Time and time again, country after country, I am confronted with the concept of communal—communal kitchens, bathrooms, living spaces, and food dishes. At first pass, I would prefer to have my own and for you to have yours but because my travel money is not quite as long as my penchant for finer things, i.e., things expressly owned by me or reserved purely for my individual use during travel, I have no choice but to partake in the communal offerings of my budget. My trip to Bali was no exception and further cements my forced submission into the shared life.
Who are these people? I don’t know. That’s the beauty of people watching. I don’t have to be bothered with the facts of their stories and am perfectly obliged to nibble only on the visible nuggets I glean from my peering.
During my first weekend in Paris, I came across a fanciful group of young people just up the way from the Eiffel Tower. Already high off pistaccio flavored macaroons with eyes blurry from tears that welled at first glimpse of the tower, I had to stop to take pause for an eclectic mass of brightly dressed millennials congregating under the trees. There was intention in the group’s forming yet no visible organizer—just the general awareness that this was the place to be and now was the time.
One of the sights I quickly begin to miss when I’m abroad in Asia is the sight of a black man.
During routine trips to the bank or grocery store or romps around town, I find myself looking in the direction of a confidently approaching young Filipino man and thinking “he’s got Black man swag.” Or when I spot a man in the mall holding on proudly to his “bad chick,” I think to myself, “he’s holding on to her like a brotha does when he knows he’s got a good thing.” And sometimes, while carefully trying to decipher heavily accented English, I notice the round full lips of the speaker and think quietly, “he’s got Black man lips.”
Yeah yeah yeah, ok—so I’m living the dream. I’m finally doing work that makes me feel alive. I have alignment with the things that are important to me…I’m living with purpose…I’m leaning in…blah, blah, blah. Truth is, this sh*t is hard.
For years, I’ve wanted to be a humanitarian relief worker. I wanted to go where the need is great. Serve cross-culturally. Feed the hungry. Give medicine to the sick and water to the thirsty. I wanted “in” the hard-to-crack world of humanitarian aid. And here I am. I’m in and I’m humbled by just how challenging this really is.
This place is like no other. When I fold into myself, I arrive with very little effort. Forever suspended in time, it is the warm and always inviting other side of my mother’s bed.
It is precisely this place that she transformed into a counselor’s couch or a park bench, if you simply opened the blinds. It was a communal prayer alter during times of confession or intercession. For me alone, it remains the deeply penetrating space and time that encapsulates a mother’s love.