I have sponsored a woman through women for women international for a bunch of years. If you don't know this organization, please check them out. They do beautiful work in this world. In a nutshell, they work in countries destroyed by war, violence, and natural disasters, teaching women business skills, building community support, and educating women on their rights. Women are in the program for one year. Part of the program is a pen-pal correspondence thing - you and your sponsored sister can write letters to each other. I have never written. In almost 10 years of sponsoring - not a word. Oh, I tried. In the beginning, especially. But I always felt awkward, even embarassed about my relative priviledge and ease-of-life. Seriously - you are out there, with half your family killed by some other half of your family, and you live in a tent city with no sense of what or where you will be next. What on earth can I possibly say?
So I didn't. For the most part, none of them wrote to me. But yesterday, I got a letter from my newest "sister." She says: "I am hoping to hear you are well. My children are ill; they are ages 11 months to 8 years. And I am sorry to say my husband was killed here when the fuel tank truck caught fire."
I am sobbing in the post office, holding her letter, knowing that I do now have something to say.
And I have spent the morning going through photos for the next collage, and crying more. So much beauty, so much love, to be swimming around in (shoot - even I can't avoid water language). So much pain in knowing what is gone. Part is mine, and part is hers, all swirling around. My relationship with imagery is so intensely changed. I am realizing that now.
Other peoples' pain has always been my territory. An odd comment, I guess, but as a therapist and a writer and a teacher, it is just what's true. So now it's my pain, it's my territory, and it's your territory, and here we are all here together. And so, two letters today ~ one to boo, about her collage, about images and intimacy, and one to Maombi: Hello. I never used to know what to say.
ps - I have just looked up her home area to see what incident she is referring to. Her husband died July 2nd, 2010. She is coming on a year, as I am coming on to 2. It was an accident that killed many people. I had no idea when I wrote my letter; I just knew he died. I don't know if that would change what I wrote.