Around the World in Eighty Days

What a trip. England, Turkey, India, Africa, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia.

That’s not counting North America, where we hit Canada and Hawaii, trekked across western United States through the Midwest and Texas to the Eastern seaboard. We glimpsed Native American culture, the WASP world, New Zealand Maoris. We spoke with the daughter of a picture bride, a young Arab in North Africa, an American who chose life in an Indian ashram over the noise and ease of the States. We learned of the genocide of Armenians 100 years ago and the civil wars in Liberia, caught sight of the KKK.

flag-of-turkey_w725_h483I learned as much from the discussions as I did from the posts, more history than I did in a year of high school. I did not know “Tejanos are land-owning Mexicans who were farming and ranching before the Germans, Czechs, Irish, and Scottish settled in Texas. They speak with the same drawl the Caucasians do, but still get treated like border crossing migrants.” Mark, our American Gypsy, taught us so much.

PERCEPTION
Seems race is often the color others paint of us. Paul, not a blogger but a wonderful reader and writer, said to Sreejit, American in India:

flag-of-india_w725_h484I found it delightful that in America you are black and in India you are white. That is amazing and completely counter to conventional wisdom. It reminds me of an interview I watched with Barak Obama and his wife Michele before he was elected to the first term. The interviewer asked Barak what his response was to those who said he wasn’t really black, as one of his parents was white. Michelle jumped in and said he was black and if they needed any proof all they had to do was watch when Barak tried to wave down a taxi on a street curb. If there was a white man farther down the block, the taxi would go right past Barak and pick up the white man. That put an end to race questions. Michele is a lawyer and it shows: she picked an example that clearly showed that discrimination determined race.

White people in America told Sreejit he was white, blacks insisted he was black. And he wasn’t the only blogger on this journey to have been told what he was.

I said to Sreejit: That is something – plain funny and sad – how people kept imposing their own background on you. Projection? I’ve always said we see what we want to see. And you were chameleon enough, with enough black and enough white for others to pull you to themselves in the attempt to categorize you.

We see what we want to. Why? We fear what is OTHER. We fear the unfamiliar. It made them feel more comfortable to be able to identify with Sreejit.flag-of-australia_w725_h363

BELONGING
Julie, whose contribution did not make it into the race, shared some thoughts as an adoptive parent:

My husband and I are Caucasian; we adopted our daughter from China when she was ten months old. We are a mixed-raced family. This fact is both irrelevant on a day-to-day basis, and the thing that defines us. A while back, I read an article about a person who got in trouble for saying that she had forgotten that her adopted Chinese daughter was Chinese. I think what she was trying to say was that she simply thought of (let’s call her) Ann as “Ann.” Her “foreignness” was removed by familiarity, and she had for all intents and purposes blended into mainstream white America. Just an ordinary child, her child. And this is what offended people, the very denying of her ethnicity, the removal of her birthright of Chinese heritage and culture.

And while I don’t feel particularly inclined to join in the condemnation, I must say that I never forget that my daughter is Chinese, for that is part of her very essence. What I often forget is that there is anything out of the ordinary for a young Chinese girl to be parented by middle-age white parents.flag-of-china_w725_h479

Ann’s mother obviously meant she did not see her girl as being other. What does it mean to belong in this situation? To be full-blooded Chinese and part of a white family? What I hear from this mom is a deep acceptance of a child that did away with any self-consciousness about color. The way I might talk with a dear friend and, while appreciating the wisdom she brings to our relationship, forget she is old enough to be my mother. Because it feels natural, like we were meant to be together. Can we just say what we feel about race? Of course we can. And of course we can’t. I am so glad we didn’t have to worry about being politically correct in this series. Navigator echoed sentiments Jenni and Elizabeth had expressed: “Perhaps there is an unconscious luxury of being white.” I found the point-blank confession refreshing.

SELF-DEFINITION
Paul recently said to me, “When you started the Race series, you were obviously exploring asymmetry – how do we each create value in our lives given the different starting places and circumstances? Quite a few of the interviewees identified seeking commonness as the means of success. And yet if you looked deeper, they actually leveraged their unique personal circumstances to be successful.” Any thoughts? Many of our articulate writers felt race didn’t matter. flag-of-united-states-of-america_w725_h381I think it most certainly does but we need to clarify the not mattering. Race does not determine worth and should not affect opportunity. Sadly it does both these things in many places and where this happens, race should not matter. Can we instead take healthy pride in the culture of our lineage, and be neither overweening nor ashamed? My God made strawberries red and lemons yellow. And He delights in their color. Imagine strawberries looking to erase their ruby signature or trying hard not to be so red. Interestingly, every color of the farm fields and gardens offers its own irreplaceable nutrients. Why have I at times felt apologetic about being Korean? Why did I feel looking back at where I came from, talking about my past, would be a waste of your time – until you said otherwise? It was out of your response to my story that I gave myself permission to keep going with The Measure of a Woman. Remarkable that the immigrant tale would make its way up my Top 10, second only to my About which had over a year’s running start.

