Monday, July 6, 2015

learning to sit with the gritty dissonance

It is July six and I am home.

Two weeks in Texas.
One week in Minnesota
Complete.

I am happy to be home.
I am sad to be home.

When I first get home I am what my Dad would call a "tortured soul".

I spend my first several days back in Haiti wondering if I should be here, if my kids are missing out, if my Mom and Sister and best friend from the fifth grade will still feel so near and tangible to me if I don't quickly pack up and move back to Minnesota tomorrow.

Add to that my angsty missing of the scrumptious grandson, the funny and enjoyable adult daughters and their adorable husbands - and I pretty much spin in circles all over the place for several days of grief and lament before I  am able to find my Haiti groove again.

A birth at the Maternity Center will be good.  If one happens soon it will be better.  I miss everyone a tiny bit less if I am doing what I love and am reminded of my role here.

If there is a really good reason to miss all those people, and maybe even disappoint them with my Caribbean location, it is important for me to be cognizant of that reason early and often.

*          *          *

After I went to see my Doctor (he spent 30 minutes answering my questions and making my health seem important) one sunny Monday morning in America, I drove a very fancy car to a golf course to buy my Dad a Father's Day gift.

My friend in Haiti sent me a message and said, "So how is Minnesota?"

I replied "Just saw the Doctor, driving a fancy car, at a golf course, All.the.dissonance."

After almost a decade of this I keep waiting to be done with the dissonant part of living in two worlds.  I think (and hope) it will diminish and maybe even eventually disappear.

So far, not true.

The truth is, it is still the same tortured and uncomfortable me, struck by the fact that on one week of my life a woman delivers her dead baby and we have to put it in our freezer in order to bury it soon after because she doesn't want to take it ... I drive her to a 12 X 14 dirt floor house after she is discharged... And ... In the same month I sit with a doctor that has been caring for me since 1998. We relax in his high-tech office and we catch up about our young-adult daughters and their educations and plans for the future. I drive away in my car that costs more than the house I drop every new Mom off at after they deliver and I spend enough on my Dad's Father's Day present to cover most of my guilt for being so far away and never showing up to celebrate him in person.

And that is the dissonance.

*          *           *

My niece, Annie, is seven now.  She lived with us for two years before the earthquake finished her adoption and moved her to her family in Minnesota.  She is biologically Isaac's sister, now his cousin by adoption.  Seeing Isaac and Annie together makes involuntary tears run down my cheeks.  She runs fast. She is quirky and even wonderfully odd and reminds me so much of their first parents and of Isaac.  I tell her, "Someday I hope Isaac and you live near one another, Annie."  She smiles her huge toothy grin and says, "I would like that."


I look at them, these two healthy, thriving, glowing children, and I can see the kind and weathered faces of their 42 year old Mom and 60 year old Dad.

I see what the water, and food, and education,  and medical care, and protection from every-day-trauma of not enough money means to them.  Their shiny nourished bodies that run so fast and think such complex thoughts were never a reality for the rest of their first family.

And that is the dissonance.

*          *          *

In her excellent article (worth your time) titled "When Helpers Get Sick: Making Meaning After Secondary Trauma", Stina Kielsmeier-Cook said:


"I didn’t know what to do with all of my guilt or where to ask my questions, so I folded inward. I numbed out."  
"Grief may take on new meaning, but it never entirely leaves you." 
I recognize in myself, the desire to fold inward, the desire to run from all the questions without answers that nag me the very most in the days of transition, dissonance, and grief. 

Stina went on to share ...
Lately, my three-year-old daughter has been saying, “Please read the Jesus book.” She lugs over the Jesus Storybook Bible, the one that depicts Jesus with a mess of noodley hair, a warm grin, and politically correct olive skin. I love the illustrations and easy language of Bible stories I haven’t visited much since my own Sunday school days. We flip through the pages together and she picks a story. She points to the one about Abraham and Isaac, from the book of Genesis, chapter 22. 
I start reading, but even as I voice words about Abraham’s obedience to God in offering up his son, I feel uncomfortable. Do I really want my daughter to believe in a God who would ask someone to kill his son, even if that God intervenes before he can plunge the knife in? 
The writer of the Jesus Storybook Bible seems to anticipate the dissonance in these Old Testament stories, which are laced with traumas: forced migration, incest, gory battles. Each story is concluded by some reiteration of how God has a great rescue plan for humanity, pointing toward the Messiah to come. I feel suspicious of these disclaimers in the Jesus Storybook version that tidy up the traumatic stories. These stories, like the ones I heard in Kakuma, make me question God’s goodness. 
But *I am learning to sit with the gritty dissonance. I know I am not isolated in my grief because the Bible tells me so. Biblical characters all suffer from the torn fabric of this fallen world and their stories encompass the human experience. There is no glossing over humanity; people are ragged and wounded and mean. Yet God loves them, uses them, works through them. It’s a narrative in which the symptoms of my brief secondary trauma don’t feel out of place.
*emphasis added