Friday, August 22, 2014

Global Citizen

I have been known to get stuck on choosing the best label for something that I see as defining some aspect of my identity.  I say "stuck" because rather than allowing me to fully immerse myself in whatever the given aspect is, I feel as though I must first establish an identity marker before I proceed, so that I can associate whatever activities, behaviors, or beliefs with said label. 

It's not all my doing, mind you.  I've had people tell me that I shouldn't call myself this or that, and so I'm hyper-vigilant about it now, because the last thing I want is to be accused of being disingenuous.  But why bother with labels at all?  Good question.  I know that everything is transitory, and that we are not who we think we are.

I've become aware of this after my recent trip "back home" to Poland.  I remember myself at the age of 7, preparing to emigrate with my mother.  I remember myself "back home" at the age of 11, on my first trip back for the summer.  I remember myself "back home" turning 18 in my hometown.  (I took great pride in knowing that I "became an adult" in the same town where I was born.  I even made sure I was "independent" - going to visit the recent grave of my great-grandmother on my own - at the precise time marking the anniversary of my birth.)  It gave me some joy to become engaged to Alex in "my home country" as well, at the age of 22.  A few additional trips "back home" and I grew to expect the feeling of "coming home" at every subsequent trip to Poland.

During my most recent trip back, Alex, Maya, and I (plus my parents) stayed in a hotel instead of with family, as was our usual set-up.  Perhaps that was the single biggest mistake, albeit unavoidable considering there were five of us showing up to surprise my grandmother on her 80th birthday.  But try as I might, in the two and a half weeks we spent in my hometown, with my closest extended relatives, I never felt "at home".  In my grandmother's house, where my mother and I lived for a couple of years leading up to our emigration, we were mere visitors.  We were waited on hand and foot, treated quite hospitably to be sure, but I did not want to feel like a guest.  I wanted to feel at home, among "my people", and I never did.

I digress this much to say that upon my return, I realized that I cannot go back to my childhood, that what I remember of my hometown is mere memories, accessible only through my own mind, with some assistance from old photographs, perhaps.  I realized that who I am today is no longer who I was when I left Poland, or even who I was at each of my subsequent visits.

I say all of this why?  Because "who I am" is transitory.  It makes little sense to assign a label to a moving target.  And yet, it is the nature of our ego to insist that it is "the real me".  Hence, my apparent need to label various aspects of my identity.

My nationality identity has been taken care of.  My recent trip solidified what I had already suspected.  I have a hyphenated national identity (Polish-American), and I no longer fight with the fact that most others who self-identify this way don't speak Polish and/or have never visited Poland, much less lived there or were born there.  I used to pride myself on being "more Polish" than Polish-Americans, though I wasn't quite as Polish as the Poles of Polonia (the Polish diaspora that my parents identified with for a time) or obviously the Poles still living in Poland. I have made my peace with this, and I'm happy to focus on the American identity over the Polish identity.  The former is who I am now, whereas the latter identifies where I come from.

If anything, I now see the Polish-American identity marker as a spectrum, with those who can awkwardly spit out the words "pierogis" (with the inaccurate English plural marker "s" at the end of the otherwise Polish word) on one end of the spectrum, and recent immigrants on the other end.  With time, I have slowly slid down the spectrum, away from the recent immigrant end and closer to the middle.  I still speak Polish and am literate in the language, and I have many fond memories of the country.  So I'll never be at the other end of the spectrum, but I no longer feel any need to lord this over those who, by circumstances of their birth and ancestral heritage, do find themselves at that end.

I may hold dual citizenship, but my dual identity is anything but equally weighty on both ends.  Polish is where I come from.  It has had an inescapable influence on my upbringing, values, thoughts.  For better or for worse, I did not have an American upbringing.  I cannot identify with my native-born Anglo-American peers, because we come from different cultural home bases.  But I am no longer immersed in the Polish culture.  I do not live in a Polish neighborhood, I do not worship regularly at a Polish church, I do not cook traditionally Polish food (generally speaking).  I do speak Polish to my daughter, Maya, but honestly, it's not so much to link her to her mother's heritage, but rather to give her an edge linguistically (since knowing a second language at an early age makes learning subsequent foreign languages later on that much easier, not to mention the broadened horizons of being able to learn about the world from the vantage point of a different language and culture).  I also speak Polish to Maya for the sake of the few Polish relatives that are still in my life, primarily my mom.

I don't expect Maya to identify as Polish-American, and I think this realization has helped me distance myself from the label as well.  After all, how can my daughter and I not share the same national identity?  Then again, that's precisely what happened between myself and my own parents.  They retained a lot more of our mutual Polish roots (How could they not?  They were fully adult by the time of our migration.) whereas I was also heavily influenced by my American peers growing up.  Perhaps this is another reason that, until I had my daughter, I tried desperately to emphasize the Polish in Polish-American so that I would have that generational link to my parents.  But now, I find myself emphasizing the American in Polish-American so that I can have that generational link to my daughter.

