I love to exercise. In fact I need to do it everyday. It keeps me balanced. Usually on my trips to Peru it is a big challenge to find time for daily exercise. The schedule is often quite full and I need to juggle a number of things. Today my schedule was open - sans one meeting in the mid-afternoon. I decided to combine activities and run to the meeting. I ran along the coast and had a marvelous time reflecting on the work of HBI and the direction we are headed.
After the meeting I decided I would run back to the HBI offices. Again, the route took me along the coast. About three quarters of the way back my path took me past a rather desolate part of the beach. There are soccer fields and a large dirt park where people often practice driving, but it is nowhere near as populated as the "surfing" sections of the Miraflores, Barranco and Chorillos beaches.
As I ran along this section I noticed an older man sitting on a concrete bench. His head was in his hands and he looked despondent. I stop running about 10-feet past him and walked back. I asked him if he was okay. His reply astonished me. He told me of his recent diagnosis with prostate cancer and the confusion he had over next steps for treatment. He told me that he had been living along the bluffs of the beach for weeks because he couldn't find any work and didn't have any where else he could go. He told me about his life.
We talked for about 30 minutes. He never asked me for anything. At one point he said, "I should let you go, I'm keeping you too long." I reassured him that I was more than happy to keep talking. He thanked me and said I had already done a great deal by stopping to listen to him. Although he never asked, I gave him as much money as I had and told him I would keep him in my thoughts and prayers. And then, I ran away - not certain if I should have tried to something more.
For as long as we have organized around social structures that require relationships to function, people have sought ways to guide one another. In the high Andes, well above the tree lines, people stack rocks to mark routes. This practice, not unique to Peru, is called building a cairn. It helps to guide people on their journey. Today, as I walked away from my conversation with my new friend on the beach I realized how disconnected we have become. I realized that many of us have lost the guideposts of our lives.
I am not sure what will become of the man I met on the beach today, but I do now that he offered me a great gift. He reminded me that we have a continuous opportunity to be a guide for others in our lives. Whatever we do, wherever we are - we can help to build guideposts. It doesn't take a special set of skills or an enormous amount of money. It just takes a little rocks and a bit of time - and a strong desire to connect with one another.
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The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.