‘Are you leaving home or going home?’ This is my favorite question to start a conversation with a stranger while traveling. This summer began with travel from El Paso to New England, in which my response was ‘both, happily, both.’
The Outward Bound training on a 30-foot frigid, wet-pulling boat on the Maine coast was in every way different from the desert. We slept on the deck through chilly nights in the 30s, navigated through rain and fog, and measured the day by the number of hot drinks we made while under sail. The first hot drink always followed our morning Atlantic dip. It was nevertheless a total joy to be consumed by the tasks of the crew, for my frame of focus to be whittled down to one little rocking boat.
What we have the opportunity to do in outdoor education, with our limited givens, is to build, for a week or three weeks, The World We Want to Live In. My training in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for instructors on the sailboat focused on seeing our teaching as the building of that world. When students go home, they know that some small part of The World We Want to Live In is possible, because they saw it happen.
Being at the shoreline felt familiar, the way that the tide pulls back and lays out in the open the habitat of overlapping. Like moving to El Paso, when people asked why I went to live at the edge of the sea. They said isn’t it loud? Isn’t there a constant crashing? What is it like, they asked, to live constantly on the edge, constantly on the edge of the sea?
Returning to Cambridge, I met with the 8th graders at the Amigos School who I had corresponded with through video segments from El Paso. This summer has been an interweaving of the border with other places. I visited North Carolina for a beautiful friend’s wedding and shared a meal with Erica and her daughters, a family from Guatemala who I met in the shelter in El Paso who had just arrived to Durham!
On the first night of the first Outward Bound expedition I led this summer, we asked ‘Why are you here?’ One student said, ‘When you do the same thing all the time, it starts to feel like it’s not real. I want my life to feel real.’
Outward Bound is an experience of doing something hard. This summer I found myself recognizing so many internalized ideas from an extractive culture about what it means to be ‘working hard’ or ‘doing something hard.’ Those narratives say that we know we’re pushing ourselves the hardest if there’s pain, isolation, exhaustion. My interest in teaching this first course was a challenge, but of a different kind. What does it look like to be challenged by encounters of love, belonging? To have an experience which demands such reorganization of what you thought was possible because of the magnitude of interdependence you encountered?
The second Outward Bound course I taught was thrilling in most explicitly engaging with a Borderlands curriculum. One of our constant themes was ‘how do we do what is right even when it is hard?’ Doing what we believe to be right we came to see as a skill that we could get better at, rather than a distinguishing factor between ‘good people’ and ‘bad people.’ We talked about instances when we saw something that wasn’t right and we didn’t do anything about it. “Why?” we asked. The patterns the students came up with were 1) we didn’t think it was our place, 2) we didn’t know what to do, 3) we didn’t want to become the victim.
In the woods, I opened mail from friends I had met at the El Paso detention center-- a teenager who has since been deported back to Nicaragua, a trans woman who wrote to tell me she was granted asylum and was moving to California, and a Guatemalan father who was still in detention waiting to be reunited with his daughter who had been taken from him. We have not been getting as many visitation requests recently and it seems that the facilities are being emptied out for the purpose of detaining folks from the interior with expedited removal.
I am spending these last weeks collecting the good medicine to bring back with me from the northern border to the southern border-- blueberries and raspberries, lemon balm and wintergreen and yarrow and goldenrod, maple, cold nights in wool sweaters and wide expanses of water.