Are we all just puzzle pieces waiting to be put in our proper places?
I was working on a puzzle last night. Sometimes, I’d pick up a piece and, like magic, it just fit perfectly the first place I tried to put it in. It felt like a small miracle.
A good friend from university married a guy that had been living and working in Myanmar. Their family was on vacation in Australia last year when borders closed and they’ve been stranded in Australia for over a year now. They’d much rather be in Myanmar, even with everything going on. Since the military coup and the Civil Disobedience Movement started about a month ago, they have been posting about the CDM and doing whatever they can to amplify the voices of peaceful protestors. They had set up a Zoom call for interested parties overseas to meet a protestor and hear stories from the frontlines. I wasn’t able to make it, but I got a hold of the recording and listened as I puzzled.
I had so many thoughts as I was puzzling. May these writings come into some sort of cohesiveness.
Dozens of young people shot and killed by military. Officers stealing pots of biryani from shopkeepers while peaceful protesters set up lost-and-found stations for phones and shoes left behind as protestors flee for their lives in the wake of gun spray. Local businesses offering free food and water to protestors. Kidnapped young people being held for ransom by military officers and pleading with their parents not to give in to their captors, simply asking for the lawyers who have given up their time for free. Roads to embassies blocked so that protestors cannot go where they would undoubtedly be protected by the mere hope of foreign eyes. Pictures of military leaders pasted on pavement as creative barricades against soldiers because to step on a picture of someone is the ultimate insult. Neighbouring countries allying together over milk tea, the Milk Tea Alliance. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram shut down; influencers who post about democracy put on lists for arrest; the Internet shut down every night from 1AM to 9AM; and people taken away under the cover of night. The people do not sleep.
Myanmar is a country of many peoples, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and religions, usually so disparate. Yet in the face of this, people of all walks of life have come together unanimously to decry the military coup. People are publicly apologizing for the prejudice and bigotry they have shown in the past to the Rohingya, having bore the cost now of such pain and evil. When all the puzzle pieces have already come together like this, what more is needed?
God. I wonder it isn’t a blessing that they have been stuck in Australia as they would certainly be out there with their friends and chosen family. Their two little girls, courageous and unafraid, what might happen to them? A blessing too that they are out so they can get word out.
As my friends post and share, I force myself to watch. I listened to this Myanmar woman’s stories. How incredibly heartbreaking. I sent a form letter to my representative and to my foreign affairs minister; my representative of the opposition party wrote back, saying they couldn’t do anything other than push the government to take action.
What does my looking do? Bearing witness? Is there any value in this?
I have a lot going on these weeks, and feel angry with myself that I cannot bear to look any longer. What privilege to be able to say, I need to turn away for a while. I dare not say it though. At the end of the Zoom meeting, an American said to my friends, thank you for setting up these meetings; it’s good to keep it in front of us, to help us to remember. For what purpose? My heart cannot hold any more. Don’t be mistaken. I have a heart; I feel for Myanmar. But I feel so exhausted and with what? Trying to rebuild my life in my passport country. A freedom I have, with no barrier except my ability to talk myself up.
As my friends long to go to their chosen home, I’ve been brought to my forgotten home and, now for unforeseen circumstances, have decided not to return. I thought I was one of those people who would stay, and persevere, and love with every fibre of my being, until every cell disintegrated. But it turns out I can’t.
When I lived in Southeast Asia, my friends and I went through a puzzling phase. Once, we invited our local friends to come over and we worked a bit on the puzzle together. Puzzles are not a known hobby and our friend would take a piece, put it in a spot, shake her head, pick up another piece, put it in the same spot, shake her head, and so on. My small miracle didn’t materialize for her, not even once. At the time, it was kind of funny. We didn’t make fun of her, but our logically-educated minds could see what folly was in such a strategy. She told us she wasn’t enjoying herself, she couldn’t do it, she’d never done it before, and she expressed much awe over our telling her we’d recently finished a one-thousand-piece puzzle. We were good friends, or she wouldn’t have said those things out loud. I wonder what she was thinking inside. What folly, perhaps, to spend an entirely good afternoon doing something that had no purpose or value, made no money, didn’t put food in anyone’s mouth, didn’t help a soul. How foreigners could spend so much time closed up inside on something so pointless, and yet not know how to clean a fish, or sweep out their front yard, or sit and talk with the neighbours, not know how to be a human being.
When I told a friend and mentor I was thinking of leaving, or rather, of not returning, she wrote back and said, is it maybe that you have burnout?
I don’t doubt it.
I don’t fool myself thinking only we foreigners are susceptible to burnout. Sometimes I wonder how they didn’t come up with the term themselves, what with the daily chores alone. I wonder how long these young Myanmar people will be able to bear daily protests. And in the same vein, how long these poorly paid soldiers will be willing to kill their brothers and sisters for pennies. A battle to the end.
To die alive or to live a corpse, there is no choice. But the hours and days before the end, hoping for an alternative: to live free and fully; can you bear it?
Our friends may not understand fully why we leave. Sometimes we ourselves don’t. But I’m certain they will not laugh. They understand what it means to face options that have no choosing, choices that should not be given the dignity of consideration.
Sometimes we pick ourselves up and almost miraculously fit just right the very first place we land. Sometimes we pick up, put down, shake our heads, and pick back up again and again, the proper place ever elusive. Oh, for the miracle of fitting just right. But moreso, the miracle of movement.