Editor’s Note: For her year of service as part of DC Service Corps, Lizzy Balboa volunteers with Little Friends for Peace, a nonprofit organization in the DC area that promotes inner and inter-personal peace skills within children and adults. With this special series, she will provide an in-depth look at some of the lives that she’s interacted with and been affected by.
I’ve come to measure the efficacy of my service experience by comparing two trips to the National Gallery of Art: one in August and one this May. Ten months ago, as I wandered through the museum, I bypassed every portrait, wrote off each as dull, and beelined to the seascapes; but of late, the portraits have seized me.
I am captivated. I am spiritually fed by the tired stares that gaze beyond me, by the smiles taut with anguish, by the brows soft and light with elation.
In every face, I see Christ. I see a story that I’d failed to see before. I see the curious unknown that is the human being and crave the wild adventure of fully knowing each one.
This is what Little Friends For Peace (LFFP) has done in me. It’s helped me to see people, to acknowledge them, and to love them.
Not only that, but it’s helped me to see people in a truly beautiful way.
Less than a year ago, I believed in bad people, in evil people. It wasn’t the “I have faith in them” sort of belief; in fact, it was the contrary. I had given up on these people who I deemed inherently “bad” or “mean” or “evil,” and I can truly say I had no hope for them. But I believed in their existence.
Having spent the last ten months at LFFP, I no longer believe in bad people. I believe in wounded people and bad experiences.
My service consists of spending time with people and, essentially, deepening my empathy. Day in and day out, I sit in the presence of those with the gruffest of exteriors. I interrupt fistfights and intervene in the emotionally violent repartees of five years olds.
I listen to stories of prison time and stonings and abuse—not from the victims, but from the offenders. I stand frustrated as 80 percent of my fourth-grade class speaks loudly over me, and as their equally frustrated teacher watches with tired resignation.
But I don’t see a single bad person. I don’t see a single evil person.
I see persons who have endured terrible pains. I see middle-aged men still crying for guidance after raising themselves amid negligent parents. I see kindergarteners trying to make sense of why their mothers call them the F word or the B word. I see nine year olds coping with street pressures to smoke weed. I see women competing to prove their worth by comparative measures of intelligence, humor and professional status. I see sixth-graders numbing the pain of their parents’ inimical divorces.
I see hope, because, by the reactions to their trials, these beautiful people have refused defeat. They have not rolled over to the evil that’s been done to them. They have not rested content with the withdrawal of love that so deeply marred them.
In the image of Christ, they are still striving to meet the Ideal. They crave Love, and they crave God, and their journeys are not finished.
This series will chronicle their stories, the perspective they’ve given me on humanity, and my evolved understanding of suffering and the healing love we all seek. Check back next Monday (6/20) for the next installment in the series.