Today was quite easily one of my best adventures to date.
Myself and eleven family members (9 of which I just met!) took a drive to Tagaytay City, where we then hopped on a bangka (boat) taking us to the base of Taal Volcano Island. This would have been a killer hike, but since that was not something everyone in the group could do, we rode horseback to the pseudo-summit.
Have you ever enjoyed a moment more intimately by recalling times when you were far from that kind of happiness? I experienced this on the boat ride to the volcano as I closed my eyes tight, threw my head back in genuine laughter and remembered how big and good our God is. But in tandem and albeit a bit grim, lightning flashbacks of my lowest moments sporadically flipped through my mind: misplaced anxiety attacks forced to suppression; writhing in bed as my heart ached for love that was lost; blank stares at the wall sitting on the bathroom floor, empty of tears. But when these thoughts raced through my mind, I perceptibly embodied James 1:2, considering my trials pure joy. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for those valleys–not because I was now enjoying such a high, but simply because I realized I no longer have to dread the recollection of moments like that. It’s in the trials that steadfastness is produced, and that’s where joy is found.
Later on in the excursion, I found myself faced with an opportunity to exercise a humbled perspective. When we got to the summit, the view was breathtaking in a way that makes me hesitant to even use that word, in fear of overuse diminishing its reality. I stared in disbelief, not knowing what to do with myself–until a group entered the foreground, facing a man with camera in hand. That’s when the irritation of having left my phone behind set in. I even had the audacity to say that the camera on my phone was better than the one we did have available for pictures–how embarrassing of me. Getting off my high horse (pun intended), I chose to look at the situation from a better perspective–how was this experience provided for me in the first place?
From the moment I met my tour guide, RJ, I knew I wanted to learn more about him and share his story. RJ innocently told me I was beautiful at the start of the horseback ride–his kindness was continuously evident. He is 19 and has been giving these tours for two years. Although they only allow the horses to give one ride maximum per day, it is 8 km (nearly 5 miles) round trip from the base to the summit. RJ, along with over 600 other tour guides, spend their days making this trek on foot as they lead tourists to one of the most beautiful vistas they’ll ever see–the very place they call home.
I asked RJ what he did for fun, but he said he wasn’t sure what I meant. There was only a slight language barrier between us, and I know there are things he must do in his free time regardless, but I had to remember: my experience here is his livelihood. RJ and his colleagues (family is probably a better word) live in homes that most Americans above the poverty threshold wouldn’t call a house. Their lives essentially revolve around taking care of the horses that provide them the opportunity to make tips off of their guests. Don’t get me wrong–the people living here were not destitute and it’s not my intention to portray them as such. But after an instance where I was petty enough to be concerned with how I was going to get the best picture, it was necessary to instead recognize the beauty in enjoying a moment without the compulsion to preserve it, and empathize with the lives of those who took care of me in the process.
The pictures didn’t turn out so bad anyway.