Niru zasaalu’ guirá’ shisha neza guidxilayú ti ganda guidxelu’ lii
“You will wander all the roads of this world before you can find yourself”
I was raised in a Third World country. Among urban and Indigenous rural communities. Among socialist Latin Americans. Among liberation theology followers. Among Zapotec matriarchs.
Giving and offering to others was defined as the essence of relationship-building in my community.
I was always shown that where one can eat, ten more can be fed. We will not let you go hungry, unless we are hungry with you. I was also taught that one must eat what one is served when visiting others. It is a matter of respect. Many Indigenous communities, regardless of how rich or poor they may be, will give you the best they have because you are their guest, and one acts in reciprocity by accepting the gift. To this date, and even as a non-pork eating Muslim, I eat pork if it is offered to me.
As a child, my selfishness was shut down when I was forced to give and share to/with others not as charity, but as a responsibility to my community. Later on, I quickly learned that giving was a form of relationship that lasted a life-time. As a teenager, it was ingrained in me that unless I provided service to a community, I had no right to express opinions about the way things were done.
I was also taught that there are many ways to do service; it is not only about the teaching and the work on the ground. One performs service by listening and learning, as well. And although, urban Mexican society has adopted Western notions of individuality to a large degree, I was always told that I am nothing without community, Indigenous and otherwise.
I was raised very differently from some of the people I know in Canada. Often times there is a disconnect between their sense of individuality and agency, and the way I grew up thinking about these things.
I learned to think about individuality from an early age. My secular upbringing required it. But I became very aware of the fact that my individuality could only work in relation to the collective. I am an individual in so far as I can answer, “What can I offer you?” and “How can I help you?” My agency is meant to be a two way street between my individuality and my relationships with others.
Many Westerners make of this a relationship of power (colonization, anyone?); and when misused, it can be. However, service, reciprocity and collectivity are at the heart of many Indigenous and Third World upbringings. More importantly as we struggle to embody these characteristics we learn a number of things about ourselves.
I had not stopped to think about what he “offered me” in the relationship, until he told me he felt he had “nothing to offer.” After listening to that, the phrase felt almost dirty, as if it entailed some kind of payment… some kind of capitalist-bureaucratic arrangement, something that made me irk.
Before meeting him, I had a long list of things I thought I wanted in a partner. This was my attempt to somehow explain the really bad dating experiences I was having. But what I realized when I met him, is that the key to the type of love I strive for, radical love, is less about the others, and more about what I have to offer to them.
Of course relationships should be reciprocal in some way. What that looks like is very different from one relationship to the next. Further, I am very well aware that love- those happy-fluffy feelings- are not enough in a relationship. These feelings have to be backed up with something more than idealistic shots of endorphins.
In this case, his presence awakens a sense of community, and therefore one of giving, in me. It also evokes feelings of accountability and responsibility. It makes me think about all the ways in which I can reciprocate the help and guidance I have gotten along the way, and about the things I have yet to navigate going forward. His company also inspires commitment to things larger than the individual circumstances under which we meet. And it makes me think about the larger context in which my actions have consequences.
He does not know it, perhaps he would not even believe it, but those are incredible gifts for someone trying to reconcile identities, experiences, journeys and relationships.
The last time I saw him I kept giggling. There was nothing funny. In fact, it was one of those meetings where we had to sort out some of the very complicated feelings, which continues to be a work in progress. But the giggling resulted from my lack of words in that moment… my inability to explain…
I wanted to say that I am not only here, in this mayhem, as some kind of a partner; but above all, as a friend.
That I am accountable to him because I hold him close to my heart.
That the things that I can offer, and that he may be willing to take, are not charity or goodwill. They are my way of reciprocating to everyone who has helped me put the pieces back together.
That I have taken from him several pieces, which he has unknowingly offered me, to make sense of my own journey.
That agency, in my view, rests in the willingness to accept the things and opportunities that are put in front of you.
That relationships are about giving when you can give and taking when is necessary.
That help is not a burden, but a matter of community-building.
And that the journey of radical love is not to be walked alone, but with spiritual partners…
Instead, I held his hand hoping he would somehow get the message. And that he would understand those words, let them sink in. I hope that even if he did not, he will reach the point where he will be at peace with giving and receiving love… with letting go and being comfortable with the journey of giving and taking pieces of the puzzle.