More Than Enough

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Taking a break from angry, post-election poems to share a love poem.

* * *

I remember all those years ago
watching you come and go.
My sisters and I would disappear
when we’d hear
the slam of car doors in the driveway,
signaling that you and your friends
were on your way inside.

But you were my brother’s friend,
a dead end, forbidden fruit,
and, besides, you were older,
super cute, Supertones,
and way out of my zone,
too cool to take notice of your friend’s
school-aged sister.

But imagine my surprise,
the summer when you were 29,
I went to my brother’s going away party
partly for the chance to see you,
hoping you’d be there,
and there you were.
And, my gosh, you looked as good as ever,
as clever and witty and unwittingly
charming and disarming me.
What a mystery you were and still are.

I almost blew it so many times
right from the beginning
my spinning mind
and lack of finesse
combined with utter awkwardness.
I thought I didn’t stand a chance
but you gave me that second glance
and there’s been no looking back.

And it turned out
you were just as awkward–
now, before you say another word,
remember that first kiss
when I could smell the Listerine
on your breath
and all those books fell on our heads
the second my lips touched yours?

That’s what made me sure
you were just my type of crazy
and maybe we could be something.
Between you breaking coat racks,
and getting attacked by unsuspecting
furniture that obscures your walk,
and all that talk about smoothness
when you can’t take Communion
without making a mess
like the one you made that time
when you spilled the frozen fries
on the grocery store floor?

But I’m the one who slams her phone
in car doors
and moves through life like a boar
in a china cabinet,
and you never let me forget it.
I’m the one who can’t use a kitchen knife
without slicing her fingers,
the one who lingers
too long in the passing lane,
and complains way more
than she should.

But, my love,
we make one heck of a team,
don’t we?
And, baby, I still think
you’re way too cool for me
but now I see you’re just as clumsy
and way more nerdy
and I love that about you.

I love your deep belly laugh,
the way it catches you by surprise
and the way your eyes
can never stay open in pictures.
I love your steady presence,
the scent of your skin,
and I hate how you always win
when we play games but,
at the same time,
I know I wouldn’t want to lose
to anyone else.

You got me to read Harry Potter
and listen to podcasts
and acted like you liked the books
I suggested even though
you never finished them.
And when I’m depressed
or upset, way too out of control
or barely holding it together,
you help me weather it all.

You, with your feet on the ground
and mine in the clouds,
we’ll meet in the middle
and that’s how we’ll walk this path,
giving a little
and laughing a lot,
and even if we’re all each other’s got
that will always be more than enough.

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The Master Puppeteer

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The puppeteer and his puppet
up late drafting executive orders
to close up the borders
deport “foreigners,” build fortresses
to insulate the nation-state,
to silence the scientists
and anyone who insists and claims
that climate change exists,
to reverse the stoppage of pipelines
and cut funding for maternal lifelines
across the globe and here at home.
Forget the system of checks and balances,
the balance of the scale tilts in our favor
as long as our erratic behavior
distracts from our grab of power.
Quick, sign these at the 11th hour
then slip behind the closed doors
to carry out even more
dangerous and secretive orders.

You see, behind the smoke screen
of the angry, knee-jerk tweeting,
the master puppeteer
jeers and smirks as this president,
his new apprentice and student,
implements his sinister policies.
Distract the masses in the cities
with all these atrocities
and, as they take to the streets,
gut State Department offices
and force officers to resign.
Assign me to the National Security Council
not an ounce of lead in your pencil
will touch the page
without my sage advice and wisdom.

Congress is like putty in our hands.
See how they stand with us now
when they vowed during the election
to go in another direction?
They have no will or backbone
and will condone any Republican
simply so they can keep their positions.
And Democrats too,
they know they have no power to stop you
so instead of casting a symbolic vote
against your nominees
they’ll do as we please for the ease of it.
Continue to instill fear of defiance,
either their silence will equal compliance
or they’ll soon change their tune
and start singing your praises.

