On what I am.

I didn’t know it was possible to feel this empty, and yet this full, all at once.

In the 10 days that I recently spent in Guatemala, I was like a thirsty traveler, bending to drink at a fountain and finding instead a fire hydrant – eager to learn, but nearly unable to take in the flood of information, images, and realities that rushed at my face at breakneck speed.

In those 10 days…

I was humbled.

My heart was broken.

I felt overwhelmed and excited and weak and sad and joyful and emptied of so much but full, full, full to the brim with hope.

I’m home in Miami now – the reports and meetings and other mundane follow-up are piled up on my desk, and before tackling them, I’m allowing myself a final moment to reflect on the ways this first real step into my new professional life has affected me. I’ve been bemused to note that what I saw last week weighs more heavily on me now than it did when I was in-country. But I think I’m beginning to understand why.

I work in women’s health. In addition to being an issue I am passionate about, it has also become an obsession for the pundits and the politicians, hotly debated on the campaign trail and in the caucuses. I’ve never really been one for politics, so it should come as no surprise that I find these discussions pedantic and intangible. But after returning to the pre-election barrage after my recent trip south, it is almost to much for me to bear. For me, these few weeks have been an earth-shattering reminder that there is an incredible distance between:

the lofty discourse that is being thrown at us…

…and the gritty places in our communities, nation, and world where the rubber meets the road.

That chasm has never felt greater than after spending a week with the women who suffer in those gritty places, and coming home to the mounting political discourse of the men who hope to lead the most powerful nation on earth.

For example, it feels inhumane to be discussing the definition of rape after holding the hand of a woman who was recently sexually assaulted.

It feels insulting to decide which families matter after meeting children who don’t have one.

It feels misguided to argue over what “side” cares more about the sanctity of life while real, live women are needlessly dying without access to comprehensive reproductive health services…

…especially when the “side” that claims the moral high ground would limit that access even further.

It feels narrow-minded reduce the complexity of womanhood to one small slice of it – reproduction – and to reduce the complexity of that even further by legislating it.

In the gritty places, it has been with grace, humility, and compassion that traditional midwives, feminist nuns, meticulous lawyers, and proud peasant mothers of 10 have taught me the following about what they are, and what I am, too:

I am more than my right to choose.

I am more than a political talking point.

I am a daughter.

I am a future mother (because I want to be, and it will be beautiful.)

I am a woman.

I am a person.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)

A mural in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, painted with the lyrics of this song by Amapro Ochoa. Rough translation: “Woman, if you grow your own ideas, they will say ugly things about you. That you are not strong, that you are this and that. That when you shut up, you are much more beautiful to them.”

 

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