Saturday, May 31, 2008

re-engaging with the clamor of the west while residing in the gap between misery and enlightenment

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.
~ Sai – The Inheritance of Loss

Despite the fact that there are over 588,000 people live in Denver Colorado, I have been fluctuating from feeling shipwrecked and alone to re-energized and connected. And, although my re-entry experience has felt much easier than last time; in part, due to the what I now conceptualize as vicarious resilience **(or the internalization of all the amazing strength I witnessed with survivors of horrific war trauma in Liberia) I still find myself tripping over myself and when I trip I tend to bruise easy. So although many individuals have assumed I have moved on, moved back to my old life, there are still times I struggle and times that I feel the urge to put a message in a bottle.

My points of destabilization seem to creep up on me and take me by surprise and more often than not I end up in tears. But the tears are not the issue of concern because as a dear friend of mine pointed out – tears have always been easy for me. Whenever I start to feel something, anything really, I tend to cry. Rather than label the feeling or share it I simply cry and cry until the water dries up and then I move on. Tears are to me what love was to Sai: the ache, the anticipation, the retreat.

What I have realized is that traveling and working abroad in areas of need of humanitarian action makes one modest - you are forced to see what a tiny place you occupy in the world and what a crap-shoot it actually is that you just happened to be lucky enough to be born to a privileged family in a privileged country devoid of horrifying events in your immediate environment. Seeing the world also reminds you that the horrifying events – the poverty, and war and trauma is the real global REALITY and what we’ve got here is layers upon layers of denial and dissociation. How is it that we can be at war and I (nor any of my closest friends) have been immediately affected? And, how it is that things like genocide, torture, kidnapping, environmental degradation, violent repression of political rights, the release of toxins into pristine environments, discrimination and the conscription of child soldiers all over the globe occurs constantly and we don’t stand up and swallow up such brazenness in one gulp?

So I’m left feeling miserable. No, that’s not right. I don’t actually feel miserable. Maybe I am just feelings some sort of chronic level of mild unhappiness. Well not unhappiness exactly but more like the absence of the ecstasy that I would periodically feel when I was surrounded by people who had been enlightened by their experience. I also feel overwhelmed by the bullshit. I have to admit I have already started to worry about things that simply shouldn’t matter and am concerned I am chronically being underexposed to the things that truly do matter.
What I keep doing to check my misery is simple. I just keep reminding myself about the true mystery of the world. For me, the true mystery of the world is the visible. People carry grief and I am amazed by its weight. Young boys give me directions and I am awed by their innocent kindness. A woman holds the glass door open for me at the bank and waits patiently for my empty body to pass though.........all day long it continues, each kindness reaching toward another, strangers reaching out to strangers.........and I am thankful these things find me because they keep me from myself, and this is my faith: humanity.

** the concept of vicarious resiliance was developed by (HERNÁNDEZ, GANGSEI, ENGSTROM, ET. AL. 2008)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

dot dot dash. dash dot dot dash.

In the middle of an unremarkable chilly day the voice of the roaming nomad started to whisper in my ear….”you’re kidding yourself you know. You have to go……There are so many places you have yet to see….you have to go back….you belong out there…you must move about…there is work yet to be done.”

At first I didn’t listen. No, that’s not it exactly. At first it just felt like a lack of silence where there should have been some. A Morris code of sorts repeating itself like a broken record to someone who can’t decipher it.

Dot dot dash. Dash dot dot dash…

I went on with my day. Visited the Fuel café for some coffee. Completed an eval on a minimizing perpetrator. Took the dog for a walk. Studied paint samples. Then I ran into my dear friend and mother of my most favorite twin boys in this whole entire world. She indicated she would stop by with my little mangos after she picked them up from school. The idea was I could see them while she took a look at the latest paint swabs I have put on my wall. There were many. Paint seems like the biggest commitment of my life.

Dot dot dash. Dash dot dot dash…

They entered like a tornado. Bubbly lemonade in one hand crumbs on their face and updates to tell…
Aidan: Auntie Gwen! We’re here. I made this for you at school. It’s a fire truck!
Patrick: Auntie Gwen! Oh, hey Tuesday! Look I made this for you too! Can you open this for me?
Gwen: Sure Sure yes yes! Come in my little mangos. How was school?

Dot dot dash. Dash dot dot dash.

As I look for the bottle opener and rummage through drawers the undecipherable white noise continues to play in the back of my head.

Dot dot dash. Dash dot dot dash.

It’s still repeating when Aidan asks me, “where do you sleep Auntie Gwen?” I inform them there’s a bed in the mezzanine and they can check it out if they want. Tuesday adores these two little boys and therefore follows them everywhere they go when they are around. Due to the fact the stairs going upstairs do not have backs on them she has been experiencing some anxiety climbing them and looks a bit like a serpentine on her way up. This makes the mangos giggle. I can’t help but suffer from breakthrough smiles just experiencing them doing simple everyday activities. They come back down and we talk about the things in my loft. Then they start burping, which of course leads to more giggles. We all head down to the second floor to check out paint schemes. Clearly I’m seriously lost and a bit preservative about this issue. I may need an intervention soon.

