“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I’m writing this halfway through my week at D.A.R. (Debriefing and Renewal), a retreat sponsored by Mission Training International in Colorado Springs. It’s been a fantastic experience; I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone making this sort of transition back. (Or forward, whatever you want to call it.)
There is something deeply affirming in the opportunity to share your story with others who have “been there” and can relate to various stresses of cross-cultural living – the relentless discomfort of being different, the vague uncertainty of political unrest, the ground-note of fear following a natural disaster. These are people who have lived it firsthand. They know that feeling of anger tightening in their chest over injustice and abuse run rampant. They have wept over the ravaging effects of poverty, disease and death that grievously burden our neighbors and friends.
These are folks who can also laugh with you over the adventure of “daily life” throughout most of the world – bathroom creepie-crawlies; air pollution; deafening truck horns; language foibles. An unscheduled electricity black-out when dinner is still only halfway cooked. Or the discovery of furry green mildew – yes, this really happened – transforming your shoes into a pair of creatures that could possibly walk out the door on their own.
As I reflect on these memories, there’s an enormous feeling of gratitude. I now enjoy the gift of reliable electricity and hot running water at the turn of every tap in the house. My clothes always smell freshly laundered. And I am perfectly, effortlessly understood by any customer service rep at the end of an 800-number. I’ve had a chance to reconnect with many family and friends, and have plans to see more dear ones in the coming weeks.
Yet at the same time – at exactly the same time – there is also a longing within me to return to my life in Nepal. I miss the simplicity of patient encounters – but not the overwhelming numbers. I miss the joys of living alongside amazing people that you looked up to as mentors, and loved as friends – but not the burden of being constantly different, forever an outsider to the Nepali culture. Mostly, I miss the singleness of vision that exists when you live and work, serve and worship within a community whose sights are set on the beauty of a world that Christ is presently healing – but not the frustrations and heartache that can so easily cloud that vision.
In short, I loved – and very much struggled with – the intense, demanding pace of work and life that is the reality at rural mission hospitals like Tansen.
One of many powerful insights from this week came on Day One: the encouragement to “talk in paradox.” According to Webster, a paradox is “a statement or proposition seemingly self-contradictory or absurd, and yet expressing a truth.” If paradox is at the heart of cross-cultural living, it’s also the achilles heel of re-entry, complicating an already confusing panoply of emotion and memory.
Enter: A PairOfDucks (get it? Paradox?). Two yellow rubber duckies, aptly named Yay Duck and Yuck Duck. The kid’s team at DAR uses this fantastic (and oh so clever!) model to help children process the paradox of loving and loathing the very same places in the transition between two starkly different worlds.
Here’s how one missionary couple describes this PairOfDucks:
During our time at MTI, we learned about some ducks. The first duck was clean and happy with a permanent smile on his face. His name was Yay Duck, and he loved life and all it had to offer. He couldn’t help but see the bright side of things, and he enjoyed pointing them out. The second duck was dirty, sad, and altogether depressing. His name was Yuck Duck, and for the life of him, he couldn’t find one thing to be happy about. Both ducks were content where they were, and sometimes they had a hard time understanding the other.
When Yay Duck was having a great day, which honestly was every day, Yuck Duck couldn’t stand being around him. And when Yuck Duck was having a particularly disgusting day, Yay Duck would spend hours trying to pull him out of the sad pit he was living in. Neither duck could understand why the other one was the way he was, and it was starting to affect their friendship.
One day, Yuck Duck fell in a mud puddle for the third time, and instead of pointing out that at least it wasn’t the fourth time, Yay Duck simply said, “I’m sorry. That’s no fun.” Suddenly, Yuck Duck felt heard, understood, and cared about. Yay Duck didn’t need to try to make him happy, he just needed to meet him where he was. And when Yay Duck had something to celebrate, Yuck Duck didn’t need to point out the fact that pretty soon something was going to crush it. He just needed to celebrate with Yay Duck.
See, we live in a constant paradox, or “pair-of-ducks.” There is always something imperfect, and always something to rejoice in. We can feel happy and sad simultaneously. We can feel scared and excited. And it’s ok.
From Kimballs In Kenya, Dec 2014
If this is true of life in general, I’m finding it far moreso as I reflect back on my two years in Nepal, an experience of life lived out in the constant tension of deep joy and overwhelming grief.
Plenty of areas where Yay Duck and Yuck Duck clamor to have their say.