I received an update from my mom as she travels throughout South Africa on a global justice trip about apartheid and HIV/AIDS. She shared "Holy Moments" (see below for her post) revealed in the township of Guguletu. As I sat a read her reflection right as I was about to go to bed, I cried.
I cried not out of despair or depression. I did not cry from white guilt. These were not tears of hope. They were the tears that are released only when one witnesses someone else's story and sees moments that reveal personal truths and universal experiences. These were the tears of connection and change.
As I read her reflection, I contemplated our relationship. I thought about our years as mother and young child as she and my father struggled to pay bills, put food on the table, and provide a suburban lifestyle. I remember feeling like an outsider even then as we were financially lower class in our upper class neighborhood. I remember the conflict of conformity, and now (with time and perspective) I understand the conflict that manifested between parent and child when we could not conform to our rich neighbors clothes or cars or upkeep of home. I remember it bodily too, not just as some memory but as a tangible ache in the belly.
I thought about my coming out, about the terror that must have gripped my parents' hearts. There was no more hiding, no more facades. I forced them to confront our non-conformity. But I was young, head strong, and passionate. I could not see the tearing down of walls, the risk of exposure. I only knew my heart, and it burned to finally be let free. I could not live illusions any longer, yet I chose to see my parents not as they were (struggling to understand, to come to terms, to navigate the boundaries of societal norms that said homosexuality was sin) but as I wanted to see them (not supportive enough, not strong enough, not passionate enough).
I again was in my mid-20s, not speaking to my parents, needing to find my self in the changing landscapes of San Francisco and identity politics. I saw whole worlds that were different from mine, worlds in which I would never live. Yet I did not see the world from which I came. I could not see the support of parents struggling. I only saw the struggle, and it caused once rose-colored glasses to turn dark and bitter. (Note: my parents and I have been speaking for years, and I enjoy a wonderful relationship with them.)
Now, perspective changes. It morphs to reveal connections once thought to be lost. I see memories change. I taste the ocean, and I know its waters can be bridged.
My mother wrote, "Many things have been difficult to see but the people . . . I don’t even know what to say…the people here have taught me so much. The world won’t change unless we share our stories."
I am grateful for what my mother has taught me by going on this trip: change is inevitable, and it starts with your self. I see that little boy with the Kmart clothing who is ashamed of his financial circumstances, and now I see a man in second hand clothes proudly sporting personal style. I look back at my coming out, and I know I am not nearly as tempestuous. I remember the silence of years, and now I hear the cries and laughter of change.
It is these stories and their evolution that matter. And it is with this intention, that I share my mom's reflection, "Holy Moments".
by Debbie Soderberg Wyman
originally posted on the Clare Housing blog, Front Door
This was probably my most difficult day although it still doesn’t convey the impact of what was being experienced to the fullest. It’s a glimpse.
The people I’ve met along the road have taught me so much. I have been the “learner” with some of the most amazing, inspiring teachers. This trip is for me a transition; a transition into what is yet unknown. All transitions are marked by opportunities, a portal, an opening to a new beginning, but not without pain. The tears flow freely; sometimes in my heart, at other time they stream down my cheeks and I can’t seem to stop them.
We have traveled through townships that South African whites won’t enter because of fear. We have not only entered those townships, but have been overnight guests in their homes in Guguletu. Beautiful, welcoming, hope-filled people despite the wounds and injustice of apartheid.
I had the privilege of visiting a man in Guguletu who three years ago was severely beaten and left for dead during a car-jacking. His head, face and body marred and in a moment his life changed. The physical scars to his head are one thing, but the psychological and emotional scars are what hurt the most. It’s been three years and he sits. Sits in his tiny home, and stares. Day after day he sits. Remembering. He is embarrassed by how he looks. He is embarrassed by the slowness of his speech. I only saw a beautiful human being. He is not the same as he once was. He doesn’t want to constantly be asked “what happened to you?” It’s too painful. He wants to forget, but he can’t.
I explained to him the scar was hardly noticeable. He didn’t believe me. He’s never seen it. It’s on the side of his head. He would need two mirrors to see it. He doesn’t own one mirror. I asked him if I could take a picture and show him. He didn’t understand at first but then said “yes”. This was a holy moment.
He took off his hat. I got at just the right angle and “clicked”. I held the camera out for him to see. There was complete silence as he sat and simply stared. This was a holy moment. I had to turn away. It felt so private, so intimate. He needed this time to take it in. He didn’t know what he looked like. Now, he knew.
He kept his hat off. We talked about how he might just start thinking about going out in public. To start living again. He asked before I left if he could see the picture one more time. I smiled and held out my camera. This was a holy moment. I plan on developing the pictures for him when I get home and get them to him. How could I not?
This trip has been a pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage is not about what you take away from a place.
It’s about what you leave behind.