I never thought that an intercontinental marriage would teach me so much about power, empathy and boundaries that we invent. But here we are. Five years down the road – learning a lesson that love, inclusion and empathy is a choice. We have different cultural backgrounds and we are from societies that are governed by powerful structures. This situation opened my eyes and showed how small each of us is. I have seen the strength of traditions, history and bureaucracy. Despite that, this union helped me to see that we are interconnected through the web of love. And we can choose to be bigger within us and reach as many human beings as wide open our hearts become.
Third country nationals
Wireless internet was as abundant as air and I could hop on and off airplanes on random spots around the globe. I believed in the fairy-tale of a global village. Indeed, free market, multinational companies and expansive tourism made me believe all this. As long as I was a citizen of some Western country, diplomacy had paved a smooth path for highly functioning vacation mode. Despite that, permanent living and immigration between two seemingly intertwined regions like Europe and USA is a bureaucratic clash. I woke up when I for the first time called the immigration office and asked what my friend has to do, as he wants to stay here longer than the non-immigrant visa permits. She said: “It is not a matter of WANTING.” We as a society have decided that we include only people with specific knowledge, abilities or financial resources.
Nonetheless, we had none of the above to offer and our time run out. As a result, we crossed the pond and had an American vacation. Chill walks to grab a bagel in New York and laid back promenades on Virginia Beach. Later, breath-taking views of Blue ridge mountains, pelicans fishing in New Orleans swamps. Not bad, but not sustainable without a plan. Vacation mode has its toll.
Moreover, we just wanted to live, get married and have a family. At least – we as a society accept this, we include alien fiancés and spouses. We married, triple sealed everything and flew back to the Old World. Since then I invite my husband each year to live with me. Each spring we do this diplomatic mating dance. I invite, you approve, he shows the documents and cash. Five years. Moreover, we are no longer free to unlimited traveling as society counts the days of residency here or there.
It was the fifth anniversary when we went for a lunch to an Asian bistro. We opened the door and there stood immigration police in reflecting vests. I remembered how the last spring the young immigration officer who accepted my invitation letter asked whether customs police had ever knocked on my door. Why would they? They randomly do that, to make sure you are real. Imagine an agency checking on you and your spouse. What if you have rough time and you spend a week at your parents’ house? Good luck in explaining that, especially if your spouse is not from a predominantly white and developed country. I have read interviews with couples who were less fortunate in terms of their background. They fled this place because of this type of harassment.
That day she worked alone at the Indian eatery. Her husband was not there but unfortunately a young guy helped her out. Sure, he might be an illegal worker. However, he soon fled the scene. It was clear that we will wait long before our lunch is served. I felt the need to stay there. Four people checking the business documentation right at the lunch hour in a place that is well known for yummy lunch offers is ridiculous. Ten customers went away. The immigration guy was politely rude.
I had to stay as if with a statement invitation – you’re welcome here. Why this Indian teacher and her Indian husband moved here? We all are humans and struggle the same way. I pictured myself selling muffins in States, what if I missed a coin here or a paper there? “We can open up to greater love in moments of sorrow because our vulnerability and our compassion are intertwined,” these are wise words of the Buddhist teacher Pema Khandro Rinpoche.
Uncomfortable reminders – NO!art of Boris Lurie
Subsequently, after waiting for almost hour, we got the lunch and headed to Old Town to see an art exhibition. Boris Lurie’s art is so extreme and powerful that I will not discuss is further here. There is in-depth articles and books that answer the question: “What is the intended effect of the combined display of images of death and sex, in the context of genocide?”
Firstly, for purpose of this story, let’s look at his biography in the context of his art. Lurie was born in Russia, his Jewish family relocated to Riga. He grew up there, went to school and was 16 (?) years old when his sister and mother was killed in a nearby forest – 10 km South East from here – together with other 30 000 Jews. He survived multiple concentration camps and established as an avant-garde artist in New York.
“NO!art was a visceral reaction to the dominant movements of the era: Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. NO!art’s self-proclaimed principle was to bring back into art “the subjects of real life,” which for Lurie, Fisher, Goodman and the others were issues of repression, destruction, depravity, sex, occupation, colonialism, imperialism, racism and sexism; the deep stuff, the psychological, edgy, discomforting material that makes people squirm; the kind of paintings you won’t find hanging, color-coordinated, over the wine-colored leather couch in a living room out in the Hamptons.”David H. Katz, BORIS LURIE, uneasy visions, uncomfortable truths
In the documentary he said that he has no ill will towards Germans. His art is also well received nowadays in Germany. He said, his family was killed by Latvian fascists. But what was emphasised in the intro of the exhibition is that he grew up in Riga and spoke Latvian, he was one of us. “Buddhism says that because of impermanence, the people who were once our friends could be our enemies now, and people who are our friends now may one day be enemies,” says Pema Khandro Rinpoche. It was in 2nd WW and occupation regimes – German or Russian – converted your friends into either fascists or communists. When the war was over the once economic and intelligent elite was relabelled “bourgeois” and exterminated as well. “Therefore, we will be unstable if we rely on how other people relate to us to decide if we will have loving-kindness.. Thus the cultivation of boundless love and the realization of equanimity are tied together,” teaches Khandro.
I wish I didn’t have more empathy for Boris Lurie because he grew up the same city my child grows up. I wish I did not feel more responsible for the death of his family because they were killed by people possible related to me. Where is my boundless love and unconditional compassion? By now you might wonder why such a choice for spending the afternoon of our anniversary. Where is the romantic SPA offer for couples, popping sounds of champagne bottles and rose petals?
Certainly, just coincidence. And the truth is not pretty sparkling all the time. I am thankful for this intercontinental marriage that it had made me vulnerable. Yes, it takes away some freedoms and imposes some frustrating difficulties, but it is also a source of compassion. I am here to learn more love. Rooted in kindness, I can move beyond the separation our society, history and bureaucracy teaches us to feel.
David H. Katz, BORIS LURIE, uneasy visions, uncomfortable truths.
Nathan Réra, A Monstrous Nudity: Reflections of Nazism, Concentration Camp Imagery and Obscene Figures in Contemporary Art. Originally published in HISTOIRE DE L’ART N°76 2015/1 as “Une monstrueuse nudité: Reflets du nazisme, imagerie des « camps » et figures de l’obscène dans l’art contemporain.”
Pema Khnadro Rinpoche. Linons Roar: Open Your Heart Further.