Sunday, February 12, 2012

Toward a Language of Analogous Experience...and toward patience and charity

I've been back in the States for a little over a year. This time last year, I still had facial hair and a ponytail. I was starting up work at an office (for good or for ill), I was struggling in my getting used to things being in English, to not having personal space being invaded, to having good seasonal fruit and nixing tropical ones from my diet. I could keep that list going for quite a long while.
There are a good many reasons that re-entry poses some legitimate challenges for people coming home after a lengthy time. The easiest way to talk about it is to compare it with grieving. I mean, there is an authentic portion of the re-entry experience that IS, in fact, grieving the loss of a way of life, a community, a frame of reference. I don't want to minimize that. In a way, I DID minimize it when I came back. I think that I had some major blessings that helped me deal with it in a healthy way, but the way I went about my re-entry would by no means be a how-to guide. But that's not exactly here, nor is it exactly there. I use the comparison to grieving not only because of the real part of the experience that involves grief; I use it because of the need for expression.

In both psychology and theology, several people who look at suffering will arrive at the conclusion that a necessary part of suffering--if it is to be a vessel toward deeper understanding and living--is voicing the hurt, making the ache known, having the ability and means to articulate in word and in deed what's going on. Job is said to have spoken well of God at the end of it all, and he was sarcastic to God, questioned what was going on, insisted on bringing a retributive God to trial. Jeremiah seeks to express the pain he feels at being a harbinger of doom to the city and Temple and people that he loves without any ability to serve as a mediator, and he goes to such radical extremes as to talk about being raped, seduced, and other very graphic things. Chopin's Etude in C# Minor (Revolutionary), Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, many of Beethoven's later works, major works of art and dances all serve the purpose of expressing the anguish, the anger, the "why?!" that no trite platitude will bandage, that no amount of problem-solving can magically make go away.
One of the great challenges in coming back to the states is finding a language; it sometimes feels like one actually must wring a mode of conversation, a frame of reference into existence ex nihilo, because those around us many times lack the means and/or awareness to understand that no monosyllabic or even one-paragraph answer will summarize the question "how was it?", as the question both asks far too much and far too little. There are authentic struggles with missing people, weather, food, and ways of life, but in my experience, even in traveling across the country or being in a community of a different faith, but ESPECIALLY coming from back from abroad and having that experience forever shaping me hereafter, the most crushing feeling can be that when living my story, I am met with blank face at best and disparaging judgment at worst. In a word, being grossly unable to connect by virtue of what has made me who I am and continues to form me.
My last entry was more rambling than usual, but I was experimenting in finding a way to bring some portion of the framework of my youth and high school years to people who may never be able to experience Oregon's nature, and who even if they do probably won't understand what ways I'm connected to it. I will never be able to bring people fully into my world. I'd like to think that gaining some sense memories, like the smells of San Juan de Miraflores or the strange noises the various species of pigeons made or experiencing the difference in personal space, would allow people enough of a window to have the tools to build that language of analogous experience. That's not going to happen. But I can write. I can talk. You can read, you can listen. You can see when my eyes glaze over. I can make an effort to see when you're looking quizzically at me, and then remember to be patient and remember that my frame of reference is clearly distinct from others' on some levels.
This is hardly something I've perfected. I so often ascribe to the camp of wanting people's problems or suffering to move directly to the "solve it stage". I'm guilty of that to the point of passing through being naïve and moving into blatant and selfish uncharitable behavior. I'm also guilty of not remembering that people's lack of understanding more often than not comes from simply never having been pointed toward or invited into the process of crafting either the language of analogous experience OR the language of receptivity (which is often far more available and also invaluable). Patience and charity, curiosity and kindness are necessary for all.
I guess I bring this up because I was just at a welcome back party for CapCorp Midwest's international volunteers. I felt my own experience welling up, I will strive to be a person of support and understanding for them as they continue to integrate their lived experiences, and I acknowledge my own need to be more vocal in my current community. I write this because I am more acutely aware than ever that there is risk of judgment in searching to find a way to convey and express oneself. Heck, Job spoke rightly of God, but confesses to speaking without knowledge at the end all the same. But that risk must be taken.

