“What you mean I was the class clown?!”. All is revealed in the car trip to the Toco coastline, when my father reminds me that this is the descriptor my school principal gave of me circa 2003; my principal, the humbly pleasant but stern woman who we were journeying to look for, because I wanted to tell her thank you, whether or not she remembered the favor. She had many years ago, scooped me up from a lunch gathering, me mid-laughter, the kind you have to contort into a throaty cough to dissolve it from your face.
She did not know me. I mean of course she knew my name, she knew what horrendous grades I made in her Spanish class one term, but she also did not hesitate to let me know that the group of friends I had been keeping, was probably not the right fit for me. She told me that I could do better on all fronts, that I had immense potential as a student and I was wasting away because I was not taking the opportunity of being there (there: a good school with tremendous room for growth and learning) seriously enough. She did not know me.
How could she have possibly been so right then?
I’ve been between Trinidad and New York a number of times within the last year, and for me this is only the beginning of transnational living as an adult on my own terms, booking (and recently mis-booking) my own flights, and for once not feeling like I belong in any one place more than the other. I’ve somehow managed to find equilibrium in this previously chaotic situation, possibly because I’ve made peace with the way things are. I’m more accepting of what life gives and takes away.
|Toco stop on the hill.|
One of the most interesting navigations for me centers on friendships and relations outside of family. Possibly because these relationships are forever being negotiated between parties involved. I reflect on Keith Basso’s anthropological study of Western Apache cultural practice, where silence is used in particular social situations, one of these being between parents and children, when the child returns from school abroad.
“Apache parents openly admit that, initially, children who have been
away to school seem distant and unfamiliar. They have grown older, of
course, and their physical appearance may have changed. But more fundamental
is the concern that they have acquired new ideas and expectations
which will alter their behavior in unpredictable ways. No matter how pressing
this concern may be, however, it is considered inappropriate to directly
interrogate a child after his arrival home. Instead, parents anticipate that
within a short time he will begin to divulge information about himself that
will enable them to determine in what ways, if any, his views and attitudes
have changed. This, the Apache say, is why children do practically all the
talking in the hours following a reunion, and their parents remain unusually silent.” 1
This puts much into perspective for me. There are folks who I can no longer have extensive conversations with. Simply because we have grown in different directions, have different priorities, value different things in life, are at different stages in our journey. Which for me some years ago was a devastating reality. The silence was/is an expression of this distancing in ideas. I cannot attribute this to time and space only, because I have maintained meaningful relationships with friends in all parts of the world, space not a factor, time not a factor, we somehow reconvene and are magically still in sync with each other.
I can also acknowledge places where there is no such magic anymore. This can be a quick eulogy for those things. They are probably not the right fit for me. I have walked away from them with an interrupted laugh, but was given a more serious outlook on the world about me and everything else to be grasped.
After my principal pulled me aside that day, nothing was really the same. I landed in the top 5 of my class within a year, and I developed a strong sense of independence and personal drive. It was important that I understood who I could be, outside of other people, outside of people who may have had different goals and interests from mine. Outside of folks who had no intention on supporting my vision, more so, as this vision evolves. In 2015 I am so very accepting of the incredible people that God is surrounding me with, and the equally wonderful ones he is separating me from. I know who these are by the kind of silence they keep, and I know this is how it ends.
- Basso, Keith H. ""To Give up on Words": Silence in Western Apache Culture."Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26.3 (1970): 213-30. JSTOR. Web. 17 Jan. 2015.