Keep attacking the media and the press.
It’s best to misuse fiction and fact,
this tactic will keep the masses confused.
Keep using conservative and far right outlets
to spout alternative facts
so our base remains on our side,
pacified and fired up at the same time.
Continue that tried and true strategy
of turning the masses, angrily
against each other.
Smother dissent and disagreement
and cement our grand achievement
of reviving white power,
gazing out from our ivory tower,
on these great divided states
we have successfully created.

These first weeks will be the test
to see if people continue to protest
and object our policies
or if maybe they will ease off
and stop calling their representatives
and senators,
get discouraged, feel unheard,
stop spreading dissenting words,
stop urging their fellow citizens
to stand in every way they can
and get with our nationalist program.
Once they stop their futile demands
we will maintain a strong command,
as long as the master puppeteer
can continue to commandeer
the puppet in his hand.

puppet_strings

Lady Liberty/Here You Are Free

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I can’t stop writing; I cried writing this.

. . .

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Or, on second thought, maybe not.
Take these tired and poor
and shut the door in their faces,
put them in their place,
it’s certainly not here.
Those refugees you speak of,
what regions do they come from?
Are they brown-skinned and Muslim?
Were they born into war-torn countries?
If they are these types of refugees
we have no use for them here.

You see,
our fear drives us these days
makes us behave in ways
our white ancestors did
when they tried to rid this land
of its rightful inhabitants
the indigenous people
who we still treat as less than equal
whose very existence makes us recoil,
“Let them drink oil!”
we cry, because the genocide
of old never really ended,
it’s simply extended in more covert
and sinister methods.

And the institution of slavery
we embraced for hundreds of years?
That’s still here too,
it too morphed and changed
the chains now more sophisticated,
the method now metal cages
and we still blame the rage
of black and brown faces
on their race and biology,
never acknowledging the racism
wrought within our economy,
psychology, institutions, foundations,
the very soul of this nation.

And let’s not forget the internment camps
that held thousands of Japanese Americans
for no other reason
than the “treason” of looking like the enemy.
So we took children and families,
and herded these like cattle
waging a battle against our own,
against the flesh, blood, and bone
of our fellow Americans
who emigrated, like us, to this land.

And now we look at the Mexicans,
which is what we call all Latino men,
women and children
because we do not actually care
where they came from
or what their nationality is
only that they exist in our midst
and we don’t think they should.
And if we could,
we’d deport them all
“Let’s build a damn wall!”
Make it as tall as the sky,
as wide as the southern border,
restore this nation to its proper order.
What’s more American than that?

And all the while lady liberty
screams in pain,
turns her face away from these shores
and implores us to reconsider.
We are better than this,
though past and present say otherwise.
But the tides are changing,
can you not feel them?
The cries of hate and lies
are at this moment being defied,
can you not feel them?
The people are marching,
can you not feel them? !

Throughout the tides of history
there has always been
and must always be
a strong undercurrent
of resistance.
For instance, the abolitionists
fighting for the end of slavery,
the Freedom Riders and their bravery,
the war resisters, pipeline protesters,
civil and gay rights leaders,
bleeders and sweaters and criers
who laid their lives on the line.
And the current time
beckons us to be on the right side,
the side of justice and mercy,
of love and acceptance and liberty,
of righteous anger and humility.

Pick up your torches,
you statues of liberty,
flood the shores of your city
open her doors wide
so all may come inside.
And together we will cry,
“Give us your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Welcome refugees, here you are free.
Here, you are free.”

The Day Hate Won

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I wrote this poem the day after the November 8, 2016 election. I had so much emotion surging through me and needed to release it on the page. Certainly there is much more nuance to why people voted the way they did and it is a bit simplistic to only name two categories, hate and love, and that is not recognized in full in this poem; however, the words I wrote still strike a chord within my heart and I still believe in their truth, even if they are only a piece of the truth. And these words are proven truer every day.

“The Day Hate Won”

On the day hate won
racists and white supremacists
xenophobes and homophobes
anti-immigrants and anti-Islamists
proudly walked the streets,
free to harass and scream as they pleased,
feeling they were backed
by one who also attacked
Blacks and Muslims,
Mexicans and women,
folks with disabilities
and different gender identities,
veterans and refugees,
treating all of these
and many other Americans
as if this was not their land.
And those who voted for hate
took their leader’s cue
and lashed out at these folks too.

