The moment of arrival. You have been anticipating this moment for so long–when all your wondering and dreaming and uncertainty about what is to come finally gives way to your actual arrival in this place. When you are no longer anticipating, but actually here, now.
You walk through the gate and feel yourself enveloped in warm embraces (kisses too, for this is Argentina). Someone takes your bags, asks about your trip: “how you are feeling?” You hear someone else exclaim: “how happy we are you are here!” And then you are on your way.
The moment passes that quickly. Soon, you will walk across the threshold of your new home. You will meet the other students and the community coordinator with whom you will share your home. Soon you will begin, little by little, entering into your new life in Córdoba, Argentina. Soon. But not quite yet. You are still feeling the preciousness of this moment, a moment that will not come again: the sense of the relief at finally being underway (you are really here!), no longer anticipating, but embarking for real on this new adventure, beginning to open yourself to all that is to come.
This week we welcomed seven new students to begin their time in LMU’s Casa de la Mateada program in Córdoba. Their excitement was palpable as we met them at the airport (as was ours at finally meeting them). It somehow managed to transcend even the fatigue of twenty plus hours of travel, and perhaps soften some of the lingering sadness at having left family and friends and a life that they knew and recognized behind, for. . . what? Well, that is one of the questions that has already come tumbling out during the first couple of weeks: why exactly am I here? And where ishere anyway? (the ‘idea’ or image of Argentina is quickly being replaced by the actual, concrete, and immensely complex reality) Also, how will it feel being so far from home living in a place I hardly know? And, is it always this blasted hot here (students arrived to temperatures well above 100 degrees, the famous Córdoba summer)? Will I be able to understand and express myself in that utterly distinctive Spanish (Castellano) spoken here in Argentina? What will it feel like living in a tight-knit community of students for the next four and a half months? Will I get to know the ‘real Argentina,’–its beauty, its complexities, its challenges? And so forth.
So many questions. And none of them fully answerable. Not yet anyway.
There is in this arrival a sense of all that has been left behind, as well as all that is still unknown, still unfolding, still to come. A sense of being, for the moment anyway, in a liminal, fluid space–between worlds. Not an easy place to be; but a place and a moment charged with possibilities.
This is also true for those of us (directors and community coordinators) who have been here since last July, who have been working steadily to create a space and a program where students can thrive and grow; where they can learn to risk themselves and practice the fine and subtle art of accompaniment. We are also between worlds, so conscious of all we have lived through during these past months with the first cohort of students (a remarkable, brave and creative group, whom we grew to respect and love). We carry within us such a strong memory of how generously they poured themselves into their work, how vulnerable they allowed themselves to become in the face of all they encountered here, how much they grew and changed. Also, how hard it was for them to leave. Leaving the country, yes. But even more so, having to say goodbye to one another (was there anything of themselves that they did not share these past four months?), and to their new Argentine friends from the praxis sites with whom they had developed such deep bonds of love and affection. A painful departure, made more so by the uncertainty of whether they would ever return.
This too is part of the experience of students who enter this program: gradually waking up to the realization of the “once only” character of their lives here in Córdoba. “No one steps in the same river twice” observed Heraclitus. The river keeps on flowing. You can step in this river only once. That is true of every moment of our lives; there is only the singular, utterly unrepeatable present moment. Yet, somehow the experience of stepping out of your life and entering into a life and world so different from anything you have ever known (which happens to all of us here) heightens your awareness of this fact. This can and sometimes does leave you feeling startled, aware that the usual categories for constructing your identity no longer hold in the same way they once did. Who am I in this place? What has become of all my familiar points of reference—social, cultural, interpersonal; or the identity to which I have become so accustomed? My very self? These are just some of the questions that emerge as you enter into the life of a place not your own. Not the easiest questions to face or respond to, but good and important nevertheless. And potentially a means of opening yourself more fully to the world and to yourself.
Somehow, mysteriously, all of us—those who have come before and those who have just arrived, those from the U.S. and those who call Argentina home–are bound together in this common work. We are learning together how to open ourselves to and stand with those whom we encounter, those who inhabit a world so different from our own and yet with whom we also begin to see we share so much in common. And we are being challenged to learn how to fold our disparate worlds together into some kind of a whole. Feeling the depth of the bonds that connect us to our families and friends back home, even as we open ourselves to the new, still emerging relationships we are forming here. Seeing the well-established sensibilities formed by our life in the United States in being recast in response to the rich, new and still-strange personal and cultural sensibilities of this place. Feeling how entering into a new and different social, economic and political reality can help us see with new eyes our place in the world and the complex reality of life in our country.
In the weeks and months ahead we will do our best to represent these complex realities by featuring stories and images of our program as it is unfolding in the present moment, and with stories and images from our alums who have made the journey home. The life of this program cannot be confined to what happens here in Argentina, after all. It begins here. But its power and significance continue to be felt long afterwards, in ways that we and our students and our friends in Argentina are still discovering, and will continue to discover in the months and years ahead.
Still, all that discovery is rooted in what unfolds in particular moments–as when a new friendship begins to take hold; or when you encounter suffering which you can neither make sense of nor distance yourself from; or when some new awareness about your self and your place in the world and how you want to live gradually dawns in your mind.
Such moments are precious and unrepeatable. They are worthy of all the care and attention we can give to them. We are here, after all, once only.