On love

Yesterday I wrote a post on love. Today I would like to write another post on love and experiment by sharing more of myself in a way that I normally would shy away from. It is weird to put out information of your life into the world for anyone and everyone to read, but at the same time, in my commitment to be more vulnerable and open, I think it makes sense to share more of my story, especially around the particularly important topic of love.

Love, when I was a child, was given in the form of time. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and I think this has led to the fact that now, my love language, so to speak, is that of spending quality time with folks more than anything else. In addition to this, as a baby, I was privileged enough to bask in the touch of others, more than I probably would have had I grown up in the United States. I was born in Botswana and spent the first year or so of my life in a rural village with many people around me, not related to me, but part of a close-knit community. Whenever my family (at that time just my parents) were out and about I was passed around like a really interesting souvenir from a foreign land—and as a white baby, I was. Getting exposure to so many sets of laps, arms encircling around me, and mouths uttering baby talk in languages and dialects I certainly didn’t understand, probably set the foundation for the reality that now-a-days I am easily adaptable and can really be comfortable and content in most settings. At the same time, this experience as a baby, more likely than not, primed me for the desire to be touched, even by strangers; if the intention was genuine, I was happy to receive it. This touch however, mostly did come from people outside my family circle because my parents really aren’t the touchy-feely type.

At this point in this short autobiography of the thing I call love, it might be helpful to mention that by the time my family really settled down, my thirteenth birthday had just passed. Before the tumultuous years of teenagerdo[o]m I had lived in many places around the world. (If you are interested in this particular story and timeline of my life please let me know and I’d be happy to write a brief synopsis or just give you the 411 on the many places I lived and homes that were created as a result).

An example of the care and touch that I got outside of my parents is an example from Argentina. When we first moved to Argentina we lived in the northernmost province of Formosa and I was just shy of four years old. We had a niñera, or nanny, named Andrea who accompanied us everywhere and gave us cariños and touch in a way that neither my mom nor my dad ever provided me. She gave us the warmth that so characterizes this region of the world and through her I was able to realize how touch could be a healing, caring, and nurturing force.

On the other hand, with my parents, love was provided in a different way. The way that my parents showed me they loved me was through the time my mom spent cooking a delicious and nutritious meal, día tras día… When she and my father read to me and my twin siblings, noche tras noche, sin falta.

I was reminded of this love and the nightly story-telling this past weekend. On Saturday, my roommate and I went to a Meetup in hopes to meet new people (go figure), experience something a little different from the Bay Area, and to get out of our comfort zones. We went to a story Meetup where people were encouraged to share true stories from their own lives, on stage, with the guidance of a few themes that as an audience we tentatively and timidly yelled out from our seats. A bundle of nerves, my friend and I decided not to put our names in the hat to be called to story-tell but we participated in the warm-up activity before the “show”. Afterwards, we mingled with people and shared stories in a more intimate way with folks.

As each individual’s name was called out of the moderator’s hat, the audience clapped loudly and then the storyteller would tell a pretty good story or a very mediocre story and then the audience would once again clap loudly and the next person would come up. It was a really great way of sharing stories and included totally novice story-tellers all the way to experts in the field.

This storytelling made me think of the tradition that my family had while growing up, of reading stories. Of a totally different variety than free-form but in any case, sharing stories in general is a powerful way of being in community, developing a literary repertoire, using your imagination, and appreciating that of others. Every night before bed, my mom or dad would read to the three of us kids. In this way we read the Chronicles of Narnia, The Little House on the Prairie (and all the books that came after), C.S. Lewis’ Lord of the Rings series, and other lesser known books like Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and books that we had photocopied and bound with plastic spiraling and pastel colored-covers (it was really difficult to find books in Argentina, especially books in English, at that time, so we would borrow books from other English-speakers or we would photocopy books like the Warton and Morton series).

We were always caressed by the words of short stories, tall tales, and wide volumes of prose carried in the bottoms of suitcases by people coming from the U.S. to visit the montes of the dry, arid, and desolate Chaco—the other province of Argentina that we lived. Riding on the waves of words to faraway seas and submerging in the expanse of love, as big as the ocean, my parents had for me, was something that carried me and washed over me, but the liquid waters left me wanting to explore greater depths.

My mom’s voice, reading to us, would be slightly tired from the other acts of love she had invested in throughout the day, but she would sit next to us and read nightly, like it was her duty. And then, my mom would tuck us in, sometimes offer a goodnight kiss and let sleep take over for the night shift.

