Dear Reader Friends,
I have experienced so many feelings along my journey; a range of emotions that I have accepted into myself, each sparking new questions, new curiosities, accompanied by new experiences and new relationships. I’ve spent much of the past few months looking ahead; preparing for my future plans, experiencing feelings that may accompany these plans of mine. However, it is time now to reflect on what has brought me to ask these questions. I would like to share with you some passages that I wrote during the darkness of my journey. These thoughts flowed from my mind through my pen and onto sheets of paper; thoughts that haunted me. As I read them now, I see their beauty. I see what these thoughts have transformed into and it is within these thoughts that my questions for others have emerged.
In my first very raw encounter with questioning identity–questioning my identity–I wrote, “I am alone. I ask myself, Who am I? I’m not dead; I’m still here. What makes a person? What makes an identity? Infinite questions. Searching for the answer everywhere, but all I see is what I am not. All I see is what I cannot do. What I used to do. What I don’t do anymore. And I cry.” My tears flowed from a source of pain that I could not understand; a pain that has transformed into something beautiful–a curiosity, an inspiration to understand, to be understood, and to listen.
Almost four years ago today, I wrote “I will listen. I will understand the misunderstood because the misunderstood can very well be of the unhappiest of those around us.” Every day each of us walks in circles of familiarity, some of us consciously and some of us unaware of the validation we receive in our familiarity. When we lose this, we often lose our sense of self. When we no longer perform these mundane acts of familiarity–waking up in a room of surroundings we are comfortable with, greeting the same faces each morning, eating lunch in the same places–our sense of reality becomes askew. We question our grounding, we question who we are.
My experiences encountering these questions coincided with meeting people who had already lived through these questions. People who had been told to leave their homes or suffer horrific acts of violence; people who lost children; people who found themselves in a country that they couldn’t communicate in and much less felt welcomed in. It was this meeting of my internal battle with these external relationships that fostered my yearning to understand those who no one listened to, the “excesses” of civil wars and situations of ethnic cleansing. The lives who had been tossed aside in political conflicts and found themselves in places that no one cared to hear their stories. They became the people who heard my voice; I became the person who heard their voice.
I was often unable to find the words to vocalize my internal experiences. Turning to paper again one day, I described to myself the turmoil that raged inside me: “Closing my eyes, I see my thoughts thrown into the air, come crashing down in an order I do not know of. I’ve never seen these foreign vessels that come out of me. Exploding. The world keeps going, but I stay still. I do not move. Paralyzed in my overwhelm.” My description encapsulates what it is to look within oneself; everything that had once defined me externally had been deleted and I was left with memories that I could not accept as fixtures of my past. I was still yearning to define myself as I always had. Identity is precarious in this way. We want to know–we often think we know–but when we look, we are afraid.
This is the fear that can be beautiful because it is the fear that rests inside of all of us and ultimately connects us. We are afraid of what we do not know. I wonder, Readers, do you know who you are? Can you honestly tell someone, or even tell yourself, who you are? This questioning of the self often initially yields lists of certainties. We know our experiences, the lessons we’ve learned. We know where we come from, our favorite high school teacher, a best friend, an enemy, our favorite food. But, somehow, when we combine all the things we know, or think we know, about ourselves, the list does not ever appear to be complete. Something is missing in each of our lists that we generate, that we proudly display to others. It is this invisible part that we are afraid of.
It is this invisible part that has generated my questions and yielded minimal answers. An ambiguity that haunted me; many of us have the luxury of not confronting this ambiguity in our younger years. In my reflection, I can see that my head injury granted me the space to befriend and to accept this confusion that accompanies identity, to be intrigued by it. Four years ago, I began my journey of exploration into my internal self. And now, I have come to a time in which I translate my questions that were internally generated into questions for those around me who have battled these similar questions on varying levels through unique experiences. My experiences have led me to direct these questions to those who have been uprooted, displaced from their homes, and stowed in unfamiliar and often unwelcoming places.
My past research has sought to understand the resettled refugees here in America. These were the people who granted me the acceptance and welcome that I had felt was lacking; in return I am researching their stories, allowing them to speak, and listening to their voices. I will soon meet new people–refugees still residing in camps, individuals who have been displaced due to a natural disaster, people living through their crises. With this thought to the future, I wonder what I will learn in forming these new relationships. Four years ago, I wrote, “I want to put forth something beautiful in this world. I want to spread this beauty everywhere I go with every person I encounter because whatever their actions are do not decide my actions and the way I must treat them.” It is from this place of beauty, of hope, and of understanding, that I will interact with the individuals I will meet. The beauty lies within the connections we will foster.
Thank you for listening.