The day hate won
people applauded and cheered,
mocking the despair and fear
reverberating through many.
Telling any who would listen
That those in fear were learning their “lesson.”
People praised and raised hate high,
denying and rejecting it as hate
but as justice that came late
but at just the right time.

The day hate won
children everywhere asked their parents
if they were safe
it they would be ok.
And parents asked each other the same
and this refrain
rippled throughout the terrain
of this broken land,
people desperate to understand
because no one knew
if what the tyrant said would come true
even though deep down
they had heard hate’s battle cry sound.

The day hate won
people hid behind religion
as their excuse for their decision.
Putting all the weight
on a single issue or stance,
saying now the unborn have a chance
to be safe.
But the trade they made
was for the lives and wellbeing
of many now living
outside the womb
who wonder if there ever was any room
for them in this society.

The day hate won
working folk who felt ostracized
and demonized
who’d been looking in from the outside
for years
felt they finally found one whose ears
heard their desperate pleas
but hate did not care about any of these
they were all part of hate’s strategy.

The day hate won
people said it was an election
like any other
With a winner and a loser.
But this was unprecedented,
in direct dissent
to the first Black President,
a call to white folks across the nation
to reclaim their “rightful station.”
And the winner that day was hate
and the loser was the entire nation-state.

The day hate won
the earth shook and cried
she knew that her fragile life
and the fragile lives
of all creatures in her care,
already damaged beyond repair,
were now at even greater risk
because hate denied her suffering,
denied that people were the cause of it.

The day hate won
love was shaken to its core.
In some places love was shocked,
in others, love was mocked.
In some, love was not surprised
but tears still fell from love’s eyes.
Love raged, love took to the streets.
Love disengaged, love hid under the sheets.

But love was not extinguished.
Deluded, yes.
Disoriented, a little.
Dismayed, a lot.
But love reached out to love
and love found itself in others,
in quite whispers,
and tender hugs,
in shared rage at the present danger,
in shared tears on the subway with strangers,
on social media posts and posters in the street.
Love was broken and bruised,
angry and hurt and sad and confused.
But love did not die.
Love organized.
Because love knew that hate may
have won the day.
But in the end
love
will have love’s way.

Privilege/Where You Began

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Blog posts two days in a row! I’ve had a lot on my mind since Saturday’s march. I’m sure some of you have seen a viral Facebook post by a woman who outlines why she didn’t march or support those who did. This is my response to her.

She said
I don’t need to march
or take to the streets
to meet my needs.
I can do it all on my own
with my own two hands
standing on my own two feet.
Look at these women,
they know nothing of poverty,
have they even heard of the Middle East?
Or Africa? (She probably thinks it’s a country)
They have food to eat,
shoes on their feet,
who are they to take to the street?

She said,
this woman isn’t buying it,
trying it, or supplying it.
I’m not a second-class citizen,
I’ve risen above all that nonsense
and noise.
I can make my own choice,
I can work, vote, defend my family
and myself.
And I don’t blame anyone else
for my problems,
I choose to solve them.
These American women
have no idea what they’ve been given.

And I say, that
is the problem.
I don’t think you realize
the prize your white skin supplies you,
the rise your social status provides you,
the sky’s the limit to you
because you were born in the clouds,
never able to see the ground
below and the crowds gathered there
trying to get their share
of this unequal American pie.
You never felt second class
because your opportunity glass
has always been half full
or more
while scores of other Americans
began their journey
having to make cups out of their hands.
Have you ever had to stand
in line for food stamps
or an affordable house?
Live paycheck to paycheck,
raise kids without a spouse?
You tell people like this
to rise up and get with it
but let me be explicit:
your starting block was near the finish,
you couldn’t see behind you
where the lines grew
but you see them now.
And it makes you angry
and indignant, you can’t
believe how ungrateful
and whiny our society is
while you’re the one who lives
off society’s back.
Yet you choose to attack
the marchers who are peaceful
and compare them to people
you’ve never even met
in lands you’ve never even stepped
foot on.

