Uncomfortably Numb, by Henry Nelson

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.


7 thoughts on “Uncomfortably Numb, by Henry Nelson

  1. Beautifully written, Henry. A powerful testament to a remarkable experience. You are clearly gaining even more perspective and insight from this journey than I had expected, and I could not be more proud of you. I love you so much. Dad

  2. Henry,

    I was so moved by your reflection. It brought back the shattering emotional intensity I felt myself last year, but also your candor in contextualizing your own transformative experience was such compelling food for thought. Even in my grief over my brother, it is almost surreal to be sitting here on my parents’ back porch drinking coffee, taking a break from cleaning out over sixty years’ worth of accumulated stuff, and being reminded so vividly about the reality of life in El Salvador. I hope to have some time with you when school resumes to hear more. Peace to you all —

    Susan Maynard

  3. Henry – thank you for this honest reflection – journeying deep into yourself. So many of us live the way you describe – unfeeling – because tragic headlines are commonplace. It is a blessing to hear how your heart is breaking open to receive grace.
    Peace be always with you.
    Mr. Fisko

  4. Dear Henry, What a wonderful experience you’ve described. Your telling it moved your Grandpa Nonno and I to tears. We love you. Grandma

  5. Henry, my name is Matthew Zacher ‘18. Your honesty moves me. I admire how you did not make yourself feel anything, but rather thought on your emotions as they arose. This honest self-reflection is the only way to forever transform and never forget. 🌹

  6. Henry, I admire your honest self reflection. This honesty and acceptance of emotions as they come is the only way to forever transform and never forget. Thank you.

  7. Whoops thought my first comment didn’t go through so I posted a second one. Now I guess I’ve posted three. Sorry!

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