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Jul 17, 2012

The Peace House

In the Summer of 1992, we were leaving the Peace House, which is a big name for a small dorm in the Columbia Hall at the University of Notre Dame. We are: Aixa, Nepo, Jasmin, Bishu, Mike, Katy, Yousef, Ingrida, Marianna, Hong, Xiao Yun, Njubi, Cristian, and Sasha. We came from 10 different countries to spend a year in the International Peace Studies Program and. We were leaving citizens of 12 different countries, because the Soviet Union broke up within the first couple of weeks of our stay. Yesterday, some of the same people were leaving Providence after our 20 year reunion.

Surprising to me was how easily we could start where we left off, as if the 20 years were just a dream. We could skip the small talk and go straight to what is important – our children, families, truth, justice, faith, love, life, peace. People become friends when they share some history together. Friendship is literally a stock of stories held in common property. We struggle, work, learn together, make errors and fix them. Each scar on one’s psyche matches to other people’s scars. This makes us close.

And we had a plenty of scars that year; some from pain some from joy; after time passes they are the same. A human life does not have even density; some periods are much more significant than others. Well, that year was certainly very dense. With the exception of two Americans, we all were new to this country. All of us were new to graduate school. We built a community, got on each other’s nerves, argued endlessly and threw great parties. People fell in love and broke each other’s hearts, except for just a couple of us whose hearts already belonged to someone else. To balance that out, I spoke almost no English, and wrestled with the language more than anyone else. The frustration of speechlessness was perhaps the best learning experience that happened to me. I recommend it to everyone.

We remembered very few readings and classes, but we did remember the relational side of things – who were close, who had a crush on whom, and who did not get along and why. It made me think of a silly theory popular just two decades ago – that our brains have this tremendous reserve capacity we can tap and use. The theory was inspired by savants who able to crunch big numbers in their heads. However, it is because they do not have to use their brains for the high calculus of human relationships. Most people’s brains, however, work at full capacity to just keep track of other people in their lives. It probably takes up most of our brain power, because it has always been so critical to our survival. We live in the world crowded by humans, and little space allotted for everything else – from stars to algebra to big ideas.

As we become individuals of “certain age,” our lives’ narratives gradually appear out of the fog of forgetfulness and the confines of confusion. One does need friends to make some sense of it all, and I am just grateful to have many. It was a very good weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful words, wonderful memories -- your use of English now puts us native speakers to shame, Shasha! Hard to believe it was ever a struggle -- but I remember both the language and culture adjustments.... I love the reminder that relationships are at the core of our memories and our true learning.