Hello from my table . . .
It is my last day in Nicaragua, and it has been a learning experience. That seems to be the way most experiences go for me, and more an more, the learning has created an increased sense of fragility. I am glad for more reasons than not I that my time here was away from the bustle of the capital. While there were some initial plans to spend a bit of time there, the first afternoon did offer some insight into the Christmas holidays, and certainly sitting along the lake that first day was quite glorious. On another day a trip to Matagalpa, the other larger town to this little valley city of Sébaco, offered yet another vision of this beautiful country. While time and its relevance to daily life is very different from Bloomsburg and much of my own experience, there is something important to realize when you are virtually at the mercy of other people’s schedules and their schedules are controlled by individuals beyond them. The consequence has been at times feeling powerless, which is for me a feeling of being unsafe, and yet, I was in control of more than realized. The silver lining of this was my class got my undivided attention over the last 8 days, and I have been able to reach out both individually and through group meetings to offer assistance. The writing of this blog has been a source of comfort and focus over this past week as it seems death is all around me. That is not specifically here in Nicaragua, in fact, it is the opposite, but between the loss of two people I have known personally, as well as the passing of a former pope, the profound injury to a 24 year old football player, and yes, even the craziness of my own country’s legislative process, I see a thread. Most of what we know and accept as (believe to be) normalcy hangs by that very tired and frayed thread.
Normalcy is, undoubtedly, a subjective term. Even in the last week I have been pushed to understand what happens when my own cultural mores are imposed on a different place, when my expectations of what are general practices are not the practices of the other. One would think a decade later I would realize the profound difference between Hispanic time and Michael’s time. And yet I am always stunned by the extreme difference between their chronos and my kairos. I have know the conceptual difference since my first Greek class, but the experiential difference still confounds me. Growing up with a father who was early for everything, and I fall pitifully short by his standards, I still believe there is significance to being on time, following a plan, and doing my level best at doing what I’ve intended. And yet, stepping back, I must realize that my own standards are being applied in such a statement. And then again, the underlying principles of normalcy, of basic human behavior wells up from somewhere. Where? As I write this, outside the borders of my place of citizenship, the country that has claimed to be a beacon of freedom, of choice, of democracy cannot, two years to the day after an unprecedented attack on the very hall of democracy, cannot come together to elect a leader of the majority party. So, the questions of where? What? How? are front and center.
The thread of democracy, of decency, seems to be twisted and pulled in such a way that I cannot help but wonder if it can survive. And yet, the past two days where I am have pushed home again how desperately people still believe the American experiment has something to offer. I know my own life provides an incredible example of possibility. I know within my own family, biological or adopted, the choices made can determine long-term what might occur. Perception, as noted within my writing, is reality for the perceived, until proven otherwise. I wonder from time to time how my students perceive America and what it stands for, and not as some sound byte or tropism, but deeply, existentially? I know well the tropes used by my generation and I am pretty sure the majority of them are unbelievable to my students. And yet, there are larger concerns. What about fundamental understandings of words like freedom, privacy, decorum, or justice to name a few. There are books about these very terms, and to say there is disagreement is a serious understatement. How did we, as a country, get here? It seems the very thing we admire, or identify with, the most could become our undoing. It is one of those tropes: rugged individualism. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can do whatever we put our minds to; we have been enculturated from infancy to stand up for ourselves. I do not see anything problematic in this conceptually, but how do we connect the Lockean understanding of society to the individual? It seems we have lost that. The number of significant current examples are probably as many as I have fingers, and if I push how far I might ponder, perhaps toes.
I have caught a number of headlines lately that refer to doom-surfing. If I understand correctly, it is a preoccupation with a desire to read bad news. To be obsessed with the terrible things that we are pelted with daily seems a profoundly wrong direction to follow. While I have reasons to question, to wonder the whys, at this moment I wish to focus on something that gives me hope. I am reminded of a prayer one of my seminary professors shared at the beginning of each morning class. This was a prayer contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW).
Almighty God, Draw your hearts to you. Guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills that we may be wholly yours. Use us you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen(LBW 1978).
As I write this, the irony that Neil Diamond’s song “America” from the movie, The Jazz Singer is not lost on me. The memory of one of my first time hearing it I was in Europe also comes to mind. What might we do to reignite the light of the torch, to re-establish the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free . . .” My experience with those hoping for a better life are seldom looking to create trouble. They want to provide for their children and for their families. Indeed perhaps they are tired, but it is often because they have labored intensely with little hope of change. They live in poverty because their world provides almost no chance for change. They are huddled together because it is all they have. None of this makes them undesirable; in fact, I will assert it is exactly the opposite. While I am not advocating illegal immigration, I can understand how and why it happens. It gets me back to the title, and to a point in a recent blog. We need hope. Without it, we are fragile; we are frightened; and we become . There are a minuscule few who don’t wish better for their children. And yet laws (generally) have reason; without law and process we have chaos and eventually anarchy.
I am in Ecuador now (for the past two days). And ironically watching CNN world yesterday, it appears that the Brazilian version of January 6th was occurring in the Capitol of Brazil. Again, fragility is apparent. Is it perhaps our fragility is the consequence of self-centeredness? It is possible that we struggle because we seldom look toward the welfare of the larger group? Is this merely naïveté on my part or is it believing we should try for something better? These questions haunt me, and they cause me alarm. Are we in a time where the words I noted above are now but a former practice and gone in our present world? I wish I knew. I have been reminded pretty stridently the last few days that I am too kind, and I have a profound desire to have family within view. That is one of my most profound fragilities, and yet, a strength. I know how to manage both sides, but also to know who I am. I guess that is the most significant part. There is only one thing or person over which I have any real power, and that is myself. If I manage that well, I minimize my fragility in this fragile world. Guide our minds and fill our imaginations for something better.
Thanks for reading,