Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reflections a year later

This morning I found myself back on this blog, hungrily reading every word I'm so grateful I captured while I was at Shanti. I may even have blog posts left to post, I'll have to check. Just days after I landed back on American soil from this life-changing, paradigm-shifting, eye-opening adventure, my mother suddenly died. I can't deny that it sucked away all my attention and any stamina I had left for self reflection was poured into surviving her death.

Now, a year later, I find I have changed in so many ways. 2012 brought me thyroid cancer, intensive fundraising while healing, a trip to the Redwoods to repair my heart, then Uganda where I left tiny bits of myself and took so much away, and then my mother's death. I can't say I am the same person that I was before that all began, or even the person I was before I left on this great trek across the world. My reflections now are stacked on the subsequent experiences I've had, the people I've met and the passions enflamed in me as a result of everything I went through.

So this morning I woke and for some reason, wandered to my Shanti blog. I was surprised to see how much I'd forgotten as I scanned through my photos, the tiny details that are tattooed on my heart, even if my memory isn't up to the task.

I think back to standing in the airport, looking for women I barely knew, if it all, trusting that we were going to cross the globe together and navigate whatever obstacles came before us. Waiting in line for the staff to take our bags, my vision went dark and I thought for sure I was going to literally faint, I was so terrified of all of the unknowns. I almost backed out, but remembering all the generosity that people in my life showed so that I could have the privilege of even standing at that gate, I put one foot in front of the other, leaned into my husband and breathed, and left them behind at security. It was terrifying and liberating in a way I can't find words to describe.

Landing home, ready to be back into the nest of my family so that I could absorb everything I'd done, seen, and been a part of. Having shared those moments with the women who stood with me, I was ready to be away from them, so I could find myself again, try to see where I fit in my life now that I knew what I knew about the world, as small as that was. At the same time I knew we might never be all together again and I couldn't bear that thought. How could we not ever see each other again, reminisce, process our experience, reveal our new selves? It (still) seemed wrong and sad, but a sacrifice worth making in order to find respite in my own bed.

Now I am learning a new language as I talk about our differences, and our similarities. I see the unfortunate ways that we deal with each other and I am relieved that Americans are not the only ones who experience privilege and thus perpetuate (unknowingly, oftentimes) discrimination, elitism, and so much more. I learn that our hearts do not want separation, we want to understand each other even if what we've learned all of our lives is the opposite. We are inherently curious and on some level we butt up against the way we've been taught to deal with each other, alongside our deep, innocent curiosity. Often they can't match up, and curiosity takes courage.

I could talk about the birth center we are opening, but more important to me is the clinic we are opening to provide access to any women in our county to quality, safe prenatal care. This feels so incredibly enormous a task, absolutely doable, and at the same time, a drop in the enormous pool of inequalities in care.

I speak a new language now, one I am not at all fluent in but can choke out a few phrases and be understood- one of our sameness. One of our differences, one of our privilege, and of our inequalities, and how desperately simple the cure for these things can be when people come to the table ready to act.

I crave to talk to birth professionals about how we interact with our clients, how we recognize need, how we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of a diverse population. I crave to be fluent in these languages so that I can address my own prejudices (that are always revealing themselves, no one is immune!) I want to talk about solutions with all parties at the table, representing their need, their point of view- and open to learning about every other perspective, so that solutions can be created that are sustainable and lasting.

Things were so stripped down in Uganda, I wrote about the simplicity of food, of the daily life. You don't worry about deodorant because everyone is covered in a sheen of sweat, and everyone smells, and it is amazingly wonderful to be so close to another human being in just this simple way. You don't worry about whether you will have hot water because the very fact you can stand under a shower is a huge privilege and blessing, and if you must squat over a hole to poop, at least sometimes they are holes that actually flush, so that giant swaths of flies don't shoot up between your legs.

I am grateful to have had the words to be there, and to hold it and speak it, and I am sad about the total apathy in our country for the dire needs of those in other countries. We worry so much about ourselves, we are afraid to extend a hand to someone else, lest we don't have enough for ourselves. It's truly by sharing what we have that we ensure we will have enough, but that takes a kind of courage we do not currently know.

I take all that I've learned and I carry it with me where I go. Constantly questioning myself, asking questions, identifying my own privilege. A friend said she hoped that dental insurance would be come universal as she really needs to go. I have dental insurance, I had never considered what it might be like for families who just literally don't have the option to take care of themselves in this way. I listen to white people tell black people how they should interpret their own experiences, and it is innocent but not harmless. I am raising sons and a daughter and see the differences in how they are treated just because of their genders, and on nothing more than that. We want people to hear our experiences, but we do not want to openly and courageously hear theirs. We defend and explain, rather than listen and take responsibility.

This was so much more than just a great adventure, it shifted my lens and broadened my capacity to love others, to see us in our brokenness and wholeness, our desire to be more deeply connected and our lack of language to create that. There is no Tower of Babel to help us understand each other, we just muck along and try to tend ourselves as best we can. We are creating the new language out of the need for one, the lack of one, for us to understand each other, we are innovating, something that big brain and those amazing thumbs certainly allow us to do!

There were things that weren't perfect about the trip, things I won't write about just yet but probably will eventually. We have to continue to dialogue about our role in birth in other countries, and whether it is appropriate to hope that women from other countries would welcome us at their births. I watched women come and go in our brief time there, and the power dynamics were so askew, I could never have confidently walked into the birth space of one of those women confident that I was truly needed and wanted there. This is one of the many small things that occurs all over the world, which thankfully is changing - but that we need to keep discussing. What are the rights of students to learn, and why must it always be between the legs of those who have the least power?

I would go back to Shanti in a minute, I would teach doula trainings to local women (or to tourists with some restrictions on our interactions on site)  there every year if I could. The magic they have created there is unmatched in my life experience, the beauty of the relationships, of the grounds, the joy of the people who work there, and their profound understanding of how revolutionary their work is in Uganda.

I can't think about my trip without remembering all the work that went into me getting there - what an emotional rollercoaster to decide to go, find out I have cancer, have to juggle surgery and healing with fundraising a large sum in a small amount of time- my people truly showed up for me. I thought every day of the generosity of every person who encouraged me to go, down to donating large sums of money, or donating commitments to provide services that I could auction, or talking about what I was doing so that other people would buy in. Every step I took on that red earth was in absolute humble gratitude that I couldn't be there without all of you, and that I hoped I soaked up every ounce of what was offered to me, tread lightly and left a small mark on the earth, and brought home something of value to our community to enrich us all, too. I couldn't have done all of that without you, and again, I think you from the deepest wells of gratitude in my heart.

Going forward I am focusing on bringing more discussions to the local community about how we support each other not from a distance, but from the ground. How we get involved in the local micro-communities so that they can claim their need, rather than gathering a think-tank who objectively decides the needs of these communities. I talk about race and diversity and bring compassion and openness to that discussion so that we can be heard, and hear each other. These are things that will follow me my whole life, and hopefully ripple out in an impactful way.