I walked quickly, recklessly on the dirt path–ignoring the dips and rocks along the way, more focused on distancing myself from the group behind me as I fought back tears. The more the tears welled up in my eyes, the more my stomach and jaw tightened. I was confused and frustrated by the emotion welling up inside of me because I could not articulate its source and that scared the hell out of me. So it seemed in the moment, if I could not explain why I was out of control emotionally, I was going to isolate myself so I could hide it. As I navigated my way back to my host home through a cloudy haze of tears, I heard someone call my name behind me, “Lindsay!” When I turned to see my friend and roommate, Lizz, I didn’t expect myself to soften, but I did. I let my tears out as I explained what was going on with me the best that I could and she listened and held that space for me. I guess it was fear that initially made me want to run for cover and hide, but it was connection that made me soften and let go of the tight grip I had on what was happening to me.

As Lizz had done so many times before for me, she walked beside me and saw and heard me for who I was in that moment, imperfections and all (the definition of connection, for all of your Brene Brown devotees). She showed me that whoever I was and whatever I was holding onto in that moment was okay. Looking back on that moment in Las Cuarentas, I think I have some idea of what was happening then–although I’m still working a lot of it out. I think that the source of the tears was fear–I was scared shitless by the depth of emotion I found in that village and in the people who lived there. I knew rationally that I had committed to this trip to be of service to others, but here’s the thing: you can’t really prepare yourself for the emotional part. What happens during an experience like this is an all-in, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, vivid, raw emotional adventure that you can’t wrap your head around until you’re waist deep in it. And even then, as illustrated by my emotional breakdown, you don’t even really know what to do with it.

I think my fear came from a place of knowing that this experience held so much potential for deep emotion–the heart-opening, fiery love kind and the heart-wrenching, jagged-edged despair kind. But you can’t just open up to the first one without opening up to the other. What I had clearly found in my time prior to that walk down the dirt path was unconditional connection, acceptance, and love from the people of Las Cuarentas, but what I struggled to open my heart to in that moment was all of the other stuff: the tug I’d feel in my chest in seeing the poverty and the lack, the urge I’d feel to want to fix things, and the despair that would grip me when I had to hug my host family and friends good-bye.

I am still struggling with this gamut of emotions five days after returning from Nicaragua and trying to wade through all of it. In my head, I understand that EVERY part of my experience contributed to the exquisite beauty I found there, but my heart is still working on knowing that. Rumi says, “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” I am so thankful for the group of women I traveled with to Las Cuarentas (Maura, Brittany P., Laura, Lizz, Shannon, Charly, Kristie, Michele, Brittany W., and Sarah) for going all in with me even when you were scared too–for inspiring me and fanning my flames. And to the people of Las Cuarentas (Janeth, Jaiyder, Josselin, Jackson, Yericson, Fernando, Rubell, Lester, Irving, Jamil, Thelma, Orlando, Sarita, Johnny, and so many more), I hope you feel my gratitude across the miles even though you won’t be able to read my words. You lit up a spark in my heart. I’ll seek to fan that flame for the rest of my life.