Yes, the world is suffering
and there is so much injustice
but when you can sit
and look at the world out your window
without seeing your neighbors below
then you are part of the problem.
When did we begin
comparing poverty to poverty,
hunger to hunger,
violence to violence?
Suffering is suffering is suffering
whether it brings despair
to the people over there
or right here.
Let me make the picture clear:
you may not feel like you need to march
or protest
but, at best, that is your experience
and yours alone,
yours.
Not hers, or theirs,
yours.

So before you turn your personal experience
into another platform to distance
yourself from other women and Americans,
take a second,
and remember just where you began.

Why I March

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They asked me why I march,
what it meant to me,
to be a protester,
a tester of the waters,
a woman and a daughter.
And the first thing I’ll say
is that my choice to march on Saturday
was so much bigger
than my gender identity or female-ness,
than the fact that I have breasts and a clitoris,
than the heartache
of coming so close to breaking
that last ceiling made of glass
only to have my hopes dashed
and shattered instead.

Yes those identities are important to me,
foundationally and otherwise,
and I realize my womanhood
is sacred, is holy.
It holds me
in connection with the tides and the moon,
the womb of Mother Earth
and all those who give birth to life.
Yes I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife
and damn proud to be all the above and more
but those aren’t the only things I march for.

I march because white women like me
voted this man into the presidency
and I can’t let that be our legacy.
White women like me
have chosen our racial identity
over the sisterhood,
have stood on the necks and backs
of our black and brown sisters
dismissed her and them when
our privilege felt threatened.
When we felt called out or outcast,
we cast the dice in favor of the color of our flesh,
neglecting our common female-ness.
We white women claimed feminism
and took offense when women of color
pointed out another one of our blind spots:
our lack of intersectionality,
the fact that we acted as if our reality
was the same for all women,
that we spoke for all of them.
And when reminded of how skin tone
and economics, sexual identity,
and body politics came into play
we white women got up and walked away.

I march for clarity of vision
because the incision the election left
cut too deep, too close to the bone.
Because the backbone of Congress is weak
and broken and until the people have spoken-
not the electoral college,
not the white men who lack knowledge
and restraint, who paint
this nation as an island, a citadel,
in whose bowels dwell the beast
unleashed to expel all infidels
and come hell or high water,
slaughter the American dreams
of anyone who seems too dangerous,
too threatening,
be it the deafening cries of the refugee fleeing violence,
the undocumented worker forced to feast on silence
the black woman raising her fist in defiance,
the Muslim who prays five times a day that they
won’t be seen as a terrorist,
the trans person who has to continually insist
on their right to piss in their restroom
and the list
goes on.

I march for freedom and unity,
like this brave little state taught me,
because this, all of this,
is so much bigger than me.
It’s about human dignity,
solidarity,
you and me,
intersectionality,
the reality that we all share the same home
and we can’t progress
when we walk alone.

I march because I refuse to believe
that the fight is over and done with,
with all due respect,
that notion is bullshit.
I know who won the presidency
and he does not represent me
or the millions in the human family
around the world
who unfurled banners and sheets
and took to the streets to march too.

We march because we believe
in the ability of one, of two,
of a thousand or just a few
to shake things up and upend the system,
turn walls into bridges and ridges into cisterns,
to reverse the world order,
reach across human-made borders
to shift the axes of power
make the powerful cower
and build the kind of movement
not even the strongest hate can devour.

I march not because it is the best I can do
but because it’s what I can do
right now
and the rest is still coming,
this is just the first test,
just you wait and see what’s next.

A House Divided

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I know my posts have become more and more sporadic on this little blog as I’ve started grad school but I’m breaking my silence by sharing some important work I’ve been a part of this past month.

This U.S. election season has brought up a lot of emotions, rifts, and challenges for folks across the country, no matter who you voted (or didn’t vote) for. In response to the fear, pain, surprise, and divisiveness this election brought out of us, a group of activists from Brattleboro, VT created a post-election action to generate conversation across the lines that divide us.

