosing comfort over the uncertainty of adventure. That is not how a courageous women would travel through life, especially when she is studying abroad in the Dominican Republic. Who am I not to open up and try new things (even if that means somewhat regretting that cachú-doused street food)? Luckily the Man Upstairs knows precisely how to nudge us in the right direction, and in less than three days, the Comunidad will embark on our first campo immersion. I’m not going to smooth over my uneasiness and act like spending 10 days in a mountain village with no Internet, no running water, and no English-speakers doesn’t freak me out. In fact, the mere thought makes me want to wrap myself up in a tidy burrito of cleanliness, familiarity and good Internet access. But like the rest of my tough companions, I’m just going to take it into stride. It’s actually pretty funny the way things work out.  Recently, I was surprised to find myself suffering the pangs of deeply missing my grandparents and the crazy hooligans I call my siblings, but it turns out that my host family includes an abuelita, Olga, and two niños, ages 12 and 8. ¡Qué linda! Not only that, but there’s a tree-climbing, swamp-exploring, and bug-catching little girl inside of me that I would love to get in touch with again. Here’s to rediscovering simple ways to be joyful. Here’s to discovering new ways to be thankful. And on that happy note, an admirable poem:

Inexorable Deities

By: Edgar Lee Masters

Deities!
Inexorable revealers,
Give me strength to endure
The gifts of the Muses,
Daughters of Memory.
When the sky is blue as Minerva’s eyes
Let me stand unshaken;
When the sea sings to the rising sun
Let me be unafraid;
When the meadow lark falls like a meteor
Through the light of afternoon,
An unloosened fountain of rapture,
Keep my heart from spilling
Its vital power;
When at the dawn
The dim souls of crocuses hear the calls
Of waking birds,
Give me to live but master the loveliness.
Keep my eyes unharmed from splendors
Unveiled by you,
And my ears at peace
Filled no less with the music
Of Passion and Pain, growth and change.
But O ye sacred and terrible powers,
Reckless of my mortality,
Strengthen me to behold a face,
To know the spirit of a beloved one
Yet to endure, yet to dare!

Learning a Million New Things Everyday

Yesterday, the Comunidad 19 participated in an engaging tour of Centro León, feasted on “La Bandera”, and sang Prince Royce’s “Las Cosas Pequeñasen nuestra clase de español. While this was all wonderful, the real unexpected treat for myself came after dinner in the form of a casual talk by the Dominican Director of ILAC. He began per usual with his background, talking about how he grew up as the youngest of eight brothers on a farm, worked hard in a factory, educated himself enough to own his own farm, and how he now helps run the ILAC center by teaching the campesinos, or Dominican countryside farmers.  As soon as the words “opportunity cost” came out of his mouth during an example, the economist in me was hooked. Rightly so, because it was at this point that he began to speak about the economic differences in the Dominican Republic, and how it was important for our Comunidad to observe the differences but keep in mind that there was most likely an unnoticed rational behind them. “Observe, but not judge,” he repeated over and over as he described how they no longer took American groups to tour the factories where people worked, since in the past people had staunchly objected to the fact that the Dominicans were working such long hours and being paid only about $1 per hour. He pleaded that we do not realize that Dominicans are able to stretch that weekly $50 to support themselves better than we could imagine, since we Americans frankly have little clue about the art of being frugal in a developing country. He added that some people once suggested that the government double the minimum wage, but that this would be completely counter productive as it would cause the factory to relocate to another more lucrative country, leaving behind poor and now job-less workers. The way to break the poverty cycle was not through free handouts, but rather through supporting jobs and education. And here I will interject, because earlier in the day, on the sunny ILAC rooftop, I had read the universal proposition derived from that exact logic. It was a great hour during which the principles that I held by my own reason and logic, here specifically faith in the free market, were confirmed by a completely foreign source who had also arrived at the same principle, but through sheer personal experience. I mentioned in the last post that I had recently read Fr. Sirico’s wonderful book, Defending the Free Market, and found it informative and logical. Here is an important portion from his chapter on foreign aid that was unknowingly repeated almost verbatim during yesterday’s discourse:

“What then can wealthy nations do to assist developing countries? First, don’t make the matter worse by encouraging corruption and governmental irresponsibility, which is exactly what government-to-government aid tends to do. Second, stop undercutting businesses in the developing world by flooding their markets with free goods year after year. Save emergency aid for genuine emergencies, and when you rush in to help, see if there are any local producers already there with whom you can partner to source emergency provisions. Third, open the world’s markets to the businesses of emerging economies. As things stand today, many Western nations practice the confused and contradictory policy of protecting domestic firms through tariffs and subsidies–thereby shutting out the products of developing nations–and at the same time sending billions of dollars in tax money to developing nations to supplement their failing economies. This is the misguided strategy we have used to ‘develop’ Haiti for the past few decades. Is it any wonder Haiti’s people are still struggling to develop?”

