I am home for the holidays. After half a year away from my family, I am binging on their proximity. All in the same house for a few days, we hug and sing and play silly word games; we cook together and go on long drives and have those meaningful conversations that slip out only when you’re distracted by something else.
I know not everyone has been able to see loved ones this year, and I’m grateful for everyone who made the hard but loving choices to wait until things are safer. Chat and video calls and virtual games are a wonderful stopgap while we wait, but I know we are all waiting until the days that we can be close to each other again.
On New Year’s Eve I usually think about the year ahead and who I want to be in it, the habits I want to change or introduce, the places I want to go. The turn of this year feels too fragile for plans. As I look ahead to 2021, I think not as much about what I want to fill my life with, but who. As I round out my life again, who do I want my body to share space with? Where will I choose to walk or learn or worship or eat or shop or rest?
When I lived in Honduras, it shocked me how easy it was for the rich and the poor to live parallel lives that never intersected. The rich lived in different communities, shopped in different markets, went to separate hospitals, different restaurants, different churches. My teacher friends talked about their students, grandchildren of millionaires or former presidents, who had never been to their own city’s downtown, who didn’t know anyone poor who wasn’t a maid or a driver.
I came back to the United States with new eyes and saw, of course, that it is no different here. I volunteer with a collective that delivers food to immigrant families. I do nothing more than call people to see if they’ll be home for a delivery, but as I verify addresses just blocks from my own, I’m gripped by the ignorance that comes from privilege. Children without food, babies without diapers in apartments that I walk past regularly, arms weighed down with Trader Joe’s.
Right before everything shut down, I invited a friend over from the English class where I tutored. I taught her to bake chocolate chip cookies and she taught me to make the fluffy flour tortillas for baleadas. As we ate, she asked me how I reconcile the pride flag we have hanging on the front of our house and the cross I have hanging on my wall. We talked about Honduras, where she is from, and the complicated mix of love and fear she has for the country. When she left, she told me that she had lived here for four years and mine was the first American house she had ever been invited to.
My resolution for 2021 is to find ways to be close again to people like her. I want to fill my life back up not with charity, but with relationships of the sort I have with my family or my closest friends: mutual, non-instrumental. Something I know in the abstract, if not always practice—it’s not enough to know people who are poor or oppressed, though that’s an important place to start. In order to be part of any meaningful change, I need to like them, I need to trust them enough to follow their lead.
It may still be many months before we can gather again. We have a rare opportunity now to hold space in our lives for the messy, joyful work of building relationships and prioritizing proximity to people around us whose circumstances are different.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).