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Go There vs. Stay Here

Some definitions from

Go there”- Do something drastic
Oh no, don’t make me go there.

Stay”- To constantly or consistently do something.
I stayed at home on Saturday.
-To live in one place, even if it’s at home with your parents for your whole life.
Where do you stay?

I came across a piece of poetry a few years ago that really stirred something up in me. The poem was called “Ale La” or “Go There” in English. It was originally written in Creole by a Haitian editor and poet named Totongi. At first, I hated the usage of words like “bigwigs, corn and oranges.” But after reading through it a few times, I couldn’t get the phrases out of my head.

Here it is in all of its full and strange glory:

“Ale la”: GO THERE

Go there where you see your heart
Leading you, keeping you from changing
into a dry desert of sorrow
worse than the skin of a drum.
Go there even when you’re discouraged
when you end up as salt meat
in banquets for bigwigs.
You have to go there, my brothers and sisters,
Where the people suffering
Never hear “Good Morning”
Where there’s no light
To enliven a day with hope.
Go there and bring the warmth of your love along
To make the people’s heart happy
To defy injustice and evil
Endured by the wretched of the earth
As if they had no right to be there,
There in the morning splendor of being alive.
You have to go there, live there, join us
If only with the little smiles of your mouths
O my sisters and brothers, we have to be there
Where together, without any dirty tricks,
We can grow corn, oranges and friendship
For all of us on earth so in need of transformation.

(By Totongi, editor of the important journal Tanbou/Tambour. He lives in the Boston area where he writes in Creole, French and English)

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between “Going there” and “Staying here.” I know. That seems like a silly thing to think about. But, what I mean is that I have been thinking about where my “heart is leading me, keeping me from changing into a dry dessert of sorrow.” While to some that might mean a physical place, for me it really means an emotional place. My heart has been “leading me” to care more deeply for others, to focus on serving and encouraging people, to get my eyes off of my own belly button. It got really easy over the past few years to care for myself first and others second. Somehow, somewhere, the idea that I needed to take care of myself because no one else would snuck its sneaky way deep into my heart. I wallowed in my own fragility. But, that way of thinking only led me further into a deep “desert of sorrow.” Yeah, I know, you are sick of this poem already.

I began to think of other times and places where I have been inspired to care for others more than myself. Haiti, Brazil, Uganda, ect… flashed before my eyes in quick succession. Little babies, children, mothers and fathers who live in unimaginable poverty yet still give with outrageous generosity. The daily love I have received from my parents, brothers, and dear friends suddenly became one of the most important things to ever happen to me. Although I love them imperfectly, they still continue to say things like, “You are doing a good job.” Or, “Hey, you look like you need a hug.” I have been hit by the realization that I have enough. I need to give more often. Even on the days when I feel most needy and desperate I have noticed that I still have something to give whether I want to or not.

So, you see. I cannot stay here. I cannot live in one place my whole life. I have to do something drastic. “Don’t make me go there.” Actually, yes. Please do make me go there. Don’t let me stay here. Because this earth is SO badly in need of transformation, and I do not see any other way to transform than to systematically start breaking out of the bubble wrap that surrounds me. Fragility be damned. I have enough to do something.


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