Ever since I decided to stay in Colombia for three more years, my life here has felt different and has taken on a permeance that I was not expecting, even as my visa remains in question. I made the choice to live here with eyes wide open to the reality of this place, in a way that I could never have done when I first arrived. Therefore, I find myself falling more and more in love with this country, especially because every moment could be my last moment. But with that growing love, comes increasing despair because I am more impacted by what happens in this place I have chosen to be my home.
Sometimes, I find it difficult to have hope. It is hard to no longer be on the coast, to simply not be present with the people I care about in their suffering and pain. It is hard to receive emails every hour documenting death and human rights violations around the country. Last Monday was the International Day to Stop Violence against Women; the first step is recognizing all the violence that exists, which is overwhelming. Conflict seems real to me in a way that it never was before as I now recognize its hidden face within the normality of daily life.
I continue to make the choice to remain here, recognizing that I have the privilege to do so in a way that millions do not, yet how do I remain active and engaged, without falling into cynicism or complete despair?
I recieved a small clue in some of the joy and hope I experienced this weekend, when I went on a spontaneous trip to Villa de Leyva with a couple of friends from the Coast. None of us had ever been to the colonial town in the heart of Boyaca before and it was beautiful to watch my Colombian friends exploring their own country and their desire to experience every part of it. We did everything possible in 30 hours, including renting bikes, visiting two wineries, hiking around a lake, eating ajiaco, wandering the streets, exploring a mud house and much more. I had forgotten about the laugher that Costeños always bring with them everywhere they go and how much fun it is explore and just be without having to figure out all of life.
It was good to be out of the city, yet remain within this place, to remember that to limit people to only being victims and a country to only being in conflict is to perpetuate victimization and violence. We are all so much more complicated than that. Hope lies in the simple yet profound wonder of new vistas. It lies in the sheer joy of being and remembering that not everything is horror and sadness, and that to dwell only in the darkness is to do an injustice to this place and these people, with their determination to live their lives to the fullest.
Advent is a time of memory and waiting, not of mourning, but of hope. To my surprise, I ended up celebrating Mass on Sunday in a beautiful church in Villa de Leyva. The altar was decorated in a bright royal purple to mark the Advent season and I was struck by the power inherent in ritual, like a church calendar, to help us move through the seasons of life with a sense of cyclical hope. Each year, we encounter wonder as we participate in its creation; each year is a new chance to live out hope in all of the complexities and sadness of the suffering and celebrating world we call home.
In an interview in Guernica magazine, Terry Tempest Williams says the most startling, true thing: “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” This is an active, creative role. Over the last two years, I rediscovered my need for beautiful things in the midst of all of the ugly, but I cannot simply wait for beauty to arrive at my doorstep. If I truly want more beauty around me, I must participate in the ritual of creating and living out the world I desire. For me, this includes poetry, photography, good food, laughter, work, fresh flowers and the celebration of all of the messiness of life with those around me.