The sun oozes — a fat, juicy, shockingly scarlet puddle bleeding into the fuchsia, magenta and tangerine serenade. The cliffs regally wear this flawless sunset like a water-color cape flying behind their rocky shoulders. Every shrub, rock and organism is exquisitely placed on this luxuriously living earth's back. The perfection balances with the wild and untamed nature like a beautiful, belligerent stallion. The ground breathes the spirits of the Native Americans who have braved it long before I. The clouds feature their stoic faces and their chanting whispers with the wind. But now this land is forsaken. It is my own New Mexican Earth. I feel like Neil Armstrong, the first on uncharted territory.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I stood immersed, enthralled, amazed. If I disturbed the universe and stretched my arms forward, I'm sure my hands would have shattered the palpable stillness of this world. The majestic sunset would rain a million glass slivers and pierce the earth.
The journey leading to this moment is incredible.
My soul embarks.
Gallup, New Mexico looked like pretty much any other United State when the other Saint Barnabas parish mission trip participants and I arrived there the summer after my freshmen year. We were spending a week beautifying the Sacred Heart Retreat Center where we were staying, building a wheel chair ramp for an elderly Navajo woman and assisting at a nearby school and men’s improvement facility. On the third day of our volunteering we ventured into Saint Bonaventure, a Catholic mission located on a Navajo reservation. We split up; half accompanied the food truck and the other half the water truck as they made their daily deliveries. What I saw shook my very being.
Chances are you've seen a trash dump. The sight of these broken, rejected, forgotten remnants of people's lives always fill me with melancholy. Imagine all that junk flung… everywhere. The people on the reservation have no clean water, cannot provide food for themselves and have nowhere to throw their garbage. Some had bested it and build their houses out of the debris. It was then when I realized none of our projects could scratch the surface of Gallup's unfathomable poverty. Humans can do much with their hands but immeasurable kindness with their hearts. In my opinion, compassion is the most needed and belittled virtue. Reaching out to people is what I deeply yearn for. Impacting others with service and altruism is eternal. Living a life of love is what I really want, for love is more than warm fuzzies on a happy day. I saw how truly blessed I am, and I resolved to eliminate my life's extravagance. The saying "(Insert noun or activity here) is like a bank. You only get out what you're willing to put in." I poured my heart and soul and physical being into improving the life of everyone I met, and as a result, it genuinely changed me as a person. With that inner metamorphosis came inherent wisdom.
I saw the honor, the pride and the respect in the Navajo culture. Every single native person we met was friendly, appreciative and touched by our efforts. New Mexico is a cultural gem, and it sports the best sunsets in North America: beautiful, or as the Navajo say, "nezhoni."
If home is where the heart is, my "home" is helping people: changing the world one person and act of kindness at a time.
1,581 miles from Indianapolis, Indiana, I am home.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.