Monday, August 24, 2009

Culture Shock and the Pace of Life

I recognized it as depression: loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, pacing by the window, biting my nails, a deep pit in my stomach, which desperately called me home, fear for my children, for my marriage, mourning the loss of routine, yet feeling paralyzed like I could find no routine, concentrating to get up out of a chair, or to talk to someone...

Then my brother recognized it as classic culture shock. He explained that some people get so physically ill they feel like they cannot move when immersed in another culture.

Then my sister told me, "It's like a vision quest...a way of stripping you down to deal with the basics of life, and nothing else.

I am reading Henri Nouwen's journal from the time he spent in Latin American (thank you, Fremont and Sarah), and he says,

"We can use this new opportunity for our own healing. When we walk around in a strange milieu, speaking the language haltingly, and feeling out of control and like fools, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that usually remains hidden behind the thick walls of our defenses. We can come to experience the basic vulnerability, our need for others, our deep-seated feelings of ignorance and inadequacy, and our fundamental dependence dependency. Instead of running away from these scary feelings, we can live through them and learn that our true value as human beings has its seat far beyond our competence and accomplishments...culture shock can open up for us a new understanding of God's grace and our vocation to live graceful lives."

And so I focus on the most basic pace of life.

We have no meetings, no music lessons, no soccer practice or gymnastics, no late night meetings with students or cramming for class. We have no potlucks, get-togethers, play dates, babysitters, child care coops, or spontaneous trips to Wichita.

(And part of me misses those things fiercely).

We are down to the basics.

We make breakfast and eat together. We drink tea. We do the most basic work of the day, involving learning a bit of Spanish, and connecting with others when we can. We peel potatoes and boil the beans and eat together in the dark, washing dishes by hand, letting the clothes dry in the air, reading together, maybe a game of cards or Scrabble, and then cuddle to sleep. No where at this point to go.

And I know God is here.


  1. May you find peace and know that you are held, as even over many, many miles we are connected. Blessed be.

  2. you inspire me.

    more than ever before, you inspire me.

    and it seems to me that you have arrived.

    love you.

  3. jen, this is such a moving post. it is something that is inspiring for us from afar to be reflective about, but to think that you are physically living it out deepens the concept severely. you are living out the emotional work of change. i love you!!

  4. I read this thinking about what an amazing person you will be when you're through with this life experience. You are already SO amazing, and with these experiences and this perspective, you will radiate. Bless you.

  5. My heart raced as I read your post. Your descriptions made my breath shallow.

    You captured it in your words - that crazed feeling of being caged like an animal.

    I took a deep breath at the end of your post - as you realized you are not caged but instead as free as a bird. You are so brilliant.