Culture & Race

Cultural Isolation

Tree in cornfieldSorry for the loooooooooooong absence.  First was Christmas travels, then our January term at the university that I spent somewhere between intense project mode and complete vegging out due to Christmas exhaustion and winter depression.  We’re currently in the throes of the onset of second semester, so now I’m somewhere between completely overwhelmed by my newly realized workload and waking back up from the January slump.

A significant piece of this slump was  influenced by the cultural isolation we experience living in a non-diverse environment.  While there are many upsides to where we live (no commute, low cost of living, tight community, job satisfaction, balanced work-home commitments, etc.), one of the downsides that arises intensely at times is cultural isolation.  I was explaining a bit of this struggle to an Asian colleague who’s moving to our town, and he commented, “But you’re ok, right?” suggesting that because I’m white & American, I don’t experience the same struggles that the rest of my family does.  In a sense, I completely understand where he’s coming from, and he’s right.  I don’t experience what they do.  In another sense, though, it still affects me significantly because it affects the people I love most.  My husband hit a significant low – basically just feeling lonely for people who see him as “normal” (and frustrated by people who eye him wearily) – over January and all I can do is listen, give him a hug, and try not to diminish his feelings of isolation. My daughter’s continues to ask about race, the latest being, “Mama, why is everyone white except me?”

While it may be easy for the casual observer to simply respond:  “Yikes.  Get outta there,” it’s not quite so simple for us.  Yes, we do feel like this at times.  But then there is also this issue of calling – a deep sense that we are to stay where we are for now, regardless of the challenge it holds for us.  What I’m still trying to sort through is how to live ‘contentedly discontent’. Every so often I wonder what God’s purpose is for us around here, breathe in a deep breath of courage, and then let out a shallow, slow breath of exhaustion.  It. is. so. stinkin’. lonely. doing. this.  *sigh*

Anyone out there have experience/wisdom in this area?  I’m sure missionaries experience this kind of isolation.  How do you possibly survive when there’s no way you’ll ever fit in where you live?  How do you survive the (at times) crushing tension of being a square peg in a round hole?  One small request – I *know* that God carries us all through such valleys, but God does not come to my house to relish a curry dinner, or share a meaningful hug over the struggle of war in a home country or missing family afar.  God IS here, but he’s also NOT here like people can be who share similar experiences. Hence, the cultural (not spiritual) isolation.  Because of this, I bristle when people’s response is, “Trust God” or “You have a purpose here.”  Both true, but not really addressing the root of the issue.

I do apoligize in advance for my grumpiness.  But, it is what it is, and I’m guessing someone, somewhere has had similar feelings.  Quite obviously, I don’t have perspective on this and I need some, but, hey, the only way is through, right?

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Isolation”

  1. Thanks Susie. It is certainly encouraging to hear from others in the same boat. I keep wondering if any of us would willingly choose to become in-between people if we really knew what it would entail! and yet, in spite of the challenges that come with it, another part of me loves it and wouldn’t trade it for anything…

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  2. Hi Jody!

    You’ve hit the nail on the head – again. Thanks for your honesty. God certainly works through you. I am afraid I have nothing to offer, other than to say I totally get you. I’ve been in a slump too in the last two months, feeling in-between everything, on the outside, wishing someone (anyone!) would come to my house just to have a curry, not a Western dish that I can’t even cook properly, knowing as I walk through my neighbourhood and the shopping centres that the locals don’t see me as belonging here. I am wondering why I am here at all… even wishing that I’d known all this when I first took my step into being an in-between person!!

    The slump was interrupted by a family bereavement, where I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that God was carrying me (us), in EVERYTHING – down to the tiniest detail. I thought then I’d never again doubt His goodness, or feel the lack of people to identify with. And now I’m back ‘home’, and am struggling to live practically in that knowledge of Him.

    Sorry for the long comment – I guess I am hoping to offer you some fellowship across the bits and bytes that make up the Internet!

    — Susie

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