Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When Is It Time To Call It Quits?

I've wrestled often and painfully with the following question for a large part of my life:

When is it time to call it quits?

When I was a little girl and wanted to get a attention, a "never give up" attitude made friends. When I was a freshman in highschool, a "never give up" attitude got a place on the Varsity basketball team. When I was a student throughout my life, a "never give up" attitude got me on the honor roll. And yet, I still ponder, what did my "never give up" attitude get me in Cambodia?

I am glad I went. In fact, I made a list of all the reasons I am sure that going to Cambodia was what I needed to do:
I met Tim and Fay possibly some of the most posititvely influential people I've ever met.
I am now a "world traveler", knowledgable about southeast Asia, other cultures, and other ways of life.
I taught children about more than just grammar. I call them "my" kids.
I met Kagna, Nika, David Pen, Tulip, Sen Vitya, kids who have changed me forever.
My eyes were opened to all the really loving, supportive people back home.
I learned to question many things; faith, reality, absolutes, morals
I befriended natives like JC, Sokcha, Angie, Ross and Kamrong who gave me a more hopeful image of what Cambodia can be.
I saw things I will never forget that widened my view of the world.

I feel like I have needed even more convincing about my decision to go to Cambodia lately. Between potential amoebas growing in my stomach, painful trauma counseling, sleeping pills, more doctors appointments, the pain of adjusting, and the recent addition of really terrifying nightmares, I wonder: Was it still worth it?

I was talking to a very insightful friend of mine, who has known me a long time, he said, "Heather, you've never been very good at giving up. It has always been a negative thought for you. But I think there are some times when it is ok to just throw in the towel, to acknowledge that the situation you are in is not healthy or positive and say, "It's time for me to move on."

I sat at an outdoor concert last week. There were several hundred people there listening to a little-known Celtic rock band as if they were the Beatles. People young and old were laughing and clapping and dancing and singing along. There was so much happiness around me. All I could think was, "How can these people be so happy with all that is going on in the world?" I used to and probably will enjoy things like concerts and finding a great deal on a dress at a store. But right now, it is difficult to find the same joy in things that I used to. Because instead of just relaxing and enjoying what is, I end up feeling guilty that I'm having fun at all. I feel guilty living in the United States. It makes me feel bad doing the things I used to do and never think twice about.

Since talking to other SM's, I've learned this is a common feeling. They say, "It fades". Is the fading memory of pain what enables us to move on and forget? Is that good or bad? Probably a bit of both.

Seeing my counselor last week, she helped me work through my anger and fear towards the Cambodian men I encountered on the street. At the beginning she told me to describe exactly, with detail, what the worst of the tormentors looked like or did. He was without a shirt, holding an infant, standing very powerfully; legs shoulder-width, the other hand in his waistband. He would stare into my eyes, sometimes elsewhere. He had a dominating presence that reminded me that I was in "his" country and no one would jump to save me. Sometimes he would call to me, make kissing noises, or lick his lips.

She helped me see that their own feelings of powerlessness is what drove them. Really, they had no reason 'not' to torment me. Why not? These weren't the educated, Christian men. It was the poverty that brought this out of them. Men lucky enough to attend university, who wore glasses and dressed nicely, gave me no problems. There is something about education that changes people. But the men on the street woke up to the same reality every day with very little hope. Tormenting an American girl made them feel powerful. By the end of the session, I was almost feeling sorry for them. Almost. It is no quick fix, but it's progress.


"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."


shelli said...

Heather, I can relate to the not throwing in the towel pursue. I especially appreciated the quote by Emerson at the end of your post. Thanks!

Glad you are back safe and sound. Don't worry, we won't quit praying for you now that you are back. :)