My dad contributed some to these literary evenings, although many times he was away on trips and visiting the villages of the native peoples in the region. Because this was the case, when my siblings and I were really little, he would record books for us on tape and then we could listen to his voice at night on the black Sony stereo system, the closest thing we had to a T.V. Gently, yet steadily moving the plot forward with a cadence that drew back slightly at the end of each phrase (almost like that of a rider using the reigns to control the gait of a horse), his voice provided just the right speed to get the momentum for the next phrase. Y así, his canter could carry us through the story-line of our favorite cuentos and we would imagine his presence beside us, protecting us from whatever fear, yet at the same time leaving a vastness for us to be ourselves, however we wanted to be.

And in this way we would listen to stories like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and Tomi DePaola’s The Clown of God. It’s heart-warming to see how these traditions carry on, even though technology is certainly different now. My dad reads to my little niece, him in Indianapolis, Indiana and her in Quito, Ecuador. Her favorite story for my dad to read her is Little Bear. Through Skype, they share in the story, the rise and fall of my dad’s voice is as consistent and constant as it ever was.

And the love of my parents continued this way into my teenage years and now into adulthood…loving me at a respectable distance, never with too much touch except for sometimes a hug here and there after a long time away from each other. I feel like the core of my being, my spirit even, longed for the touch of love and the nonchalance that was provided me when a baby. And when all of a sudden I received this touch as a naïve and immature teenager, I had to learn a few lessons the hard way. And as a more mature adult, I still learned lessons on love in a way that hurt at times. But love always does. It hurts more than anything we have ever known, and it feels better than anything we have ever known. Sometimes all at once.

I think my current definition of love centers around trust. In order to really love someone I have to trust them. In order to really trust someone an emotional net has to be knitted, together, that connects me to them, and yes, this net serves as a way for me to cross from the intangible to the more tangible. From emotion to touch, from the senses to the sensual.  And this crossing develops and uncovers that my vulnerability will be valued and venerated.

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My sister and I, circa 94′ or 95′ (I believe). Enjoying one of our favorite pastimes together in a hammock strung between two trees. San Bernardo, Argentina

A cliff, a mountain, an ocean

I know this post should have been up yesterday, but I am just writing it now because I have allowed the feeling that was woven through the love-filled day to really sink in and mature just a bit.

My roommate and I have been watching Mozart in the Jungle. We like classical music, but we also really enjoy the eccentric and easy-going persona of Gael García Bernal (playing in any role, but his role as the Maestro, has us enthralled every single episode). In one particular episode he talks about trust and how it is the highest cliff one can fall from. Or in Francisco de Quevedo´s own words: “El mayor despeñadero, la confianza.” Quevedo, a Spanish poet and writer from the Siglo de Oro or the Spanish Golden Age. This particular quote stuck with me and upon meditating on it, it has come to me that it may not be, in fact, a cliff that we fall from, but a mountain that we climb. The mountain of trust that we climb by ourselves, with others, on our own two feet, being dragged, limping, whatever. And we never quite reach the top of the mountain, we are always climbing, we are always building trust, and the higher we get, the more difficult the climb becomes, but the more experienced we are. So in falling, if that were to happen on our expedition, we know what to do, we know who to turn to, we have our first-aid kit and are able to take out the supplies we need to nurse ourselves back to health. Then, we can eventually regain our footing and keep climbing.

I think this idea of trust has much to do with how we cultivate and engage in love. And for me, the idea of trust via getting out of your comfort zone is one of the qualities of love. Below is a rough sketch of some of my ideas on love, including another nature metaphor.

 

Love

Is all-consuming

An energy that fills us and depletes us.

Like the very air we breathe.

We pour our energy into loving others and this energy sometimes leaves us saturated and heavy.

Or empty and incomplete.

We are filled, we are depleted, and the cycle begins again.

It is unpredictable and sometimes unrequited

It makes me think about the last time I was in love

Six months ago,

With someone that enjoyed his own company more than my own.

And then that love dissipated, although the love lesson remained.

Love

Is simple

A thoughtful hug from a friend that cares about us

A call from a loved one that makes us feel like we matter

A smile from a stranger in the middle of winter

on the first day in a while that feels like spring.

Love is a student as well as a teacher.

We teach ourselves how to love and we have to teach others

What we need, what we want, what we don’t yet know.

It is a curious force that takes us out of our comfort zone

And plops us down outside of our zone of proximal development

And then we must sink into it or swim back to safety.

