Context: Last spring, I went through a hurtful experience with my old church’s leadership. I found new employment; that means I entered visa wait #2. This shit’s getting real old. This new church is led by pastors who not only value human beings, but pay attention to organic movement within their community, and they hold vulnerability without diluting difficult situations (read: this is a difficult skill to acquire, folks). We applied for a new R-1 on my behalf since religious worker visas are not transferable; this time around, the process is faster (due to ambiguous factors), but the visa is not here yet. Because my last apartment lease was ending, I got put up per New Church in a church member’s home. I’ll call her Sally; she is 87, white, and kind. I had the option of staying in her finished basement, which I preferred for both her and my privacy. One day when it was hot outside, where I usually sit on the patio, I came inside and continued on my computer at the main kitchen table. Sally returned from her grocery run, and when she saw me at the kitchen table, I explained “It was hot outside so I came in.” She said that was fine. When shade returned to the patio, I went back outside. Sally approached me later, saying “I know I told you earlier that it’s fine- but I was uncomfortable with you being in my kitchen. The upstairs is my home. The basement is your home. You belong in the basement.” I apologized for unintentionally offending her; I clarified that when I had originally moved in, we had not set this “kitchen table” boundary. She reiterated that she would prefer that I not sit upstairs. That night I packed up all my things, cleaned everything, and put them all in Sally’s garage, where I was storing the rest of my possessions. I stayed the night with a dear friend who I trust and who trusts me. The next day, I asked to speak with Sally. This is what I read to her.
Yesterday when you said “You belong in the basement,” I was really hurt. I do not belong in anybody’s basement. I belong in a safe and comfortable home with windows, and a home that is mine. I do not belong in spaces that hide me or my gifts. I do not belong in areas that impede me from going upstairs and out into the sun. I do not belong in confining immigration systems that tell me I can’t earn money while I wait for my visa. These are my basements and I do not belong in them either.
What I’m trying to tell you is that I have fought my whole life to earn my keep – just like you’ve worked hard to build what you have around you. I am very vulnerable right now: before this church, I was told “I can’t continue at my old church.” I was told “I can’t work at a new church without a visa.” “I can’t work while I wait for my visa.” “I can’t have an apartment because I can’t have an income.” “I can’t even give plasma to make money.” And finally, “I can’t sit in the kitchen” was the last straw for me. When I can’t do so many things, what can I do? It’s exhausting. My hurt was not directed at you, but at my difficult life situation.
So my packing up of my things last night was me trying to regain control of my life. I need your help but I wasn’t willing to receive it because I felt like a burden to you. I am tired of receiving help, but I know I’m not in a position to help myself.
You want to get to know me but I am not ready to be fully vulnerable with you, because I am vulnerable everyday by living in a stranger’s home, by waiting to work, and by trying my best to pay my bills. I’m balancing many things right now and I’m not well- please be patient with me. I need to learn to trust you, instead of moving in just because I have nowhere else to go. I am happy to walk around a park with you, say three times a month, to hear about what’s important to you, and so you can hear what’s important to me. It will be a chance (if you’re willing) to get to know each other.
I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful. Thank you for accommodating me in your home. You did not mean to make me feel inferior with your “basement” comment. I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Please forgive me if I hurt you.
*Post-talk: Sally and I met, and in our conversation, we mended something- but there is residue of grossness inside me. This was enough for one blog post; next Monday’s blog will address more reactions.