We head back upstairs to my tiny little loft and continue to play and giggle. After a while their mother decides it is time for them to head home for tacos. Patrick has decided he wants meat. Aidan is presently a vegetarian and declares he will be having bean tacos.

Aidan asks when they can come over again. I inform them that I will be going to California the following day and plan to return on Saturday so maybe they can come next week. I start to teach them the surfers hang loose hand sign and we practice together. On a related note, I am proud to report they both know how to do the classic Liberian handshake (i.e., the shake-snap) and they proceed to practice it once again with gusto.

All of a sudden Patrick looks confused and hides his head in my pile of African fabrics. We all pick up on his emotional shift but his mother and brother, much more astute about Patrick’s emotional states than I, move closer to him and his mom gently begins to brush through his bushy blond hair. Aidan quickly asks me, “Auntie Gwen how long will you be gone?” I tell him, “just until Saturday.” “How long is that,” he replies. I show him four fingers and say, “only four days.” He whispers, “that’s not long” and his mother wholeheartedly agrees while patting Patrick’s back. Patrick raises his head and looks at me with tears in his eyes and patchy red spots on his cheeks and it’s clear that he had begun crying because he believed I was going to leave once again for a much longer period of time. Still speechless he studies my face and my fingers. Satisfied with the scenario he gets up and everybody prepares to go.

Tuesday and I walk them out and we talk about the next time they would like to come over. It was decided it will be next week before school. I ask about their plans for the weekend but, by then, we are at the car. They managed to walk through a massive pile of mud before climbing into their car seats. Their mother doesn’t seem to mind in the least. Aidan quickly rolls down the window and keeps asking me a series of questions. “Where is the water? Where are you taking Tuesday for a walk? What airline are you taking to California?” Then, while I sit there fully appreciating the fact they are still waving to me out the back window of their car, I realize the Morris code in my head has stopped. As if it somehow got lost, I finally experience utter silence.

In that moment, feeling lost in the silence, I realize what the noise was all about and I sigh… enviable struggle – should I stay or should I go?

The fine line between explorer and abandoner was captured in the emotional experience of a dear sweet boy who had lost his aunt, a flawed aunt no doubt; but, an aunt that has managed to mean something to him and an aunt who has left him for one third of his short life to date. To him the thought of losing me again was like the injury pain I referred to in my previous post. To me the thought of staying and the thought of going is equally as painful but I remain thankful that the choice and the struggle are there because a life without it suggests I am not wanted nor needed anywhere in this big loving yet scary world………..

Monday, May 5, 2008

a shadow of sorts

I long, as does ever human being, to be at home wherever I find myself
~Maya Angelou

Strangely enough even though Maya’s words truly resonate within me, I find myself longing for the home I recently left behind; and, this my friend, is the blessing and the curse of the roaming nomad. If one chooses to move around and truly be at home wherever one finds oneself, then they can then say that they have been blessed by the experience of having not one but many homes. The opportunity to explore and settle into a new environment is an unexplainably illuminating experience, and yet, with every new home experience comes the tragic yet ever looming necessity of saying goodbye. Goodbyes are never easy and if anyone says they are then they are minimizing the pain or avoiding the connections. As human beings we are not good at it; therefore, we avoid goodbyes like we avoid the plague. But if we chose to connect and engage with others, then leaving will most definitely be exquisitely painful.

As I sit here thinking about my most recent home, Liberia, I ache. I realize now that I did not consider it home simply because I lived there for an extended period of time; I considered it home because I felt so incredibly understood there. A few exceptional people who knew nothing about my past, nothing about my future, decided to take a risk and let me in. What’s unbelievable about that is that simply based on random circumstance, their pasts have been filled with heinous events and their futures are for all extensive purposes, unknown. I was moved by it all and miss each and every one of them.

It’s nice to come home to my nest in Denver and with every touching reconnection, every sunny day, every walk with Tuesday and every conversation with a curious acquaintance I am reminded why I feel so exquisitely loyal to the life I have created here. It wasn’t handed to me; I earned it by making meaningful interpersonal connections and memories with people so incredibly dear to me that it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. And yet, for every day, every month, every year that I decide to call another place home, I am left being experienced as a memory, an idea, a shadow of sorts by all the people I hold dear on domestic soil.

Being experienced as a shadow is very painful but truly being present and engaged when we reconnect is a healthy reminder that proximity is not always the answer. Being close doesn’t always solve the problems or make people feel more connected. Sometimes being close allows people to take things for granted; reunions are a chance to express and reminisce. So it seems there is a fine line between comfort and pain when it comes to interpersonal relationships. In fact it is a common belief that a relationship without pain is a relationship not worth having. To some pain implies growth. But how do we know when the growing pains stop and the injury pains begin? Am I an explorer or an abandoner if I close to walk that fine line? And, what happens if I make the wrong choice?

So the question remains can I continue to do this work (and move around as I do) and still hold on to those I hold dear? I fundamentally believe my work is a calling of sorts. For every second of my life I have felt lost, I have felt comfort in the fact that I have always known what I was meant to do professionally. But am I a whole person in any given world I chose to live in if I am chronically leaving it? My biggest fear is that I am in fact living my life as a shadow and am more frequently referenced as someone from the past rather than someone from the here and now.

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