Yesterday we were welcomed to San Marcos, Nicaragua with the beat of drums filling the streets. The kids and teenagers marching turned out to be the orphans at the residence we were on our way to visit. These youth from the streets and without parents are given food, shelter, a place to learn and a beautiful space to grow. I watched and photographed as Mark and Manny driven with kindness and generosity cut and styled their hair and played with them. I got pulled into a world of curiosity as they peered into my lens and lugged my heavy camera and took photos.
We identify ourselves with the virtues and vices in other people. Every voice that stands up for love against hate and ignorance is an echo of a role model that we've witnessed in our own lives. But in times when hate crimes dominate the airwaves, we can remind ourselves and our youth that these are examples of how not to be, characteristics that ultimately would make our lives more difficult if they happened to us, as they can and too often do. And we can turn to the people in our lives and the leaders in our world that exemplify who to model ourselves after, what it means to be compassionate, and how to initiate and facilitate fierce resistance.
Our lives are filled with opportunities to identify the characteristics in people that we should and shouldn't echo. I did an exercise recently and listed the role models in my life that led to my successes and my failures, and had I persisted, the list would have been essentially a list of everyone I've ever met. Sure, there were some more obvious mentors and friends and eccentric people that guided both my good and bad choices. And we can't forget that we're always as easily influenced as we are an influence to others.
I don't speak the same language as the orphans we met yesterday, and their upbringing is a world different than mine was. But it's certain that time spent with them is indispensable, and the lessons they taught me invaluable. I'm grateful for and inspired by the work that ProNica does with these women and children, and for the invitation Mark generously extended to me. These new friends are examples of role models in my life.