Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What gives us hope?

What is it that gives us hope? Last night, after walking and counting 'Pupuserias' (it was the most lovely, perfect weather!) from the AP up to Delafield to see my friends and then back down to Columbia Heights to hear Peter Habyarimana from Uganda speak. We spent the evening remembering Rwanda and Uganda and the children in these far off African countries that I dream of visiting some day.

Earlier in the day, I had a long conversation with a friend in Japan, I had been trying to keep myself from laughing out loud as I listened to "This American Life", I spent a few minutes trying to let the fact that I'm leaving for El Salvador soon to settle in (it doesn't feel like a reality at all) and then I had two long conversations on the phone before I walked into the room where Peter was going to share his story.

Peter grew up in Uganda and has one of those stories that are both tragic and inspiring all at the same time. He lived on the streets for a time and a family helped him go to boarding school so that he could graduate from high school. I don't know what everyone else thinks when they hear people sharing stories like that but, I thought about the recent episode of "This American Life" where they told the stories of people who had become 'spokesmen' for certain things that they either regretted or grew out of and didn't know how to get away from. Peter is a spokesperson for 'Compassion International' and I wonder if he likes it that his whole life is connected to that organization.

That wasn't really what I was going to write about. One thing that Peter talked about was 'hope' and how wonderful it is to give hope to children, especially children in Africa who do not 'hope to be 18 or even 10'. That is sad. I remember being 10 and having all sorts of plans for what I would do when I was 18. Now that I'm past 18, graduated from college, and trying to make it in the real world there's something inside of me that feels like the children. Am I where I'm supposed to be? What am I supposed to be hoping for?

I'm afraid that this summer has been quite humbling for me. I feel very, very aware of my shortcomings. I am filled with dreams and goals and yet, something about constant rejection makes you feel quite insignificant. (I feel incredibly grateful for what I've been given but, confused as to what the next step is.) Peter from Uganda asked me what I do and I had to fumble with the answer which is: I am looking for my place here and am having a very hard time finding it. He gave me a strange look and said 'I thought that everyone in DC was powerful and worked for the government.' I wasn't sure if he was disappointed or relieved to meet someone who had neither of those things.

I guess if I come out of this summer with more modesty because I have no reason to be pretentious, that would be good. Everything continues to move forward even when I've felt stuck and ashamed at my seeming inability to make any sort of tangible contribution to society. My independence has been hurt this summer, the idea that I can do anything if I try hard enough has sort of been reduced to that just an idea. It doesn't seem like much of a reality. I have a strong sense of determination but, with much less pride. The truth is that I need other people in my life, I need their encouragement, I need the hope that they give me.

I guess one thing that has become very, very clear to me this summer is that my identity is not (and hopefully never is) wrapped up in what I 'produce'. I have often spoken out against approaching other people in this way and I didn't realize the extent to which I have judged my on self-worth in this way. Serving, knowing, and loving others is the most worthwhile investment of time. I've always thought that but, this summer has been a test to that belief. I believe in being active, in putting my gifts to use and this summer has been one of those times when I've doubted what use I've been in the little it seems like I've done, I've doubted what my talents are and wondered if I've just make a huge mistake trying to find a place here. I believe my contribution matters but, I guess it matters collectively in the context of the greater community.

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live the questions now... R.M. Rilke