The director, a neighbor and eyewitness of Haiti, added vibrant language of his own and described the foreign aid as “handicapping” the Haitians– they don’t need free things, he said, rather they hunger for education so that they themselves may be creators. Work allows individuals to have the necessary responsibility, independence, order, and sense of purpose in their lives. If you truly want to help people and break the cycle of poverty, advance education. And so I climb (through my loathsome mosquito net) into bed tonight feeling content. Content because while La República Dominicana and this experience outside of my comfort-zone has already embellished my surface interests (e.g. bachata music, yuca, siestas, etc.) my core beliefs stand not only unshaken, but triumphantly confirmed. But the best part yet: my Comunidad and I have the privilege of being a part of this legitimate foreign aid since, beginning next Monday, we will be teaching English in three different schools throughout the semester. Here’s to learning–now hopefully teaching–a million new things everyday. 🙂

Siempre Estoy De Buen Humor

And I’m not just referring to the fantastic beaches and waves, although the natural beauty here does rock me to the core. This lush ground has already begun to infuse some of its soul into mine, and that is very, very good.

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“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” -Jane Austen

Thus begins my four-month long excursion in La República Dominicana, and I am currently a lovely mess of enthusiasm and nerves. The thought “This will be very good for me” has rung thrice through my mind in these last 24 hours. And I’m not just referring to the fantastic beaches and waves, although the natural beauty here does rock me to the core. This lush ground has already begun to infuse some of its soul into mine, and that is very, very good.

I wish I had words for the grin on my face as I disembarked from the plane early this morning (literally 3am) to find myself caught up in a gaggle of boisterous Spanish voices – voices whose owners were clearly full of the zest of life, even at that ungodly hour. When we experience such unexpected, simple joy, we immediately understand how we ought to make others feel. The Dominicans – and this is unabashedly cliche, I know – have a real grip on the simple joy in the simply lived life. Stripping away life to its necessary components will be very good for me.

Already, I have been humbled. Not only is my grip on the Spanish language so weak that my blunders had Ricardo, our cab driver, chuckling the whole way here, but I am sure that his amusement with my inadequacies will be shared with many other of his countrymen as I continue to struggle through claiming “sí, hablo español, más o menos.” I am looking at copious amounts of copying verb charts and Duolingo-ing up a storm, although I can’t complain since all studies will commence under the glorious Dominican sun to the view of rolling, tropical pastures. Why nap all day when you could be learning a new language? Oh and also, I persisted for a grand total of 14min on my morning jog before surrendering to the heat. Gosh darn it. Adjusting to life in the big and little ways here will be very good for me.

Lastly, there is a pastoral quality to the entirety of life here that is wholly uncommon in the States. Chairs are always pulled out to the streets and from them reign eternal observers.  I think first of our gatekeeper– a lanky, tan man who keeps a sleepy, yet mysteriously watchful, eye on the entrance into “Sunset Valley.”  Side note: he is also quite the friendly and encouraging jogging companion, as I discovered this morning.  Another small example, after some gloriously fresh seafood last night (that certain members of my family ended up regretting late last night), my dad slowly backed up our massive white van as a huddle of Dominican men looked on from their perch outside a restaurant. It was clear that this sort of gathering was a nightly occurrence as their experienced hands handled fat cigars and worn cards.  I have already mentally collected a plethora of favorite characters that I could reference in this regard, but already it seems safe to gather that the Dominicans are generally not a hasty people. Slowing down here will be very good for me.

As the trials of travel are popular for showing the true colors of one’s traveling companions, likewise the curveballs bring out the usually concealed sides of ourselves. My all-encompassing travel advice? Always be in a good mood — as we all know, this involves a whole hell of a lot of “fake it ’til you make it.” 😉

Hasta lugeo, mis amigos!


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Amen.
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Mi vista as I’m penning this post 🙂