I want to sink into love and uncover its infinite depths

One meter of ocean at a time.

 

Love is many things…and sometimes dichotomous things. A poem by Quevedo, in Spanish, that is entitled Definición del amor also alludes to the yin and yang of love. Maybe you’ll enjoy this poem too. I won’t try my hand at translating it because it is a Petrarchan sonnet and I don’t want to screw up the rhyme scheme or meter.

Much love to you all!

 

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My hike up to the peak of el Rucu Pichincha en Quito, Ecuador this January 2017.
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View of Cotopaxi, a volcano, on the hike up to Pichincha.
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On the way up. View of the top of Pichincha.

Immigrant stories Part II

Today on my way to yoga I was listening to a Radio Ambulante podcast that happened to report a story on Oakland International High School. A school I never worked with, but her sister school in San Francisco is one that I am very familiar with because I worked them and many unaccompanied youth that attended there.

I felt somewhat uncomfortable listening to the story because it felt like an invasion of privacy. This radio journalist was gathering stories of Central American youth who had come across the border in some way or another, but she only wanted to report those stories of youth who had come on their own. Because of their age and many of them not having family back in their home countries, many youth were able to stay in the U.S., and I am assuming that they are now in the process of filing refugee or asylum paperwork or some other kind of visa that will get them citizenship here. The story mentioned youths’ names and I winced each time a last name was said. I remembered what it was like to work with immigrant youth. My first job out of college was in San Francisco working with homeless and many immigrant youth. I worked at this organization for four years and everything about these years has impacted my life and work trajectory (for good).

One of the things I most dreaded while working with this particular population was the intake we had to do when someone new first came through our doors. There were many things that were lacking in terms of hospitality at this particular organization so I just took this issue with the intake forms as par for the course.

On countless occasions I would welcome youth from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and others, and after saying hello and welcome I would have to ask all about their personal information including their education, health, family, etc. It felt like I was really invading their privacy and I felt bad each and every time. Even more culturally significant is that I am a woman and most of the intakes I did were with adolescent Latinos. After taking intakes for a while I realized that it was just a matter of how I approached the form and the situation. I am mostly a friendly and kind person so I was just very nonchalant about the whole process and I made sure the youth felt comfortable with me (this is something that comes naturally but you have to learn to quickly cultivate initial trust too) and that they knew they could divulge as little or as much as they wanted…we could fill in the blanks later more accurately.

“Just tell me what’s on your mind now, because I know it is awkward to tell me some of these very personal things having just met me.”

After these intakes, getting to know each of the individual youth I worked with was my favorite part of the job. They would sometimes tell me stories, but really I just liked chatting with them about whatever it was that was going on in their lives at the moment. They probably had plenty of other people that were asking about their personal stories, so I didn’t want to intrude. Now, looking back, I wonder if I did the right thing or not…just letting them tell me the things that came to their mind. Of course, this is the beauty of being an educator, is that there are many different tools you can pull from for students to share information and for them to get things off their chest. Tapping into these different methods was really important in being able to read, relate to, and react to each youth’s story. Some youth expressed themselves via art or music or writing or silence or dance…etc. Other youth still hadn’t found their voices and were in search of how best to relate to the world around them.

I feel like sometimes, in the U.S., we are very intrusive and we like to know everything about someone, especially if they are an immigrant or if they have some kind of cross to bare, so to speak. To everyone else, we could care less, but when you have a grueling, or harrowing, or simply, just interesting story, we want to hear it. What do we do with these stories in return? Where do they go? Do they exist with us for shock value? Or do we actually get to know someone, a people, a culture, a history, as part of the process?

Immigrant stories

I don’t really have much to say today…except for the fact that I didn’t write all of January so my new intention for the month of February is to write daily.

Today, I listened to Junot Díaz reading a short story by Edwidge Danticat entitled “Seven”. Both these individuals, Junot from the Dominican Republic and Edwidge from Haiti write about their and their families experiences as immigrants and are a couple of my favorite writers because they are able to pin-point a feeling, a situation, a time in history that resonates with the social worker, educator, and writer in me.

Junot, before reading the story remarks that in this country the immigrant has been recently portrayed as a “menacing and dangerous figure” and the only softening of this blow is when he relates that it is only by stories that writers like Junot and Edwidge have told, do these menacing and dangerous people are able to be seen in their real light.

That’s all I have for today. Go read or listen to or ask someone about their immigrant story…and become closer to the American we are today and the one that we always have been.