Featuring the spoken word poems “Masquerade” (by Prosperous) and “A House Divided” (by me), this action incorporates masks and movement as we reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, how we got here, and where we are going. We performed the action in the beginning of December at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT and in downtown Brattleboro.

Watch the videos of the performances here:

Buzzfeed Community

Youtube

Read my spoken word, “A House Divided”, below. Share it, perform it, use it to start conversations as we figure out how we move forward, together, from here.

Thank you.

In solidarity,

Megan

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“A House Divided”

Division existed from the beginning,

with people whose lives were deemed less than worth living.

There’s always been an upper caste

and a lower class

and hordes of people in between.

And what remained unseen

were the ways in which we

were pitted against each other,

outfitted with weapons to wage war against each other,

taught to mistrust, fear, and hate each other.

Deceived until we believed

both consciously and unconsciously

that for you to be free

meant that I would not be.

That for you to have

meant that I would have not.

That for you to be able to rise

meant that I would be denied.

That you were taking from me,

that you were making me less free,

that you were the problem

because you were here, in my sights.

You were the easiest barrier to fight

because you were in my face

trying to take my place

at the table of freedom and opportunity.

But it didn’t occur to me

that the table was big enough for all of us,

that there was room for all to eat.

I only saw what I wanted to see.

You were the representation

of all my anger and frustration.

And at first it was your group of people

and then you were deemed acceptable

so some other segment of society

had to justifiably take your place

to be the face

of the other

to be “those people”

to be less than people

to be the epitome of evil

to be broken until they were spent

and so on and so forth we went

years upon years

tears upon tears

backs upon backs

until someone said, “Stand up, fight back!”

And we began to rise,

slowly at first, one at a time,

reaching to the person behind us

saying, “Who can break the ties that bind us?”

Praying, “Let love be the tie that binds us.”

We started to see through the haze

began to recognize the ways

we were hurting each other

smothering each other’s souls

with the soles of our feet

as we scrambled up the ladder to be free.

But we didn’t know what to do about it

how do get around it

so the masks came out.

Sometimes they were about protection

sometimes deflection,

a way to face rejection

without having to reveal our brokenness.

Sometimes we didn’t know we were wearing them

they felt like our own skin,

the way they molded to our faces,

fitting in all the right places.

Sometimes we were told to wear them

and then they didn’t fit so well

but we obeyed because they would yell,

“No one would love you

if they knew you.”

Or more calmly they’d say,

“It’s better this way.”

So we masked up and added on the layers

sometimes finding another player

in this game of life

who we felt was just right,

was worth the risk,

worth the immense task

of taking off that first mask.

It was slow progress we made

and with each new wave

another group found themselves welcomed

and loved and affirmed and held.

Yet with each new mask unveiled

those old fears started to resurface

the old voices whispered,

“They don’t deserve this.”

We looked around and didn’t recognize each other

so we put on more masks which made us bolder

to say things we didn’t think we’d say

to change in ways we didn’t think we’d change

to hate people we didn’t think we’d hate.

What some saw as progress

others so as regress.

What some saw as freedom

others saw as a prison.

And so we hid behind our politics and positions,

our old habits and new superstitions

and we went back to people who were like us

who lived in places we lived

who had the same faces we did

who believed what we believed

who felt the same kinds of fears

who cried the same kinds of tears

who prayed like us

who ate like us

who felt rage like us.

And we forgot about everyone else.

It became us and them once again.

Division existed from the beginning,

it’s always been a part of our story

but it doesn’t have to continue to be,

we have another choice.

What’s done is done but we still have our voice.

Find one person who hasn’t felt pain,

who hasn’t felt fear, anger, or shame

who hasn’t hated or been hated

who hasn’t cried or known someone who died.

Find me someone who hasn’t felt hunger

who hasn’t felt alone, misunderstood

Stood upon, stepped on.

Honestly, find me someone who doesn’t bleed

like you do

who doesn’t need to breathe

like you do

who doesn’t need to eat

like you do.

who doesn’t want to be freed

like you do.

Find me someone who isn’t perfectly imperfect

who isn’t flesh and blood and bones and tissue

who isn’t at the molecular level the same as you.

