Out and Back

What a difference a month can make. I look back at our home visit, and it is clear I dropped into my old life and my old habits almost seamlessly. We planned an extremely busy trip home, because it seemed like we were supposed to. The stars aligned and we had the rare opportunity to attend special events all over the Midwest. I was thrilled with how well it went, but it sure contrasted my life here in Thailand.

It is a strange thing for me to be the center of attention for so long. Although it was exhausting, I was happy to have carried almost enough energy to share our experience here. The other strange thing is that I left America in the first place.

I almost never leave Illinois for more than a few weeks or a month at a time. I recall having feelings of guilt as I left because I thought about how many people left me for other opportunities, other lives, other reasons, but I always stayed. I did not fault them for leaving, but I grieved the loss. Leaving felt like I was reliving all of those experiences of others leaving at once. Leaving was different and more difficult than those times others had gone. Being home was a challenging reminder of how much I had left.

So we were home, most of you saw us, and it was wonderful! I appreciated everyone's efforts to come see me, to help make our picnics successful, and for all the generosity and kindness people showed. We relied on: beds and camping sites to sleep on, houses to gather, cups of coffee drank, lunches eaten, and microbrews shared. To be home and to find time to connect and be present with loved ones was quite a gift. We even had some excellent social justice related conversations and we might have started a book club with new acquaintances!

My week at orientation was excellent as well. We had the opportunity to really get to know our new community members Melissa and Lauren. I hesitate to talk about this, but I will. Orientation for this program is a lot like camp, but requires more work. We spend a week building a large community and becoming comrades in this mission. We have some team building activities, but also honest discussion about the joys and challenges of our past. We recognize and acknowledge each other, and our individual struggles in this world. We learn about each other's understanding and relationship with the 4 tenets, and form strategies and expectations for living together.

At the talent show on the last day, someone recorded us performing and I begged that it not make it onto social media. I laughed and said, “all my friends will see this and it will confirm their worst ideas about what this all is!” I still have my image and an ego to uphold. But the staff at Good Shepherd Volunteers create a safe environment, and model honesty and vulnerability in a way that enables us to engage each other and speak frankly and plainly in way that our society needs, but does not welcome.

One of my favorite sessions was led by a member of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and was titled “Undoing Racism.” It was a saddening, frustrating, and enlightening discussion where everyone was called on. It had ground rules and expectations that were set forth and really paved a path for open discussion and new insights, but it did not come without an emotional toll on everyone. He even pushed the leaders of our program to think deeply about the systems GSV is a part of and if the people we are helping remain powerless in the process.

The ideas of power, indignation, and safety versus discomfort seem to be resonating with me and in the news I listen to lately. I should probably hold on to these for a whole blog post, but the idea that sometimes I can misconstrue discomfort as unsafe is worrisome. The danger in the confusion is that I have started to see how much learning and growth take place when I am uncomfortable. A very interesting news note this week was that if we put #blacklivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, and #whitelivesmatter on a spectrum - #whitelivesmatter was categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And to be clear, I am in no way insinuating that #blacklivesmatter is a hate group at the opposite end of that spectrum. I hope have more on this later...

After arriving back in Thailand, I have recognized many of the things that I missed. I struggled with my lack of quiet time to reflect on my experiences - totally on me. I missed the final days of one of our patient’s life here in Thailand, and I know it was difficult on the community. I also missed a big shift in the community. I am still trying to put my finger on it. Just like when I went back to the USA, everything is the same and different at the same time. There is a group of 4-6 people who play intense badminton every evening (there is no score, but they still play to win every point!). There seems to be an underlying positivity and investment by each member for the community that I did not recognize when I left. Maybe I just have greater awareness or perspective after returning, but maybe not.

Well, that is all that I have for today. I am also overwhelmed with the ideas and connections that are looming in my brain right now. Oh, and if you were wondering 6 pounds is what I gained in 3 weeks. It was a lot, but I was a relieved it wasn’t more! I'll probably sweat it out in the next couple days.

If you were really into the Olympics; I have a podcast for you. Dave Zirin explores some of the doping scandals, how we talk about women in the Olympics, and much more in this episode of #EdgeofSports. 

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