We had more than discussion and history lessons in our race around the world. There were personal history and conviction and fears. In my virtual travel around the globe, there wasn’t one tour guide of a contributor who has not opened these small Asian eyes. I’ve decided people who don’t travel or at least open themselves to cultures outside their own short themselves.

Sreejit put it well and sufficiently in reply to a comment: “I think the more we see of the world, the less we are stymied by race issues. But since most people don’t leave their own backyard, it is easy for stereotypes and prejudices to persist. Though I think the internet is also helping to break down the walls as well. The world is becoming a little smaller everyday.”flag-of-mauritania_w725_h483

I was nevertheless reminded in conversations with the Race participants who live in a far and different time zone just how grand our world is. Even instant email could not keep our long-distance exchange going at the pace I wanted. When I was up, my fellow writers were in bed. There is a sunrise every hour throughout this world. I am consumed by the affairs of my day but my light is someone’s darkness. We do well to grow a bigger heart.

Confessions: Mismatching Socks and My Deepest Longing

She doesn’t look for her keys before leaving the house. When you meet her as planned, she’s on time. Out of the car bounds an active kid, shirt ironed, as his mother materializes with a rock of a baby in an easy arm. Of course Mom’s groomed. When did she have time to paint those nails? She greets you with eyes and a smile that say she pulled off a restful night and she’s good to go.

And then there’s me.

Last month on the way out to the park, I realized my socks didn’t match. I had grabbed the white one and the checkered brown from separate piles off the tired path out of bed. I didn’t want to go back upstairs so I shrugged and drove off. The disinterest in the impression I make in public is an offshoot of my young, willful self. I was known for the different-colored socks in junior high – usually one red, the other purple. didn’t see why they had to match. So the asymmetry this time wasn’t so crazy of me, only I am thirty years older. I plainly looked more off than like a trendsetter. The women I know match – even purse to outfit.

And here I am, one of those days. My plans, my body, my emotions don’t seem to…work. I’m a Hyundai from the 70s. Dang ignition’s sluggish and the car gets temperamental when she’s finally on the road. Why the overcast view of the week ahead, the brooding storm clouds in my spirit? My son’s laughter makes its way to me through a thick wall of emotional static. I want to really see him but need to clear my circuits. I pry loose the helpless confession. Discontent and fear. Not sure which wins out but there they are, wreaking havoc. I wish this were different, wish that came easier – and I fear they won’t. I redesign my life in my head.

The nerve. How many people wouldn’t jump for this life? But hold on. Can we say this? Can we compare lives like we do houses? We don’t know all the stuff that goes on in a home, in human hearts. We all have closets we keep shut, some locked. Apparently Superman wasn’t so special – some of us have x-ray vision too. Last week someone who had been very kind and friendly to my family decided I was too imperfect for her and her circle. The ax fell from nowhere. I’d had no inkling I had been under scrutiny, especially because I had not seen her at all this year until a week before she wielded her hatchet. I had never uttered a bad word about her or anyone we knew. In any case, I somehow wasn’t good enough for her. Well Super Woman, here’s some more ammunition for you. Days like this, I in fact do remember my textbook Christian answers. I’ve taught the Bible. I know who I am and Whose I am. And I still feel like a failure, precisely because I know better. It’s not low self-esteem. I believe we are all full of ego. Why is compassion something we have to work on? “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one commandment, not two. We are told to love others as seriously as we take our own needs. If only I were more grateful, really grateful for all I have and for those who love and need me. I could disable the discontent. I am responsible for the perspective I take and how I respond when life seems to move against the grain of my hopes. I ache in my fallenness.

I’ve thought hard, blogging the past year, about what keeps us shuffling forward on the journey. Hope. Without it, tomorrow is nothing and closes in on today. I disagree that love is man’s greatest longing. Unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, all your love for me won’t keep food on my table and put my son through college. Hope is the picture you paint in your head of yourself and those you cherish in a better place. Ironically, hope is what drives you in your plans to kill yourself. Yes, I dare say because I was there as a teen. Bottomed out, you are so miserable you trust that anything will be better than where you are. What gets us through our daily fears is the hope of a good living, a happy family, improved health. You keep on through another round of chemo, holding on to the brighter picture ahead. But it’s a deeper kind of hope we nurse. Assurance of redemption, that our sighs and disappointments will not merely lead out to fresh air that makes the vault of our past feel like a bad dream. But that we will one day see – whether in this life or the next – the storyline to our suffering. We want to see the writing on the walls of our despair, know that we haven’t lived senseless years. We pray God or whatever we trust in will make right the wrongs, show mercy for our transgressions and vindicate us where we suffer. I hate waste, of time especially, and remind myself of the truth that’s found its way as a popular aphorism. I don’t want to waste my sufferings. I listen for the lessons they have for me. Onward and upward? My God makes this possible because He wastes nothing.