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.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, Michael. Thank for coming to Detroit. Thanks for being you!