How her volunteer experience has taught Lara Torii to live intentionally and fall in love
When I started my first year of volunteer service three years ago in NYC, I was excited that I could continue to wear my fabulous pair of alligator green vintage boots. One of my program’s tenets is simplicity, but no one considered me frivolous for continuing to wear my best clothes to work. After all, my placement, which served runaway and homeless youth, was in Chelsea.
Now, what seems like a lifetime later, I’m sitting in my single bed in a volunteer house on the edge of rural northeast Thailand. All I can hear outside are insects singing. Nowadays, my wardrobe mainly consists of t-shirts and loose elephant pants. I have about nine outfits that I’ve rotated for two years. But just as I loved putting together outfits for my days in Manhattan, I love the simplicity of my wardrobe here.
But I’m not here to talk about how my personal look has changed the last three years (though I do love talking about my hair, so perhaps that will be a topic for another entry). This outer transformation is simply an insight into the bigger transformation within. It all happened because I decided, from day one, to live each moment deeply.
Learning to Live Intentionally
Everything about my three years has been intentional. My program asks us volunteers to look closely at our motivations, our expectations, our decisions for literally everything—our relationships, our work, our interests, our thoughts and feelings.
When I started my program, I believed that I was embarking on a journey of great work experiences and easy travel. I was eager to gain some experience working with the most neglected, abused, and impoverished of the world’s people. I was excited to venture to faraway places on someone else’s bill. I never expected to fall in love, but it happened.
I fell in love with stories. My community members’ unique and larger-than-life personalities. My residents’ dreams for their young lives—sometimes fulfilled, sometimes shattered on the concrete pavements of Manhattan. I fell in love with colors: mysterious gray mornings on Seventh Ave., overflowing green jungles in my rural Borneo village.
I fell in love with the magic of the holidays all over again, like a kid who believes in Santa. How could I not, when my Buddhist community here participated in the celebration with as much enthusiasm as children. They don’t believe in Jesus, but they do believe in generosity and humility and hope, which is really what Christmas is about anyway. I fell in love with the taste of coconut milk curries and “everything” bagels.
I fell in love with giving thanks every single day for privileges I had taken for granted most of my life. For family willing to persist through all the hurts that inevitably arise with people you love the most. For emails and messages sent from friends from long ago and far away. For the simple gift of health.
I fell in love with the vast universe that is my mind, full of thoughts and feats of daring I barely recognize as my own. I fell in love with someone for the first time in my 25 years.
Letting go and engaging fully
I dove into living intentionally without much premeditation. It doesn’t sound like the smartest decision, but perhaps this is why I was able to break open, to live deeply, to fall in love. I gave up control of whatever boxes and labels I had previously used to define and structure me as well as the world around me. This revealed so much; I found that I could actually succeed in seeing things clearly, without any preconceived notions. I found that when I touched each moment deeply, when I fully engaged myself in listening to others, when I released any assumptions, life was bursting with possibilities and wonder and love… at every single moment.
A couple weeks ago I saw Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody” video on a Thai music channel. I was immediately captivated. And I realized that Adam’s words articulate perfectly what I’ve started to suspect about my time as a volunteer.
If I fall for you, I’ll never recover, I’ll never be the same.
I suppose fittingly both Adam and the girl are wearing next to nothing. They’ve been stripped. They are broken open. In the end, love not only erases preconceptions, it releases you.