The Paradox of Returning

“I finally understand the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Theresa

This is the hardest it has ever been for me to board a plane. I usually run towards the metal bird, eager to begin my journey, but this time my feet drag, slowed by the tear my heart furthered with every step… Step. Remember the bustling souq. Step. Remember the warmth of the hugs from Mom and Dad and Bubba. Step. Remember the depth of the conversations I had here. Step. Remember the laughter of friends in the States. Step. Remember the spontaneity of life in the Middle East. Step. Remember the joys of going to school at Calvin. Step. Remember the amazing smells of spices, incense, and perfumes. Step. Remember vegetables? Step. Remember the sheer class of the abaya and dishdasha. Step. Remember the comfort of jeans. Step. Remember the ways this place helped you grow. Step. Remember that learning is not limited to places or spaces; now it’s your turn to share what you learned with others. Step.

As I inch towards the plane, the pain of impending separation reminds me of Mother Theresa’s paradox. I have grown to love this place and these people to such a depth that it actually hurts, but that only makes room for more love. I don’t know how people can live with such overwhelming emotions, the longing to see my family and friends that contradicts and mixes with the sorrow that surrounds leaving this place and these people. I am not ready to see western clothes or hear my native tongue spoken around me. I am not ready to leave the dream I have been living these last four months. And yet, I can’t imagine not feeling this moment so deeply. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So here I am, staring at my seat, knowing I must go. I gently lower myself onto the brown recliner, aware that I might fall apart if I move too rapidly. Stiff Latin letters printed on the seat in front of me catch my attention. I am annoyed by them, despite their familiarity, and I find myself desperately searching for the connected script I have come to understand and love, but to no avail. I knew this was coming. I won’t find it in the States either. The engine revs. My throat tightens. It’s hard to breathe. I am thankful that I have the row to myself as moisture fills my eyes, blurring the lights outside. I feel the nose of the plane tip towards the dark sky cueing the release of everything I worked to keep inside. Tears stream down my face as I look out the window, committing to memory every curve and contour of the place I’ve called home for the last semester. It feels like a poetic movie moment and simultaneously entirely too real. Despite being thousands of feet in the air and the darkness of the night, I know the exact places we are flying over and somewhere deep in my being I also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my time here is not done.

**30 hours later**

I am jostled awake by our tires bouncing onto US territory. A lump instantly forms in my throat. I’m happy to be back, I remind myself, but I also ache for Oman, the Middle East, the people I have come to know and love there, the place that gave me so much peace. I didn’t know it then, but I would grow accustomed to this ache as I returned to life here. I would also grow thankful for it, for the constant reminder of the importance of what I learned in Oman and keeping the people I met in mind. It reminds me of the connectedness of creation and our call to be agents of renewal.

What does that mean? What does being an “agent of renewal” look like? For me, being an agent of renewal looks like love. Specifically, love like that which Mother Theresa described– love that deepens until it hurts, and then deepens even more. When you love people, it gives you an open and curious mind, and a gracious heart. Together, these create the space for you to recognize the humanity of others, see them as equal, a friend, a brother or sister. It creates the space for them to be human, to make mistakes, to teach you something. It removes us from the pedestal on which we like to place ourselves. It creates the space for understanding. Be warned though, this is not to be done lightly. Loving people– truly loving them– also creates the space for your heart to be broken. It gives faces to those in war-torn areas, those without access to clean water or food or shelter, the refugee, the misunderstood, the misrepresented. It creates spaces for pain and despair and hurt. But, as it does so, it gives us hope. Hope that there can be redemption and hope that we can have a part in it– as small as it may be.

Here’s my challenge for you. What is your role in the story of humanity? How are you bringing hope and redemption to our world? What, or who, do you love to such depth that it hurts? How are you allowing yourself to be broken?

I don’t think I will ever fully return from my time in Oman. I won’t be the same. I’ve been changed in such powerful ways, challenged to think about what matters and find my role in its redemption. So here’s my paradox: I’m not sure we ever really return from a place that so deeply changes us. But then again, why would we want to?

Salaam.

Holy Father, we are blessed to live in a time where it is so easy to see and experience new places and cultures. Thank you for these opportunities and adventurous spirits like Anna who follow your calling. Help us to be agents of renewals in our communities and wherever we may go. Amen.


Anna Henson was a Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) intern in Fall 2019. In Spring 2019, Anna studied abroad in Oman. You can learn more about Anna here.