All posts tagged: Challenging Moments

Acadia

Migratory silences

September 1, 2014, Acadia National Park “I feel like we have done this before.” We are at a campsite at the very edge of the woods near Acadia National Park on what feels like the last weekend of summer. He loves it, the privacy, the vastness. I wish I had googled “bears at Acadia National Park?!” before I lost reception. We are wearing all the clothes we brought on top of themselves, sweater above sweater, shorts above jeans above leggings. He makes a comment about how “tight European pants” are no good for layering when it’s 38 degrees at night on what should have been the last weekend of summer, but we both know he hates those pants in the city too — at all seasons. He is making me my first ever s’more. I am watching for bears.We both forget I didn’t grow up here sometimes. He insists I must have eaten a s’more before. We are now at the deep end of splitting hairs: “a marshmallow yes; a s’more per se? No!” “What about at …

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Relearning how to walk

“Limping is in the mind.” This was one of my physical therapist’s pronouncements earlier this month. I find physical therapy a deeply frustrating process. Progress is slow, so slow that it is impossible to tell the difference from one session to the next, requiring that you keep showing up only on the faith that ‘this’ is helping. I am re-learning how to walk. Having no memory of the first time I learned how to walk, given that I was about a year and a half old and such a chubby baby that I took longer than my peers to conquer this milestone, this is an unnatural process the second time around. The physical capabilities are slowly returning: I can lean on my left ankle and foot without wincing in pain. I have left the orthopedic boot behind, and I spent a whole afternoon on my knees scrubbing the grey-ish, rubbery marks that my days on crutches had imprinted on our wood floors. But, I am told, limping is in the mind. I remember that in …

Healing and failing expectations of sunniness

This is the second post in a series of reflections on grief, inspired by recent loss, injury, and an abundance of pain. Part I is available here. “I’m sure you are starting to feel better… aren’t you?” “Look at you! You are getting so good on your crutches!” “Are you… feeling happier yet?” Forty days after the death of a loved one in Greece, we conduct a service called μνημόσυνο — a ‘mnemosyne’. In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne was a titaness who was the daughter of Gaia and Uranus, quite literally the daughter of Earth and Sky. At a mnemosyne, we remember the person we lost and begin to let go of a layer of the grief. In traditional circles, mourners wear black until that first mnemosyne, 40 days after the loss. For some, that is the permissible return of color into life. For others, particularly in rural areas, it is not unusual to wear black and keep the grieving rituals for a full year. Well-versed in the traditions of my homeland as I may be, …

When grief becomes the teacher

My world is rife with loss right now. From a broken foot and ankle to a family emergency to the memories of grief revisited, I am swimming in pain.  In no particular order — because that is what grief does to me, it disrupts order and my capacity for it — here are some of the lessons that have emerged from the past month, written with the awareness that there may not be lessons at all in these processes, with the acknowledgment that perhaps we look for lessons so we can hold on to our faith that there is something to be learned, something salvageable to all this. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” claims Elizabeth Bishop in her famous poem One Art. What she quietly neglects to share is that there are no prizes for the mastery of grief and loss. I once heard someone describe Joan Didion, one of my favorite authors, as “the high priestess of grief.” I remember thinking to myself, “what a dubious title! Would anyone really want that ‘honor?’” …

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Our other selves: From the field to graduate school

When the deep breaths came more easily: Day 3 in Massachusetts after returning from Bogotá. Returning home is a process of memory and activating the muscle of remembering to be here in Boston is more strenuous than I had recalled. I used to have dreams about Boston fall. In the years that I lived in deserts or straddled the Equator, cherishing the eternal warmth and sunshine, I missed the crispness of a September morning. This September, with my feet planted on top of crunching leaves, I struggle to feel anchored in place; almost ironically, I am having trouble feeling my feet on the ground. Leading a life of perpetual transitions allows one to develop a strange set of expertise, of the kind that cannot quite be called a skill or a desirable trait. Pack a carry-on bag in under five minutes. Emerge on the other side of the world and find your bearings sooner than one would expect. Learn to love from a distance, and love well. ‘Being good at distance’ is not a title …

