Homecoming Hurricane

23Nov12

My goodbye party in Resistencia in August. Dulce de leche cake makes sad farewells a little sweeter. (It was also James’ birthday.)

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I (Marian) am sitting in my brother’s apartment in Atlanta, watching the dessert plates pile up in the sink as my family and I wander between the couch and the refrigerator to scavenge leftovers. Though I am surrounded by family, I do feel a little adrift without my spouse; I returned to the US in August to begin an anthropology graduate program while James stayed behind to finish our year-long mission appointment. Thankfully, he wraps up his time in Argentina and Paraguay in just one month. Our phone conversations now alternate between the logistical details of his move back to the US—saying goodbye to friends, settling into a new house, looking for a job—and our reflections on what mission work has taught us.

Separated from my mission experience by a bit of distance and time, my impressions have had the chance to crystallize and sink a little deeper into my being. And I find that so many of these lessons gel in the presence of difference: contrast, it seems, enables clarity. For example, I think about my first week back in New York, when every aspect of life in the US sparkled with freshness before my South Americanized eyes. I marveled at the ease with which the taxi driver chatted with me on the ride from the airport, the racial diversity of my fellow subway riders, the chains of cyclists drafting through Central Park. After seven months away, each detail seemed new and yet so comfortably familiar. The contrasts to life in the Southern Cone helped me realize that I had at last come home.

Fall in Central Park

Three months later, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and home suddenly became foreign. The abrupt break with normal life elicited unexpected comparisons to life back in South America. Images of tide-tossed rail cars evoked memories of February’s Once train disaster in Buenos Aires, and TV footage of displaced Staten Island families reminded me of the despairing wives and children left behind after the June altercation between farmers and police left 17 people dead in eastern Paraguay.

Hurricane Sandy deposited a shipping container on railroad tracks in NJ. Photo source: CBS

A commuter train crashed in Buenos Aires’ Once station in February. Photo source: Daily Mail

The New York Times recently published a photo of a well-dressed woman picking her way through the blackened bones of the Breezy Point, NY, neighborhood. The strangeness of her stylish clothes amidst the smoldering devastation remind the viewer that disaster is not supposed to happen here – life in the US is supposed to be secure, comfortable, and follow an ever-upward trajectory. With Hurricane Sandy, we were suddenly connected to Argentine train riders, Paraguayan farmers, and billions of others around the world whose lives are marked by uncertainty and instability.

Homes destroyed by fire in Breezy Point, NY. Photo source: New York Times

The contrasts and comparisons of the past three months have brought home for me the sense that we are deeply and inextricably connected to one another. Our vulnerability links us to so many others who have felt the desperation of watching life spin out of control due to weather, economic circumstances, or political instability. May our humanity in the face of disaster also bind us together, giving us the strength rise from the tears and the ashes.

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5 Responses to “Homecoming Hurricane”

  1. Welcome home Marian, thank you for your reflection and thank you both for demonstrating lives that are fragile, meaningful, deliberate and resilient. You’ve shown faith and depth in your understanding that God is truly with us always.
    Blessings from your friend,
    Cleo
    We’ll have a reason to celebrate Thanksgiving again when you return.

  2. Welcome back to the US! Hope you’re not missing South America too much and are adjusting well to “cultura americana”.

    I will say it’s definitely hard coming back to the materialism and “shininess” of the US after spending some time in a third world nation. Good luck, and God be with you!

    • Thanks for your comment, Christ-Follower. It was fun to browse your blog and get little hints of your involvement with mission in Nicaragua. Blessings on your studies and your mission endeavors!


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