Find me someone who doesn’t have needs

they would do almost anything to meet.

Find me someone right here in this street

that when you look into their eyes

you can deny their humanity,

their dignity, their right to be.

Seek the hand of someone beside you.

Welcome the hand of someone behind you.

This is the start of something new,

a safe place in the midst of the chaos,

a proclamation that it begins with us.

Do we move forward in fear?

We decide.

Do we move forward in love?

We decide

Do we move forward alone?

We decide.

Do we move forward together?

We decide.

These are your neighbors,

these are your people.

These are your neighbors,

these are your people.

Say it, “You are my neighbors,

you are my people.”

All we have is each other.

All we have is moving forward.

There is no going back.

Let’s get off the attack.

Chins up, shoulders back.

It’s time to take off

These masks.

I am from

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This is a poem I wrote for one of my classes exploring my view of change using the common “I am from” format. I’ve included an audio file because I feel that poetry is more powerful when it’s read aloud. Please feel free to listen while you read. 

 

I am from Pennsylvania farm land,
and the smell of fresh spread manure
sure to burn nostrils
on the school playground
where uniforms marked gender, age, space, time
stood still, moved slowly,
too fast and not fast enough.

I am from mountains
valleys, hills, meadows
toes digging deep into grass and dirt
earth and green spaces that called
to my heart, spirit, lungs, legs
begged me to be free
green spaces that call to me still.

I am from East Baltimore Street
the white house with the pines
behind whose blinds love resided
confided in the strong arms of family
that pulled me in
held me close
hold me still.

I am from playing in the trees, bruised knees
“It’s getting dark come inside please”
Mom says.
her voice made everything all right
despite when it could not
give an answer for why cancer
tried to rob her of her light.

I am from questions
of an eight year old’s fears
tears betraying my façade of strength
as I tried to emulate hers
“Will you die?” “Will you lose your hair?”
I could not bear
the thought of it.

I am from family
and love above all else
from grandmas’ kisses and pappys’ laughter
after family dinners around the table
unable even now to admit
that death comes too quickly
to those we love most.

I am from Mennonite land
of peace and nonresistance
insistence on four-part harmony singing
bringing casseroles and baked goods
and, my goodness, how can a denomination
with foundations of peace
leave my childhood church in shambles.

I am from community
bonded by common threads
of reds and blues and yellow hues
all the bright and dark colors
of seeking, searching, longing
finally belonging
here.

I am from the city
the rumblings of subways and trolleys
all these familiar sounds and sight
seeing people in all their vibrancy
curiosity, diversity, rawness
all this
is life.

I am from women
whose bodies were commodities
kept hidden forbidden sin ridden
until that holiest day of days
when she trades in her purity prize
and the guise
is lifted.

I am from contradictions
convictions
women who refused to be victims
even when our sacred souls, bleeding
were greedily ripped out,
screaming
from between our very legs.

I am from dark places
hollow spaces
shoe laces dangling
over a subway platform, canyon,
bridge over a stream
dreaming of jumping
but still afraid to fall.

I am from desperation
from a handful of pills
hospital bills
cold floors, metal doors
and therapists’ offices where
questions like “Now what do you want me to do for you?”
rang hollow in my ears.

I am from acceptance
of myself
esteemed in my eyes
sure of my worth
while being grounded
astounded, unbounded
by loving me
he’s free to love me too.

I am from liminal space
somewhere between wounded and whole
Wholly succumbing or coming alive
between inward loathing and outward exploding
between knowing and not
between wanderlust
and lusting for home.

I am from love
and all its questions, suggestions, reflections
of what was, what is, and what could be
and that is home
home is love
and there is no other place
I’d rather be from.

What you gave

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I do not recall
the slightest bit of hesitation
or fear
or weakness
in you
when I whispered,
Come with me.
You said yes
and in saying yes
you gave
up the warmth
of loved ones
the comfort of home
the security of work
all that was known
for me
for us
for the cold thrill
of adventure
for the uncertainty of partnership
for the insecurity of a new life
for the great unknown.
And for that gift
I
am eternally
humbly
abundantly
grateful.