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Field notes from Colombia: Courage

I routinely inhabit the space between courage and paralyzing fear. It is in conversations with other professionals who work in conflict zones, tinged with bravado and a veneer of fearlessness, that I realize just how extensive my own list of fears is. Between July 2009 and July 2010, I boarded 43 flights in and out of conflict-affected areas, rendering my carbon footprint equivalent to the size of an elephant’s paw (if not a whole elephant). I stared at the wing to assess the stability of each and every one of those flights almost the entire time, as though staring at the wing could prevent pilot error or the twists of fate that result in plane crashes. More than once, I have considered that I have too many fears, that I scare too easily and too often, to remain in my chosen line of work. *** “You are going to die.” That is the face of a threat: chillingly concise. Sometimes it arrives via text message and sometimes it is on a flyer slipped under your …

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Field notes from Colombia: Are our questions necessary?

  A sculpture of a woman fishing alone on top of a building in La Candelaria. A banana hangs at the end of her rod. In theoverpacking era of my life, which was more recently than my currently minimalist self would like to admit, I was that tiny person dragging a suitcase one and a half times her size through a train station with a broken escalator and politely refusing all offers of help. Even though I was sweating. Even though the suitcase weighed more than me. Even though the last thing I wanted to do was drag that monster up the stairs.It wasn’t out of too fervent an embrace of the “Stranger-Danger” doctrine; on the contrary, some of the moments that have fueled my faith in humanity have been born out of conversations with strangers in liminal states. It wasn’t out of too paranoid an attachment to my stuff or too strong a need to prove my own beastly strength. Rather, my stubborn insistence on lugging extraordinary loads unassisted stems from having been taught …

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Field notes from Colombia: The solitude of research

I cherish the solitude of field research. I have come to love the long silences of bus rides and solitary meals alike, even though I realize that to the Colombians who surround me, the sight of a girl choosing to eat her ajiaco alone is a peculiar one — so peculiar, in fact, that seven of them (!) decided to join me after pointing and whispering for a few minutes last week. I cherish the spontaneity of how interactions form when you are completely alone, when you can say ‘yes’ to the prospect of any conversation because you are not shielded by another human, a book, or the appearance of busy-ness. And yet, field research can also be lonely. The processes I am directing this summer remain fascinating to me. I get unreasonably excited about designing qualitative research, spending hours devising effective and sensitive interview questions, and slowly watching patterns emerge from the stories. From ‘the data’, as they say — as I should say, but stories are more than data to me. I enjoy …

Boston bombings and the hierarchy of suffering

When I was an undergraduate, some of my peers engaged in a sport that can only be described as competitive under-sleeping. “I only slept five hours last night,” one would say. “Oh! You must be so well-rested. I slept for two hours.” “One hour and twenty minutes!” “I slept negative 17 minutes last night.” Everything was an arms race: Who studied the most and who studied the least? Who slept the most and the least? How long could one go without food or a bathroom break? Depending on whom you asked, the extremes of these spectrums would be points of pride. Boston became the closest point I would recognize as home on a United States map. Shortly after the completion of my studies, I left the US to work in conflict and post-conflict areas with women affected by war. Five years after that first graduation, I have returned to Boston to make it a home anew — to make it a site of learning, growth, and community. I am no stranger to violence. I have …

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Brave new year

In the summer of 2012, Susannah Conway published her first book titled This I Know: Notes on Unravelling the Heart. In this memoir, Susannah charts the journey of her grief after her partner’s sudden death, as well as shares her creative process and the ways in which it facilitated her recovery. The book is close to my heart and has jarred me awake in many ways — not least of which is through its title. When I think about how I would end a sentence that started with “This I know:”, I can rarely get past the colon. This is, presumably, not because of a lack of wisdom; rather, it stems from shyness to unabashedly lay claim to knowledge. As the second semester of graduate school is beginning, one of its primary themes has been the need to tell a compelling story — and to put our full weight behind it. And yet, the more immersed I become in knowledge, the less confident I am of my grip on it. Over time, I have grown …