The Savior Complex

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone it must seek the ether.” –Khalil Gibran

 

If I had my way, I would be a bird. I would fly from place to place and peep in on other people’s realities, never getting too attached or involved. I would skim the surface of life, laughing at my reflection in oceans and dancing on telephone wires. As a traveler, all I have truly ever wanted is to sit in tiny rooms with friends and drink in laughter between paper thin walls, sweet, steamy chai wafting through our noses and thick, melodious languages dripping from our tongues. But I’m not a bird, and I’m not a wallflower. I exist; people notice me.

I hate that people notice me. Sometimes I wish I could just keep the inspirational experiences in my heart and leave the embarrassing ones behind. I wish I could help people when I want to help rescue them and not when I feel obligated to do so. There comes a point when one can feel so emptied that we cannot seem to be filled. Perhaps this is because “help” has turned into “rescue.”

The world doesn’t give us a break. We can’t decide when people need our help, and we can’t really decide when we need another’s help. But not asking for help when we are drowning doesn’t make sense. Yet how do we move on from a rescue?

No man is an island. But for those of us who have grown up privileged, it’s easy to think that we have some God-given power to help others because of our circumstances, because we’ve been told to go out into the world and make it better. But change isn’t a power, it’s a responsibility, and a very precarious one. If you’re not aware of your own impact, you can do more harm then good.

Reflecting on my time in Thailand, I think I felt a lot of pressure to live up this image of a rescuer that, at the time, I was not aware I had. Being part of a faith community, learning about the plight of refugees, I became very involved with the idea of saving others. I didn’t see it as anything problematic, but I wasn’t just a witness. I was an actor and people noticed me and started assuming things about me that I wasn’t aware of because I was not fully present. I was in my own head. 

I grew up in my head. I dreamed away my reality with visions of waterfalls, open fields, and a sense of life with a purpose. I am learning how to live a life with purpose, but a lot of this has been painful. I think that’s the point. The hardest part about wanting to rescue someone is needing to save them from pain. Sometimes this is absolutely vital; sometimes it isn’t. I don’t know where that line is and I never want to make that decision but I know that I will. Life is tough like that. I have a tendency to remember only the good things and forget the times I failed. But at the same time, failure can be life’s greatest teacher, even if it means giving up and moving home. A friend of mine asked me, “What do you want to learn from this?” I think that’s a great start.

I’ve failed a lot in my life, which is how I know I’m not a savior. I believe there is only one Savior. But even if you don’t, as travelers, teachers, explorers, we have to start acknowledging our own impact. We are not wallflowers and we are not birds. We might be called on to rescue someone, but we need to examine our motivations as well as our plans. Does this person need help? If so, what does that need to look like?

Never stop asking questions.

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Inle Lake, Myanmar: 2015

The Traveler and the Wanderer

“All that glitters is not gold. Not all those who wander are lost.”

As a child I recounted these words to myself laying in bed at night, dreaming about climbing mountains and going on big adventures. Most of the time I went on adventure in my head, through the pages of my favorite books. I climbed Mount Doom with Frodo, went to Hogwarts with Harry Potter and rode through Balinor with Ari and her faithful steed. I dreamed of big adventure, but never had the courage to step beyond my own backyard.

Some things may have changed since then, but my propensity towards romanticizing other lands has not. Before coming to Thailand, I had visions dancing through my mind of endless rice fields and pristine white beaches and elephants bathing in the jungle. I know these things to exist in Thailand; I haven’t seen them yet.

I’m beginning to realize there are very big differences between traveling and living abroad. For the next calendar year, my life falls into the latter category. I bought a one way ticket, and I checked suitcases. I spent nearly four hundred dollars on home goods and groceries. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

But the linchpin about working abroad is that you are in fact working. You have a schedule, bosses, meetings, homework. I’m not alone and I’m not on my own. And I’m definitely not living in the jungle. In fact, Thailand–specifically Bangkok and environs–seem to be the most built up, sprawling city I’ve ever seen. I have never seen so many malls in so few square miles. And they are massive.

How then can I reconcile my innate longing to find peace outside my own country with my current status? I feel suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of noise and smog and very strong air conditioning. Relaxed though it may be in spirit, Bangkok is definitely not peaceful.



The colorful, chaotic, never ending traffic of Bangkok

I came with the express purpose of learning everything I could about teaching English as a foreign language. But now that I’m here, my wanderlust is growing strong again. I want to explore.




Sleeping kitty in Wat Pho 

I must tell myself I have plenty of time, but there seems to be never enough when one is travelling. But am I still travelling? Regardless of labels, I must prepare myself for the coming weeks. I have so much to learn. This seems to me the perfect opportunity to practice vigilance in planning, both for lessons and travel. I tend to be rather type B when it comes to making plans, unfortunately, which often leaves me stressed out and upset at my own procrastination.

I have a lot to do. Teaching begins on Monday, and I have over 90 names to learn and memorize. It’s going to be a long week, but God willing, it will be wonderful.

“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

With love,
Mel