I didn’t expect to feel what I felt. The garden itself had a different essence than the rest of El Mozote. We walked in a silent line, single file, into the “Jardines de los Inocentes”, the burial place for 149 children… casualties of the infamous massacre. Even after learning about the devastating truths of this massacre for the past few months, it wasn’t until I knelt next to one of the countless plaques of names that I actually began to feel something. But it wasn’t the consuming sadness I expected.
Instead, I was consumed by fear. Not due to Monterosa’s cruelty. Not afraid of my own safety in the area. Rather, as I reflect on this experience, I realize this fear stems from the fact that I wasn’t sad.
I had lost touch with my humanity to such an extent that I couldn’t feel for a garden of 149 dead, innocent, children. Day after day, my life in the United States forces me to confront horrific headlines, “12 dead in Mosque”, “31 dead in school shooting”, “52 dead after bombings”, teaching my heart to harden to what was happening in our world. Kneeling alone in that transcendent garden, I felt the gravity of that harsh reality crush me. I needed to learn to feel, and thus I turned to God.
I sought out a capacity for compassion, longing for the day in which I could know their heartbreak. In that moment, I remembered the people of El Junquillo and La Hacienda. I remembered Carlos, my friend who danced with me as we celebrated his second birthday and always greeted me with his beautiful smile.
I remembered Maria Teresa, my gracious host with such powerfully inspiring dreams for someone in her economic condition. I remembered Rene, my kind host in El Junquillo who opened up his heart to me about those he had lost in the civil war.
These were the types of people who had died in that fateful day of December 11, 1981. They were kind… they had dreams… they were children. Children who had no part in the grown-up conflict around them, who could have been the spark needed to change to world.
Now my eyes were welling up and the hardened seal was finally broken as the first of many tears streamed down my face. It was one of the worst feelings I had ever experienced, but at the same time it was one of the best, most liberating experiences I could have asked for. In a society in which emotions come at an unfortunate premium, the ability to feel has become the most inspiring gifts I could have asked for on this journey.