Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: January, 2017

Love is Risky

After I heard about the 7 Nation Immigration Ban on Friday evening, I experienced a swirl of thoughts and emotions. I knew I needed to write about it but I wasn’t sure where to start.

I thought about writing about how highly guests are honored in those 7 nations and how the insult we are messaging is much stronger than just political. How I have experienced Middle Eastern hospitality over and over again and how much it has taught me about opening my home to guests and even strangers.

I thought about telling the story of the sweet young couple (he a high school science teacher and she a school counselor) who I tutored for the TOEFL, helped navigate Ivy League University websites, and proofread their application essays. The couple who each wanted to get PhDs in Education in the USA so they could return and help reform the school system in their own country. The couple who brought me a cake when they were accepted (on their own merit!) to at least one of the Ivies they applied to but were ultimately denied visas to attend. I thought about telling this story just to illustrate that US visas are some of the most difficult in the world to receive.

I thought about simply publishing the facts of how difficult it is to obtain a US visa, how rigorous and time consuming the screening process already is, or the statistics on how unlikely it is for an American to be endangered by a refugee in the United States. We are much more likely to be killed by heart disease, a car accident, or even a gun in the hands of a fellow citizen.

I thought about listing the mandates in Abrahamic religions to assist the stranger who asks for help, to care for the poor and needy, and to not turn away the guest who shows up at our door.

But as I kept thinking, I realized even with all these facts and personal anecdotes and religious commands, it actually comes back to something even deeper than all those things for me. It all comes down to love.

Love is risky. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” C.S. Lewis reminds us in one of his most quoted sayings. Opening our hearts and lives to others involves uncertainty. Love is both an opportunity and a liability. We are sometimes given much greater love and grace in return. But love can also be a one-way street. Just because we extend love to another does not mean that we will be loved in return. We can extend grace to another and not experience grace in return. Sometimes we experience hurt or betrayal or cowardice or any number of ill actions in return.

I do not think it is likely but one of the refugees we welcome to our country could do a bad thing – could hurt someone or steal something or commit an “act of terror”. I do not think it is any more likely for a visa holder to do this than a US citizen but it is possible because all humanity is capable of doing evil and violent things.

Just as in any relationship, we should be wise and cautious and have appropriate boundaries and all of that, but really, all love and acceptance is still a risk. A risk that I think is the bravest and noblest for any person (or in this case – nation) to take. One that can potentially pay off with huge rewards and bring more benefits than you can possibly imagine before you take that risk.

Think of a friend or loved one or partner that you took that risk of love on that now you cannot imagine your life without. Think of all the joy you would not have experienced if instead of opening your arms, you had closed them tight across your chest.

I think of this great nation of refugees and immigrants and I cannot imagine it without them. Partially because I would not be here either. Someone took the risk and accepted my ancestors to this country – willingly or otherwise – and now I have the opportunity to be part of a multicultural democracy that is founded on principles of plurality yet also equality and justice for all. I think about the scientific discoveries we would have missed; contributions to art, literature, and film. I think of the foreign-born engineers who have helped build this country into a world leader in technology and innovation. I think of the friends I would have never known and my heart hurts.

Yes, allowing anyone into your circle – personally or socially or nationally – is a risk. But if that is not a risk that we think is worth taking, then I wonder what we are actually protecting. Because that sounds like a very small life and a very small nation to me indeed.

Embrace

I don’t usually look at a piece of art and say, “Yeah, me too.” I say this often about writing and film and music but very rarely about a drawing or painting or photograph. So when I saw John Baldessari’s “Green Kiss/Red Embrace” at The Broad last week and this was my first thought, I stopped and looked longer.


I’ve been thinking about the Body a lot in the last year. I’ve had an at-arms-length relationship with my body most of my life. My mind has always been stronger so I let it lead the way. I spent my childhood tripping over things with too long legs and a minimal sense of balance. In school, I only played sports when forced to and usually in positions where my height was my sole advantage. In trying to unify and strengthen my mind, soul, and body, my body has always lagged behind.

When I got married, I became aware of my body in new ways. (And I don’t just mean sexually.) As I got to know someone else’s body, I also got to know mine better. (Have I had that freckle on the top of my knee my whole life? Has the nail on my ring finger always had that asymmetrical slope?) I started noticing my body and enjoying my body and being thankful for it in new ways. (I love that my arms are long! My nose crinkles up funny when I smile!) It’s funny to me that my body only really felt like mine once someone else’s body also became mine.

When we separated, one of the many strong emotions I experienced was a distance from my own body. I alternated between feeling like I didn’t even know my body and feeling like half of it was missing. I experienced sensations that I can only describe as something like phantom limb syndrome. My hand would hurt to be held and my shoulders would physically ache for someone’s arm to be around them. I don’t know what it really means to become “one flesh” but I wonder if I was experiencing some physically reaction to that being torn apart.

During this time, I started doing a therapy where I learned to identify emotions through my body. I learned to identify fear as a tightening in my chest, happiness as a lightness in my arms and shoulders, and anger as a heat in my neck and face – among many other emotions. It was an interesting and unusual way to come back to knowing my body and appreciate more deeply the place my body plays in the interaction of mind, soul, and body.

In the last year, I have been more conscious about strengthening my body. Learning to identify physical indicators of stress earlier, recognizing that good food and sufficient sleep are not luxuries for me but necessities, and developing patience with myself when I need time to heal from injury or illness. Humbly recognizing that my body affects my mind and soul just as much as they each affect my body.

I still sometimes experience the physical sensation of missing another’s physical presence. I miss being held and touched and sex and well, being an integral part of someone else’s physical experience of the world. It’s not something I consciously acknowledge very often so that moment in The Broad when the green faces and red bodies forced me to stop and think and feel was significant. And I am once again grateful to the role of art as a mirror to the parts of ourselves we may be hesitant to look at too closely

This year as I focus on dwelling, one of the things I want to understand better is what it feels like, looks like to really dwell in my own body. I know that sounds funny because where else would I be dwelling? There is probably a better way of describing it but I have a tendency to feel like my body is just container for who I am rather than an integral part of my very being and experience of the world. I want to learn to be more thankful for and enjoy the fact that I dwell in this world in a body and one that is mostly healthy and getting stronger.

Looking at You, 2017

What would it look like to settle into my life? To put aside striving and trying and reaching and just live the life I have? To hope for but not wait for more or other?

I’m not very good at resolutions but I do enjoy choosing a topic or theme or even a word to think about and study for a year. For 2017, it is: to dwell. 

“Dwell” is a word I hear and use frequently but I’m not sure I totally understand. It’s a verb that has physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual uses. For me it carries connotations of being in one place and being content in that place. Is that what the word really means? 

What about “dwelling on things of the past”? That seems bad.

What does King David mean when he saws he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”? 

And what about Moses’ blessing over the descendants of Benjamin when he says, “The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders.”?

2016 was a big year of building for me. Building plans and goals, new interests, community, career, etc. I am proud of all I accomplished and I don’t want to rest on my laurels but I also want to settle into the life I have. Maybe I’m just getting old or tired but I don’t think a life of constant striving will bring much peace. I believe there are seasons for it but also seasons for being. For dwelling contentedly?

I expect more changes to come. (And will welcome most of them.) But I am ready to live the life I already have. I am curious what that looks like, feels like, means for me.