I dedicated this blog to a man that died a year ago yesterday. Mel Letchinger’s yahrzeit created a space to gather and celebrate life. But it also made me consider the past year. And time.
February 2nd marked one month back in the States for me. Normally statements like that are followed with a “and you’d never know it!” or “it only felt like a week!” We’re in week five of a ten week quarter, and professors echo those thoughts. One asked the class, “Is it just me, or is the quarter flying by for you guys, too?” Time is possibly one of the most difficult concepts to understand in physics, but one thing is obvious: it passes everyday, and in each moment, its length or brevity is relative. As long as we function according to a clock, alarm, bell, calendar, or planner, the hours of the “day” hold a lot of importance. But when these authorities of time are forgotten, let go or turned off, a form of liberation occurs. It was this liberation that I was introduced to in Argentina, and it is the same liberation I brought home.
In a literal sense, we studied Liberation Psychology in the classroom. Contemplatives in Action paired that discipline with theological readings to bring us an intense analysis of our own culture. Of the countless revelations I took away from that class, the most profound have to do with power, privilege, and progression. The first terms are straightforward: as a straight, white, tall, affluent, educated, pick-an-adjective male, I possess the MOST power and privilege of any demographic in the United States. (I’ll come back to this bold statement later.) As for progression, well… Ironic given the context, but looking ahead, my life is going to have a lot to do with this issue of “progression.” Here’s what I mean: when you are born, you’re asked what you want to be when you grow up. When you’re in high school, it’s where you want to go to college. In college, it’s what you’re doing when you graduate. In regards to achievements within the workplace, it’s about squeezing as much product/service out of employees for the absolute smallest amount of money possible for the sake of company growth. Both work and education obey time in its traditional sense. A nine to five job or an eight to three school day constitute the typical day for most people in this country. In many cases, people dread going to work/school and count the seconds until it’s over. I was lucky enough to break out of this paradigm for five months with an intentional critique of the life we left at home. Now I’m back. My first attempt to write a conclusive post stalled as I tried to pick highlights from the semester. I realize now my experience lives on everyday I’m back, and I can use that to explain what happened in Argentina. And it all goes back to time.
My parents believe in education and think it is the biggest gift they’ll ever give me. They pay for my tuition at DePaul and give me money to pay my bills, rent, and food expenses so I can focus on my studies. To this day, I still hold some guilt seeing that many of my peers fret about finances. But here is a top-three takeaway from my time abroad: responsibility replaced that guilt. My curriculum showed me the extensive power I hold in my socio-economic status and empowered me to do something with it. Right now, that means doing nothing. Okay, not really, but one might look at calendar and be a little surprised at how much I’m NOT doing. I have no job, no internship, no volunteer work, and no club participation (other than inner tube water polo 45 minutes a week). I am in school with a full course load, which equates to 12 hours in the classroom each week. But that’s it. So where is my time going? People. Most notably, professors. I’ve spent some 15 hours in their office hours in the first half of the quarter. It helps that I love my classes. It would have been really tough to fake the whole student thing if I wasn’t in a class called “The Beatles.” I’m also in a Cognitive Science class that’s fantastic. The other two classes aren’t worth mentioning, but whatever. Two for four.
So I’m trying to be a student. That’s a thing. But anyone who knows me knows that still won’t take up a lot of my time. The rest of my time has gone and will continue to go to those in my life. There’s a timelessness that exists in Latin American cultures that simply doesn’t exist in the States, at least in urban life. That is the cultural element I strive to bring home; more so than mate, asados, Spanish, or any other staple of Argentine culture. Things do not bring us happiness, so when we rely on things to keep a part of our experience abroad with us, it’s an inevitable failure (except wine – Malbec is fantastic). Mentalities have no borders, no export restrictions, and no cost to maintain. I know this isn’t something everyone can do: if I had to work to support myself, the value of my time would manifest itself differently. But I don’t work, so my time doesn’t equal money. It equals…me. I can give myself fully to whatever unfolds in front of me without a preoccupation of what else I need to do or where else I need to be. I strive to build spaces into my day where it truly does not matter how long or short I stay there. Chicago’s bitter weather actually helps in this instance because once I’m indoors with someone, it’s not likely we’ll go anywhere. Even when I’m out and about, though, I’ve started to see opportunities to learn and grow with others that I’ve never met. I chatted with the cashiers at Home Depot for an hour one day and rode the train past my stop to continue a conversation with an ex-drug dealer. I’ve been late (fashionably, of course) to many meetings because I wasn’t worried about where I was supposed to be, but rather where I was and to whom I was speaking. I never know what time it is, and frankly, I don’t care.
My routine is completely shot, but my energy is through the roof. A conversation is a very life-giving experience and in the city, and it’s always available to those who look for it. Timeless conversations enlightened me to the purest form of contemplative power, and it is a skill I honed in Córdoba. Accompaniment, newly defined as mutual presence with another without a motive/agenda, is something one can practice with anyone, anywhere, anytime. I’ve noticed a warm response from those that I engage with on a personal level rather than a functional level. I’ve eaten an exorbitant amount of fast food since I’ve been back, but it is in those situations where I’ve strived most to humanize employees through simple acknowledgement. Capitalism, and now social media, have a tendency to dehumanize us, on both sides of any relationship. But when I see it, I fight it. I fight time and I fight “what’s next.”
Re-entry can be tough for many, but for me, it’s a fascinating exercise. It’s a full on assault of society, an era informally dubbed the “Age of Anxiety.” I can’t say I conquered all my anxieties abroad, but I sure feel different mentally. My musicianship improved my focus and discipline. My blog challenged my written ability and stripped me of inhibitory critique. Spanish forced my mind to busy itself with sentences that translate to “Would you like to sit down?” or “I’m going to leave soon,” rather than a deafening inner monologue and all its craziness. An internet-free home made me reassess my internet usage altogether, including the role of content consumption and social media. Communal life reiterated one of the themes of Casa, the importance of social support and mental release, and an endless number of hygiene lessons. Maybe it was the monastery, but my mind is functioning on a different level right now. And I love it.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit irresponsible with my free time. I’ll go days without sleeping and then sleep past sunset. I’ll forget to eat and then eat obscene quantities of whatever I can get my hands on. I’m behind in three of my classes and haven’t opened the textbook in the fourth. But I’m alive. I’m awake. I slowed down, looked up, and am never going back. I’ve never cared less about school yet I learn more everyday than the day before it. Above all else, I’m free. Liberated. Gone left when everyone else went right. I’m fighting an uphill battle that I know I can win because society won’t let me lose. I’ve taken impulsive risks before and walked away with a slap on the wrist. Every time. Now it’s time for me to strategically plan these risks, exploit my power and privilege, and do something. Something for the benefit others rather than my own advantage. This is my neo-hippie, fuck-the-system-and-bail moment and I’m going to take it. I think something real will come from it, and I’m not the only one who will benefit. If you’re interested, hit me up, because I got a plan and more time than I know what to do with. We’ll take it on together. And win.