 

 

Reflecting on Rwanda

*This brief reflection is a small glimpse into the 8 day field study course I engaged in this past January with the CONTACT (Conflict Transformation Across Cultures) program and SIT Graduate Institute in Rwanda. The purpose of the course was to study a society rebuilding itself post-conflict. Rwanda taught me so much…and left me more confused than ever. This post is for those of you asking to hear about my experience. Some of this may not make sense so please ask questions and I will try to answer them. Also, I’d love a phone call or face to face conversation about it all. Also, it goes without saying that I am NOT an expert on peacebuilding or Rwanda by any means; these are simply my initial thoughts and reactions. Thank you, friends. -Megan*

When I reflect on my time in Rwanda, I find myself breaking the my learnings into two categories: the work of the people and the work of the government. On one hand, I see incredible individuals and organizations working on reconciliation, peace education, eradicating gender based violence, telling stories of forgiveness, and so on and it gives me so much hope for this country and its people. But then I hear about the government’s lack of tolerance toward opposition, whether it’s an opposing political party or a critique of the government’s narrative of the genocide, and its restrictions on society, organizations, and individuals and I wonder if it’s all a façade. It feels like the peace that exists is so fragile, just dangling in the balance. I see truth in the words of Pastor Antoine, who leads a multi-ethnic congregation: “We have succeeded in creating peaceful cohabitation but we are still in the process of creating lasting reconciliation.”

Peacebuilding is a complex, active process that involves commitment and input from people at all levels of society. In a country like Rwanda, where there are so many restrictions enforced by the government, peacebuilding can lose its robustness and sincerity when mandated by the government; particularly when those mandates include pardons for confession of crime. At the same time, while communities are engaging actively in peacebuilding, reconciliation, and forgiveness, the government’s lack of support and/or the government’s mandated confessions can impede the effectiveness of these community programs. As someone who intends to focus my peacebuilding work at the community level, this trip has caused me to consider, yet again, how robust community programs can be without the support of the government. I certainly believe these programs can, should, and do exist whether the government supports them or not but is their effectiveness impeded by the government?

I am currently in the process of trying to hold multiple truths at once. When I find myself wrestling with binary conclusions, for example is Kagame good or bad?, I take a step back and remind myself that he has done good things and bad things and many things in between. I also remind myself that my beliefs and values come from my Western, White, American upbringing and, while I know that I do not fully understand the Rwandan culture and context, I recognize that my innate values and biases still creep into my thoughts.

As Honorable John of Parliament strongly reminded us: “Whatever you [study], make sure you put it in the cultural context of where you are studying,” On the field study, I kept asking myself, Do I truly believe that Rwandans know what is best for Rwandans or am I engaging with this process in a way that assumes Rwandans are not capable of deciding for themselves due to their history? Am I asking questions as a critically thinking student or out of a lack of trust in the storyteller and their capacities? In essence, are my actions living up to what I say I value? I’m still asking these questions.

Finally, I reflect on the wounds that are still healing in Rwanda. As a Parliamentarian lamented, “Rwandans are wounded people. We are not yet free of the wounds.” And Pastor Antoine reminded us that, “Repetitive wounding makes it hard to forgive and forget.” All Rwandans were affected by the genocide which means everyone carries some kind of trauma. How do you heal a traumatized nation, especially when the wound is still so fresh? Individual acts of apology and forgiveness are a start but is everyone capable of this? As we asked in our group discussions, does forgiving atrocities of this magnitude require divine intervention and does it require an apology from the perpetrator? The old man whose house I ate lunch at in Save implored, “How can I forgive unless the perpetrator asks me to forgive them?” My immediate thought was, Why do you need to be asked to forgive? And then I come back to this: many truths can exist at once. For this man, this is one of his truths at this time in his life. For me, I am still discovering what I believe to be my truths. Murakose cyane, Rwanda. Thank you very much, Rwanda, for the chance to learn a bit more of your truths.

Osman Benk Sankoh 4

Photo credit: Osman Benk Sankoh; Photo of our group of students hearing genocide stories of healing and reconciliation from a community in southern Rwanda