The healing power of community (and other irritating things I learnt on my recent vacation)


My partner and I (and our little one growing in her belly) recently returned from a vacation where we got to spend some quality time with our community of loved ones in the American Midwest (mostly Minneapolis and Iowa), strengthening the bonds of love we share with them, while simultaneously growing fonder of our community of loved ones in Toronto and Bangalore, thereby strengthening those bonds as well.

I’d like to say we had fun doing all that bond-strengthening while on vacation, but I’d be lying if I did.

(Trust me when I say that there was enough bond-strengthening to puke your ever-loving guts out.)

Nevertheless, the vacation did confirm that we were in the rather enviable position of having a transnational family across three countries, while unenviably having to navigate a few more immigration hurdles in each of the three. Not to mention colonial, patriarchal and/or neo-fascist societies as well.

(The quest to build a community of loved ones across international borders is nothing if not served with the occasional dollop of gut wrenching lunacy.)

Our transnational family is one that keeps growing and changing with a love that is neither perfect nor utopian but grounded in an honest reality. An honest reality that has no choice but to take on and engage with occasional moments of awkwardness and oppression.

Then again, it would be naive to imagine real love being fostered solely through fun and joy.

Human beings aren’t that cool yet.

Animals are. But humans aren’t.

For us humans, there are times when love has to be fostered via the painful fight against religious fundamentalism, crazy nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, and teeth-pulling patriarchy.

(Or whatever the hell satisfies the nihilist gene in our species.)

Because if we want to really be honest with ourselves, there are times when our loved ones drive us up the fucking wall.

I’m sure I’m on them.

But I suppose it’s ok, because it’s where real healing, and thereby real love, can truly take place.

It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s also worth it.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So I guess what I’m trying to do here is explore the healing power of community – in all its glorious imperfections and occasional crappiness – while reminiscing about the semi-shitty, semi-lovely vacation we had wading through insecure, Midwestern whiteness.

The vacation began with a major rubikon crossed in the relationship with my younger-brother-cum-fellow-idiot-whom-I-nevertheless-love-to-hell-and-back.

(He’s not white or from the Midwest, in case you were wondering. But it still makes for a rather nice, if somewhat sentimental, start to this brief story.)

He and I had a delicious blow up aided by much painfully emotional hand-wringing, eventually ending in the realization that our love was fostered via the mutual strengths of man-childish immaturity, occasional insecurity, as well as the pure, dumb luck to have found far superior human beings as life partners.

(That, plus we both cuddle-torture our cats.)

So, that was the maudlin, Tamil Melodrama-type, start to the vacation, just before we departed Toronto.

Following that we landed in the land of Midwest Nice and Privileged White Timidity.

Why, you ask oh so patronizingly, must we take such a vacation if we know that to be the case, and then have the gall to complain in such cynical ways about it?

Why couldn’t we have gone to the Caribbean, now that I have the glorious settler-colonial, visa-free travel document that is the Canadian Passport?

Why, indeed.

Well, we have people we love to hell and back in those painfully insecure white societies.

Like really love them with all our heart and soul.

And let me tell you, it’s not easy loving people who benefit from something that oppresses you.

(Just ask any woman who’s ever loved a man.)

But the vacation wasn’t all bad.

One thing I learnt is that beatific, God-fearing, and likely well-meaning middle class white folk have carved out some amazingly beautiful spaces for themselves.

For instance, compare the place that I grew up in to the one Sus grew up in.

Bangalore is, generously put, equal parts shithole, equal parts moderately tolerable city. I say this out of a great deal of love for my childhood city.

And it’s with love that I say that Bangalore is getting shittier by the day. The price of capitalism in the erstwhile Third World is that the poverty caused by all that bling bling cannot be hidden. It’s very honest, in-your-face, pollution, chaos, and inequality.

But Charles City (no kidding, that’s the name of the town), the very much First World small town that my warrior-goddess of a partner grew up in, is absolutely lovely, with a pristine river, oxygen-rich air, and wide, green spaces that smell like fragrant pine cones.

And it’s not just the small towns.

Minneapolis, the second-largest Midwestern city, and also the one where I was fortunate enough to meet Sus during my ill-fated adventure in the wastelands of elitist academia, is absolutely gorgeous with hundreds of beautiful lakes and the breathtaking Mississippi River.

Even Des Moines had some tracts of beauty. Aided of course by four awesome souls who welcomed us into their hearts.

Ultimately – beautiful green spaces and majoritarian nervousness apart – the vacation had us building community, dealing with the odd irritating week or two, making new friends, and becoming soulmates with three dogs:

Crystal – the majestically depressed Alaskan husky…

Bailey –  the slightly hyper-anxious, adolescent-in-years-but-puppy-in-spirit black Lab/Husky mix, and…

Missy – the ageing, cocker-spaniel-resembling one, with a permanent cold, hailing from a breed meant for sitting on elite people’s feet to warm them up.

(I wish I was joking.)

The vacation ended with social meals and laughter in Minneapolis as well as back home in Toronto, spending many happy hours hours incessantly discussing – and likely irritating our friends and loved ones with – baby prep plans.

All in all, I’d say it was a win.

But I vouch for a Third World vacation next time.