I was 40000 or so feet above the North Atlantic a few days ago, on my way back to the States after nearly a year away. I was speaking with my seatmate, a young German grad student in economics, who was traveling to Canada to visit his Colombian girlfriend, who’s at university near Toronto. Having met at a hostel in Thailand a year and a half ago, they’ve been maintaining a trans-Atlantic relationship ever since – but now he’s planning a move to Canada. “It’s been difficult, of course – and expensive,” he was saying. “But we know it’ll be worth it.”
I am thinking of the hostel where I stayed for a few days before leaving Belgrade – where one of the Serbian managers was having a tempestuous relationship with one of the guests, a refugee from Iran I believe. I couldn’t help but overhear as they had long and intense conversations out on the balcony of the large shared room where I slept. (English was their meeting ground!) Bit by bit, step by faltering step, they tried to negotiate the tricky, perilous spaces that culture and conditioning had set up between them, trying to reconcile what their hearts were telling them with the harsh realities of the world outside. And I prayed for them, that they would find a way to build the bridges that would help them share their lives, and I thought of the song by Bruce Cockburn:
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time,
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime.
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight
This is more than wistful romanticism, though.
Think of cultures as tectonic plates – slowly drifting, colliding, sometimes scraping against each other. The interesting stuff happens in the places where they touch, where boundaries start to break, where new possibilities can emerge. In the middle, far away from these edges, the integrity of the whole is not usually threatened… if these collisions happen in the right way. If there is resistance, though… if unresolved tensions are allowed to build up along fault lines… if there is only pushing, and no yielding… if there is nothing to ameliorate the friction… that’s when earthquakes happen.
Sometimes that amelioration is driven by commerce, sometimes by expedience. Sometimes it is driven by love.
We can’t merge, after all, without melting a little.
This was one of the things that I saw during my trip that gave me great hope for the future – to see young people from all over the world meeting and interacting with each other, finding common ground and common humanity, exploring how to transcend the limitations of nationalism and isolationism, laying the groundwork for entirely new ways of not only coexisting but flourishing together.
Because of course love will do that.
That’s what love does.
I’ll tell you more next month.