I want to write about the realities of Douglas-Agua Prieta, but I haven’t processed them enough to do so. I’ve come to understand a little and there is still so much more to know. I imagine I will try to offer my imperfect understanding once I’m home. For now I offer a small piece of my personal experience.

I came to Douglas, Arizona to do migrant accompaniment work across the border in Agua Prieta, Mexico for about two weeks. Unexpectedly, about 48 hours in, I had a gallstone pass and spent about a day and a half in the hospital.

When I was released, I went back to work, feeling bad for having missed shifts I was supposed to have worked. I had come to alleviate the workload for some folks…and those same folks drove me to a hospital an hour away, visited me there, and picked me up, while doing the work I’d come to help them with.

When I returned, I did an evening shift, then worked all three shifts both weekend days. By Sunday night I was tired. Really tired. The work is not physically demanding, but it is spiritually and emotionally challenging.

Monday morning almost as soon as I woke up, the grief of this place gripped me strongly. I carried it with me into the morning shift, where it turned into frustration that people had needs I couldn’t help fill. I was relieved when the shift was over, in part because I’d get a break all the way until the evening shift.  

I went back to my casita, exhausted, frustrated, trying to reconcile my belief in the abundance of our world with the experiences of scarcity I am witnessing and sometimes participating in with the people I am here to accompany. Depleted, I cried…and then I cried some more. My inability to see beyond the grief was interrupted by a phone call from one of my hosts. He called to tell me that in Agua Prieta, people were getting ready for the Mexican Independence Day parade. After we hung up, I sat for a moment, trying to determine if going to the parade would make me feel better or worse. Then I dried my eyes, wiped my nose, put on some sunscreen and headed south.


As I was walking to the border, a man was walking very unsteadily toward me. Then he collapsed. I approached him, his hand and face were bleeding. I helped him up, but he was so shaky, he fell again. I asked if he wanted me to take him for medical care. He said no, he was fine (he was not fine), and asked me to help him get to his car at Walmart down the road. I got my little blue truck and after consulting with another man who’d come to see what was going on, I took the man to the same Emergency Room I was brought to on Wednesday night. A nurse helped him into a wheelchair and wheeled him in. I left my name and number at the ER desk, though I don’t know what they could have done with it. The man’s name was Bob, same as my dad’s. I heard him say his birthdate; he’s about 15 years younger than my dad, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at him.

After doing what I could for Bob, I parked my car again and headed again on foot toward Agua Prieta, this time crossing without incident. I quickly found the parade; I enjoyed the celebrations, watching people young and old, mostly women and girls in traditional costumes, some siting on car hoods, throwing candy to gleeful children who scurried to catch it or pick up the pieces no one had managed to catch. Several dance troupes danced down the streets. Two drum corps played. A couple of bands rode in truck beds and rocked it out along the route. The parade ended with dozens and dozens of people on horses; some rode solo, some rode with children. When the parade ended, I walked back north, noticing the “aroma” the horses had left along the parade path.


Before crossing back into the U.S., I decided to walk along the Mexico-side of the border fence, a practice that feels in some ways familiar from my time in Israel-Palestine. The tall slatted metal fence that now separates Douglas and Agua Prieta bisects a community in which people used to be able to travel freely to see friends and family, go to work, or take care of other mundane business. Now the wall and the gates, turnstiles, cameras, and multiple checks of one form or another make the realities of daily life in a binational community more cumbersome.

During my walk, I chose to focus on the art, not wanting to sink back into the sorrow that the wall’s existence provokes. As I walked, I noticed how the pictures expanded and contracted depending on the angle at which I viewed them. Some paintings were only visible from one angle because only one side of the slats were painted. At least one painting was different from one side to the other. As I walked, I soaked in both sunshine and the vibrant, hopeful energy of the art.

By the time I reached the U.S. border crossing, I felt renewed. I felt more balanced having held both mourning and celebration, separation and connection, destruction and creation.

I walked back into the U.S., enjoyed chilaquiles for lunch, and did some of the work that I cannot fully leave at home while I am away.

Feeling renewed, I returned to Agua Prieta for my evening shift.

Healthy Dis-Ease

A few weeks ago, I attended the Nonviolent Leadership for Social Justice Intensive, a gathering that brings together people studying Nonviolent Communication (NVC, also called Compassionate Communication) and people involved in social justice work. The focus of the intensive was “NVC and Race, Ethnicity, and Class in North America.” Because NVC and social justice worlds don’t always meet, the goal was to bring together people with varying levels of experience in these areas to be real with each other, to learn from each other, and to cultivate interconnection, a sense of shared reality, groundedness.

