Ripple Effects

I’m just going to say it: there’s a lot of crap going on back home in America. And it’s difficult to be so far away from it all, to feel such a physical and mental distance from things that are normally so present in my life. When I first heard about the acts of terrorism that took place in Charleston, I found myself wanting to be back on my university campus. I felt an urge to surround myself once again with people who inspire me, with activists and leaders and friends who can articulate their thoughts on these things so much more strongly than I could ever try to.  The emotional distance I felt and still feel from them, and from the people whose lives were so directly affected by such senseless violence, is overwhelming. I felt something similar last February, when the world lost three beautiful lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; I wasn’t saddened so much by the act itself but by my own helplessness in being so far away from it. I would have given anything to be there in solidarity, to stand as part of a community trying to make sense of it all.

When news reached me of the Supreme Court’s decision to end bans on same-sex marriage, I have to admit that I didn’t really get that excited. I had been traveling for most of the day and hadn’t had much of a chance to find wifi and check in with the world; I found out about the SCOTUS decision in a flood of text messages, Facebook statuses, and emails that kept my phone lit up for several minutes once I finally connected to the internet. Something about the way it all happened–the hours of delay between the decision itself and my knowledge of it, the sudden barrage of messages and rainbow-tinted profile pictures–seemed to serve as a reminder that I wasn’t there, that I was somehow missing out on “one of the most important days in American history.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled to know that I will one day be able to legally marry the person I love (PS still taking applications and/or auditions for this role), but it just seems…well, a bit irrelevant to my life right now, especially considering that I currently live in a country where I could face jail time for the same things people are celebrating in the streets back home.

I’m not sure exactly what point I’m trying to make by saying all of this, if there’s any point at all to be had. It’s been tough–really tough, if I’m allowing myself a bit of honesty–to feel such a sense of separation from the things and the people I care about so strongly. It doesn’t feel like enough to watch clips of Jon Stewart’s monologue on racism in America; it doesn’t feel like enough to add a few lines of color to my profile picture or to speak up in a comment thread defending my right to love; it just simply doesn’t feel like enough. My rational brain knows that it’s wrong to think of everything back home as “the real world,” that the experiences I’m having each day here are just as “real” as anything else I have and will continue to do. Irrationally, though, I can’t help but create this dichotomy that insists the real world is going on without me while I’m in Malaysia occupying my time with some sort of pseudo-reality. I see friends getting married, people having children, peers being accepted to graduate schools and moving across the country…and I’m here.

This isn’t to say that I’m not proud of the work I’m doing, or that I feel it is in some way insufficient compared to the things I see happening back home. But, in a way, I feel less and less a part of that world, less integral to the comings and goings of my friends’ and family’s lives. I’m dependent on email threads back and forth, the words of which never fully capture the depth of what is truly going on; I schedule Google Hangouts that are slightly more fulfilling, but they’re dependent on whether or not I’ll have access to realiable internet. I knew that I would be signing up for this when I made the choice to move abroad, but the reality of it all is more difficult to wrap my head around when there is so much happening back home with which I want to be fully, 100% engaged.

It’s not a bad thing, what I’m grappling with. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been given this chance to live in Malaysia, to work with a program that provides me with a house, a car, and a modest stipend that covers enough expenses to include travel. I’m working at a wonderful school that, despite a bit of confusion some days as to my actual role as a teaching assistant, has welcomed me with open arms. My students bring so much joy to my life, and I’ve seen more of the world in these past six months than I could have ever dreamed would be possible. My life is not something to complain about, and I really want to make it clear that all of things I’ve just written do not discount the fact that I am, at the end of the day, happy and thankful to be here.

It’s just hard to sit back while churches are burning. It’s frustrating to be so far removed from the epicenter of what feels like a cultural earthquake in America, only to wait for the ripples to make their way across the ocean to me. I love where I am, but some days I simply miss where I could be.