Finding Refuge

Siem Reap, Cambodia, January 19. Tonight I watched a dozen talented artists paint, play music, dance, and do amazing circus routines as they told the story of their country’s descent into genocide and its ongoing recovery from those horrors. These young performers are the grandchildren of the Khmer Rouge and its victims, best known to Americans as the perpetrators of the killing fields. They come from difficult backgrounds and attend a performing arts school that gives them skills, but even more important, a way to work through their inevitable grief and anger, developing a bond with each other and a confidence in their own abilities that will serve them their entire lives.

  1. I arrived in Cambodia a week ago, as a tourist on the first leg of a month-long trip. I had been feeling both relieved and sad to be away from the US during the 2017 presidential inauguration, but also happy to re-visit this beautiful Southeast Asian country. It felt good to have a break from the intensity of the scene at home. Although wi-if is ubiquitous, it’s easy to avoid staying current with the news. Visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, eating delicious Khmer curries and mango shakes, riding tuk-tuks through the countryside, getting a massage–I could feel I was taking refuge in an exotic country where I had no responsibilities and could just play.

But that fantasy bubble is easily burst if you are tuned into what is around you. Outside many of the temples are small orchestras of amputees who lost their limbs to the land mines dropped by the US during the Vietnam war and which still pose a danger. There’s a war museum where people are encouraged to hold weapons and feel what it’s like. People everywhere are well aware of the change in US leadership, and some initiate conversation about it, having questions and opinions. Some say that our president-elect is an angry man; some of them fear an outbreak of World War III. Others express confidence in Americans who have so many years of experience with democracy.

So where is there refuge, a place of peace and safety, when we cannot escape the consequences of past injustices nor the worries of a future to come? Taking refuge often means to go into a protected space, to turn our backs on the world. Although I can do that when on an occasional retreat, that’s not how I want to live in the world. For me refuge means stopping to breathe and listen to the beauty of the music, not turning away from the amputated limbs. It means attending a performance where pain is expressed and then transformed through art, connection and courage. There’s refuge in noticing people’s good hearts, exchanging everyday kindnesses. Refuge is created when we work together with open-heartedness for the benefit of all. Refuge is no longer a way to hide from the difficulties of the world but to join together in solidarity and love, through art, engagement and action.

Published as a guest column in the Nevada Appeal.

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14 Responses to Finding Refuge

  1. Michael Paddy says:

    Wonderful. It is very difficult at home right now, even for a privileged person.

  2. Kim Bozarth says:

    I thought initially when I moved to a remote location that I would be living in a refuge of sorts – far from the problems of the world. After all, most of what happens in D.C. really doesn’t change my day to day life and I thought I could just turn a blind eye to it. My perspective has changed dramatically however as I now realize that I live in the middle of a conservative enclave. Some days I long to retreat the safety and beauty of the drum circles, goddess gatherings, book study groups and meditation circles I left behind. Instead, I’m resolute in the belief that to continue to be wholly myself and love all those around me equally is the most important thing I can do. Thank you for the wonderful post, Kathy.

  3. Ah Kathy, this is a very beautiful post. I do love your blog. Thank you!

    • I was really struggling to find inspiration, then Susan Solinsky sent the reminder email about the next MSMC newsletter just before we went to the circus and it fell into place. ❤️ To you!

  4. janeyzietlo says:

    Thankyou for this Kathy. Your thoughts are wise and inspiring. love to you. Janey

  5. Constance Alexander says:

    Dearest Kathy,
    Somehow you always put events, names, everything you encounter into a parcel of wisdom, available to us all.
    Thank you again, and again, and again.
    (Draws big hearts all over page)

    • “Always” is an exaggeration! Writing this blog actually helps me get in touch with and maybe channel the wisdom I have learned from so many others. I’m grateful I started this project.

  6. Mark Rosen says:

    Thank you , Kathy. Those closing words brought tears. Yes, refuge in each other is the answer for now. Safe travels, and I hope to hug you soon.

  7. Mary Kay Wagner says:

    Welcome home Kathy!
    Such an amazing heartfelt blog reminding us all to stay connected yet not to be overwhelmed by all of it. Beautiful pics, beautiful lady.

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