Very often NVC spaces are majority-white. Recognizing that, the organizers of the intensive made a commitment this year to aim for a ratio of 60% people of color (POC) and 40% white people. They explained this on the website:

In the context of a majority white country, where POC centered spaces for learning, healing and growth can be scarce and/or siloed away from white-identified people, we want to see if we can create a space that supports the implicit sense of shared reality for POC, while at the same time including white-identified people… We anticipate that this ratio may facilitate implicit support for POC participants, provide new experiences and perspectives for our white-identified participants, and bring learning to a deeper level for the Intensive as a whole.

This meant I was on a waiting list until just 2 weeks before the intensive began. Because of this commitment, I was even more eager to go to the intensive and would have affirmed this demographic goal, even if it had meant my not attending. As it turns out, attendees were of Asian descent, Black, indigenous, Latinx, and white. Within each group, there was diversity of age, origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, knowledge, and experience.

I had attended two intensives before this and thought the other two were intense. This one was even more so. With the dual focus on NVC and social justice, particularly racial justice, we had several sessions with the whole group so that we might grow our collective understanding of NVC, systemic violence, and nonviolence. Each one of these is a massive topic to dig into; the diversity within our group added to the complexity and the depth of the conversation, as well as the potential for conflict.

On the second full day of the intensive, a major conflict erupted. It is not mine to tell the specifics of the conflict. Broad themes included cultural appropriation and anti-Blackness. In dominant culture when these things come up, the pain of the people most affected is often swept under the rug, ignored, denied, or dismissed. We were in a place designed to face the pains, to bring them into the light, to try to hold each other in care, to try to create more understanding, and in doing so, even, maybe, some healing. A little bit of healing that we might carry out with us beyond our days together, that we might carry into the world, recognizing that our healing is part of the world’s healing, because we are part of the world.

As a white person ardently desiring to be seen as one of the “good white people” (a quality in myself I’m not proud of), I was at a loss, not knowing if or when to speak up. There were discussions I witnessed that I didn’t even know if I should be in the room for, but I didn’t want to leave both because I didn’t want to cause any disruption and the conversations were not ones I’m often privy to. My way of staying in the room was drawing, processing it all at a level without words.

Being in those spaces felt sacred, but also uncomfortable; sometimes I felt like I was seeing something that really wasn’t meant for me. It’s because I want to honor that time with such care that I don’t think it’s for me to share the particulars.

For much of the week I was wildly uncomfortable, wanting to be an active participant, but not knowing quite what that meant, particularly in large group spaces. I didn’t want to get things “wrong” and be called on it and I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I wanted to have a voice, but I was one of the people least directly affected by systemic racism. What business did I have voicing the particular pain that racism causes me?

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At one point in a white caucus gathering, I admitted my dis-ease: “I don’t have a f—ing clue.” It wasn’t a surprise to anyone. It wasn’t a unique sentiment. I’ve done some work on racism and white privilege, looking at it from personal and structural levels. I’ve even led others through explorations of these topics. But I still have so much to learn. There is so much I don’t see in large part because, systemically speaking, I’m not meant to.

I am so grateful for the dis-ease I was feeling. I don’t enjoy discomfort, but I’m grateful for times of grappling, learning, struggling, sometimes with POC, often with other white people. I believe that for white people, putting ourselves in healthy dis-ease is critical, if we care about our interconnection with our brothers and sisters of color.   

I believe being in this dis-ease, personally and collectively, will ultimately make us healthier, especially when we enter the space with intentionality and care.  I believe that our lives, our children’s lives, their children’s lives, depend on our choosing to have some healthy dis-ease.  

And let me be clear: Some of us have a choice and some of us don’t. I chose to be in the discomfort. As a white person, I had the choice. I could have stayed in my white middle-class American bubble of relative comfort, fairly confident that people would treat me well by virtue of my appearance, people would err on the side of positive assumptions rather than negative ones. This ease is the default setting in my life. Most of the time I have a choice to be in ease or dis-ease.

That’s not true for everyone. The ease and choice of comfort is not the reality for many of the people I spent the week with. For POC, the decision to speak or not to speak could affect their jobs, physical well-being, life. Ease is not the default setting. Even saying “the right things” doesn’t necessarily offer protections. While I am not completely safe either, my whiteness provides a sort of “shield” of protection. 