A year after the fact, I want to thank those in CapCorps: past, present, and future, stateside and abroad, collaborators, facilitators, benefactors, coordinators, etc. All of you. Thanks for reminding to continue along the journey and giving tools that I may not only be understood but also understand. Thanks for offering and continuing to offer me the opportunity to enter into a space where I can speak, listen, and be. God's invitation to venture more deeply into what it means to be fully alive has been made present in an incredibly significant way through your efforts, support, love, and prayers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I come from a suburb with beauty all its own. It's the kind of beauty that somebody who'd sneer at them just for being suburbs might not be willing to see. But my heart does not lie in the tame and quiet emerald green or the summer evening's mimosa fragrance washing over the neighborhood's inhabitants.
Rather, my heart lies just to the east, where the waterfalls and cataracts, the turbulent waters cascade down hills and cliff faces and plummet downward into black and white pools that laughingly skip along to the silently surging and giant vessel of the Columbia River.
This doesn't happen in a vacuum or in some deserted place of desolation. The misty tendrils of water careening down the cliff faces paint mosses and lichens over everything in sight, the seeds and spores bathing in droplets that float to the ground. Trees soar upward and plunge their roots deep, stretching to touch the sky and seize the ground, tapping into the pools below the rushing waters and quenching their gargantuan thirst. Ivy, that ubiquitous green parasite, has less a hold on the trees flourishing near the Gorge's veins (like a watercolor's bleeding) than in those of other stately forests. The trunks here are either bare or fully decked with mossy green beards that drip and sag with moisture as I imagine Vikings' beards did when on the sea or when after taking a particularly long drink of ale.
In the summertime the falls are a sanctuary from the heat, for even in Oregon there are days when the sun looks down without mercy and the pines and firs beckon us to come under their shade with boughs outstretched and their sweet, sweet, almost-blackberry smell. But that scent is often lost in the scene's clamor to overwhelm every sense, for the cool moisture of the air brings its own smell, and all that is green exudes the collective smell of green and life, not assaulting like grass clippings, but a prudent flaunt (if you will). The rocks and the dirt bring their own aged scent of earth and mineral.
I live west of this, in a land uniquely beautiful (as I've hinted at above), but a 30 minute drive acts as a true agent of change. Going just slightly east, out of dense civilization and into this fertile stretch, I drive past the airport, a reminder that though I'm not traveling by plane I nevertheless am making a departure into something distinct and beautiful. The trees gripping the right hand landscape all of a sudden come to the fore as a sprawling expanse of rolling evergreens, the majestic Mount Hood towering in the background and acting as both a gatekeeper and center of this system. It seems to welcome in a voice beyond vocal articulation with a confidence that those who enter for the first time will be in sufficient awe that they need no warning to guard this treasure they are encountering.
Coming in from the East is its own transition: from a rugged and arid landscape into the booming and crowded abundance of emerald sheen and azure sky, the water dancing in the sunlight with Mount Hood looming into view in grand style. I have wondered if this is a small indication of Creation kneeling before God, rejoicing as He jubilantly passes to the sea. Regardless, it is this passage that has joyously welcomed me home both by air and by land, and my heart cannot but sing upon seeing it anew, for a part of me has never left. A part of me wanders and roves through the lush green and swims in the frigid tributaries and sings and claps its hands as the rain descends or the sun's golden rays tease the forest's branches.
I would weep and mourn and rightly rage if that part of me could no longer find residence among the pines, if all were hewed down and the streams dried up and Mount Hood stripped of its snowy gown. I would rage at those who had turned a place of celebration into a truer wasteland than the desert to the East, for one exists by nature and the other is a human artifact. The nation jokes and jibes the unclean nut jobs who cling to trees and break chainsaws and meticulously recycle, right and wrong in their derision. IT is not the highest good, it is perhaps disordered, the region in unChurched, aching sorely for something deeper than a superficial pantheism and long jaunts in nature. But those who only see utility, who see buildings or progress or waste disposal or dispensable and unimportant crude matter rather than the treasure before them surely have a hard glint in their soul and do not know created beauty. I despair of ever being truly heard by them.
I have been lonely among friends, even in Portland, and I bemoan that when a part of me can rejoice for being home, another laments for having nothing of community or mutual understanding or affirmation or even like-mindedness. I can't talk about virginity as a source of pride and natural status for my state of life without defensiveness and judgment or simple lack of understanding. I am alone in my church, in my mid-20's with no brothers of the same age to embrace. I am constantly thirsting as I wander a city of beauty that so tragically will never adequately embrace the outpouring of natural majesty given to it because God is confined to the crazies' and the sillies' households or else seen as somebody who says, "Use this however the hell you want," leaving protection of this beauty a matter of preference rather than human vocation.
But despite the pains and woes it gives, I cannot but love it, for there I grew and there I have wondered and wandered. There I have seen the explosive beauty in the land of waterfalls. In the city I have spent a day drinking in a hundred perfumes of roses infinitely more alluring, appealing, and intoxicating than any concoction that Paris designers or Antonio Banderas or whatever is popular these days even if their brains were working at 100% capacity. There I've felt wind slide past my face in a caress to tell me that rain--and Spring--are nigh. It's there that a thirst for justice was planted in me and it is there that I return time and again when I need a reminder of God's goodness, whether in memory or in physical presence.