In the end, none of these labels ought to matter, because patriotism taken to an extreme breeds racism, hate, and international violence.  Deep down, I consider myself a citizen of the world, with no one country holding my loyalty without question.  Yet, to be fair, at least for me, I'm only able to see myself as a global citizen because I've had the advantage of being exposed to people and ideas from around the world, something truly uniquely American.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Spiritual Dry Spell

I seem to have finally gotten an inkling as to why I've been going through a spiritual dry spell these last several months.  For one thing, motherhood has been exhausting all of my energy, energy that I was previously able to devote to philosophical reflection and time with a faith community.  For another thing, as an introvert, I require solitude in order to recharge.  In spite of the daddy-and-me time Alex and Maya spend together at least once a week, those two or three hours just aren't enough for me to get into a frame of mind that would require true spiritual pondering.

For one thing, the first twenty minutes or so of such alone time is generally spent taking a shower without worrying about a crying baby.  Then there are "computer errands" as I like to think of them - things I need to get done that I just can't do while caring for my daughter because she insists on "typing" right along with me.  So balancing our budget, updating blogs, or organizing family photos, these are the sort of things that simply cannot be done when I'm "on" with Maya.  And they seem to essentially siphon most if not all of the alone time I'm given in any one sitting.

I long for a spiritual retreat, as was my habit, where I have time to slowly, at my own pace, purge the worries of daily life and ease into a quiet awareness of God's presence in my midst.  Yet at the same time, the thought of leaving my daughter for even a weekend makes me miss her right away.  I miss her the moment she and Alex step outside for my weekly alone time!  How could I concentrate on my spiritual interior life if I'd be distracted by thoughts of what my daughter was doing and how I want her near me.

Essentially, I think I'll just have to ride this out until Maya is old enough to play alone quietly by my side, so that we both get all that we need - physical closeness but also time to do something that doesn't require the other's direct involvement.

For now, I'm going to try to "fake it till I make it", as bad as that sounds.  I have to accept that I can't figure out such grand questions as the nature of God "in my spare time".  If I hadn't definitively figured that out in the 35 years I had to myself before giving birth to my daughter, what makes me think that I can figure it out now?  Besides, if I was content with the limited amount of understanding I had about my faith before, why is it all of a sudden not enough anymore?  

Perhaps I'm feeling the pressure to do right by my daughter, and I want to believe what I am teaching her on the faith/religion front.  I don't want to just let her figure it out on her own.  I'm not ignorant of the fact that we made a big stink over baptizing her into the Catholic church for a reason.  I did not think all of God's truth was found in the Catholic church when I chose to stick with the faith of my upbringing.  That was because I do not think truth can be captured in its entirety by any human institution.  And while I'm pretty confident that I know what I do believe, I find it disheartening to not have a community of like-minded believers where I can strengthen that belief and pass it on to my daughter.

Ok, so I'm thinking baby steps are in order while I wait until my daughter is old enough for me to get sufficient alone time to start to recapture my previous fervor for faith.  For starters, I need to increase my prayer time.  I generally reach out to God each night with a request to keep my baby safe, and to thank Him for her and the other blessings of my life, but that takes all of a minute or two.  The rest of the time, God is merely a constant fixture in the background of my mind.  I know He exists.  I believe that He has been there for me when I needed Him most.  Yet I find it incredibly difficult to relate to Him right now because I am getting such conflicting ideas of what He's like from the various belief systems that are out there.  They all seem to make a little bit of sense.

I've written off the idea of attending a Unitarian Universalist church because, having attended a few UU services, I find them to be mere social constructs of well-meaning people gathered for the sake of gathering in a community, but with no concrete unifying belief holding them together.

And I'm on the fence about Quakerism.  I've only ever met one Quaker I didn't particularly like, and that was because he made an off-hand remark about Catholicism.  Otherwise, I know what Quakers stand for, and I am 100% in agreement with them, yet there is still the fact of the various "types" of Quaker meetings.  There's those who are essentially evangelical Christian in nature, and there are those that are more generic spiritually, and presumably everything in between.  I find it funny that I was put off by the idea that atheists can attend and feel a sense of belonging in the more liberal Quaker meetings.  But why should I?  How is this any different from in-name-only Catholics sitting next to me in a pew at Mass? Or maybe I make traditional faithful Catholics uncomfortable, because they see my presence as watering down their tightly held beliefs?

I am going to attend another Quaker meeting.  I think it will be what I need to reconnect with God.  I don't feel God's presence at Mass anymore.  Perhaps because part of the time I'm distracted caring for my daughter.  Perhaps because I'm fixating on the literal words I hear at the pulpit, provided for ease of digestion for the masses, when a more metaphorical understanding may be in order (like I'd be exposed to at a retreat).

I'm going to revisit this idea with Alex.  We have talked about truly honoring the Lord's Day, and so I think we should go to Mass as a family, and then they should drop me off at a silent Quaker meeting while they have daddy-and-me time.  Perhaps that hour of silence, planned into my day with no other errands or priorities to distract me, may be just what I need to kick start my spiritual life once again.