I’ve had a murky awareness of this for a while. The murky started to become less so about 7 years ago. I was in Istanbul, Turkey as part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation; our delegation leader had been denied entry into Turkey, so our group had to figure out how to get to one of the airports so we could fly to eastern Turkey and meet up with our other delegation leaders. I had been in Istanbul for a few days and had been there before, so I had some familiarity of the area; I was also very willing to ask people for help. They’d always been friendly to me. As our group was discussing our plan, some delegates expressed concern about us getting lost.

I confidently told them, “People here are so friendly, they’ve always helped me and sometimes gone out of their way to help.”

A black member of the delegation quietly offered, “That’s not everyone’s experience here.”


“That’s not everyone’s experience. I am not received very warmly by people here.” This was one of many awakenings I’ve had on racism and privilege. I still don’t have a f—ing clue. I don’t know what I don’t know.

I am back in my bubble now, trying to step out of it, trying to notice the things I’m not meant to notice. Trying to speak up when I see them.

Last week I noticed and I spoke as much as I was able to in the moment. I was with a newly arrived Honduran father and daughter at an event where free immunizations were being given. Toward the end of the event, a Black woman and two or three white people approached me. The Black woman spoke, “Do you speak Spanish? These folks would like some translation.”

I looked at the white people. They were holding some boxes with the logo of a local charity. “We’d like to ask those mothers if we could put their kids in these boxes and take some pictures. We think it’d be really cute, so people could see who their donations were benefiting.”

I could feel the lump in my throat form, my back tighten. I couldn’t clearly name my unease, but I knew it was there. I paused and replied, “I’m feeling some discomfort about that. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t feel good about it.”

“So we should get someone else to translate?” one of the white people asked.

Feebly I replied, “I guess so.”

I wish I had said, “No, please don’t put the brown children in boxes and take pictures of them for social media.” But I didn’t.

The white people with boxes left, I guess to find another translator. The Black woman stayed. She thanked me for voicing my discomfort. I reiterated, “It just didn’t feel right. It felt like…”

“Exploitation?” she offered.

“Yes! And a bit white savior-y.” She nodded.

Even after that clarity, I didn’t go and address it with them. I have no idea if they took any pictures. I did check the organization’s social media feeds and didn’t see any of the pictures they were hoping to take, so I hope they never actually took them. I was prepared to ask the organization to take them down if there were pictures posted.

 And so I continue to learn, sometimes partially responding the way I hope to, sometimes only getting clarity after the fact, sometimes regretting not having acted. Practice makes better, never perfect.

I wanted to wrap this reflection up neatly with a final conclusion.

There is no conclusion.

The work continues.

(Not) Political

Someone asked me recently if I am worried about being “political” in my blog. She noted that the last post I wrote might be seen as such. She said that “being political” might turn away some potential clients (and attract others).

My goal in writing is neither to be political nor not be political. My goal in writing is neither to attract nor deter clients.

My writing goal is to be authentic. My goal is to live in the most integrated way I can, where my work and my life reflect my values. I hope that my writing reflects who I am, my particular experience of broken wholeness responding to the broken wholeness of other people and our world.

That means that I write about the people and things I value, the situations in my personal life, community, city, state, country, our world that fill me with joy and hope…or sadness and despair.

I’d imagine some people will interpret some of my words as “political” and write me off. Others may interpret some of my words as “too soft” on the “bad people," “not political enough,” and write me off.

I’m ok with that.

I can’t control what others think of me so not accepting that would only drain away energy I could be using for more life-giving options.

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My work- teaching Compassionate Communication, practicing Reiki, creating heart portraits and other art- is healing work; it is a life-giving option, for myself as well as those I work with. I share my work with anyone, whether our views align or not, because I believe that healing is healing, that we all need it in some form or another, and that it’s not up to me to decide who “deserves” healing and who doesn’t.

I want all people to be well. I don’t mean well in a superficial way. I mean well at a soul level. Well physically. Well mentally. Well emotionally. Well spiritually.

This includes both harm-makers and harm-takers, because let’s be honest, who of us isn’t both simultaneously, whether intentionally or not?

Because I want all people to be well, I will do my best to work with anyone who ends up in front of me asking for my care.

Healing is not political work. Not partisan, anyway, and…

Healing is political work.

My writing is not political. Not partisan, anyway, and…

My writing is political.

How I live my life is…well, I definitely get involved in politics, and…

My politics is not the totality of who I am.


So be it.