(First published on July 27, 2009)
As I sat by myself in the quiet of the night in my home away from home, a question that someone once voiced in an interfaith circle returned to me: How will I know when enough is enough?
This is my eleventh year in the journey along the path of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. I have gotten used to friends and family looking at me quizzically and saying, “At least you have something to keep you busy,” or “Tsk, tsk…that hobby is taking too much of your time, no?” Even my priest friend who has been engaged in Muslim-Christian Dialogue for over two decades seems puzzled by my choice of “apostolate” and every time we meet I would brace myself for what I was almost always sure would be coming. “Tell me, Marites,” he would ask, “Why are you doing this?” And I would always be stumped, not having easy answers.
Sometimes I find that the word “vocation” comes handy, but then again the thought of having to explain it away without sounding like a convent reject makes me want to run away and avoid the conversation altogether. I am not a religious person by my parents’ standards, although I’ve been religious by their standards too at an earlier time in my life. However, truth to tell, those were times when fear seemed to be largely the moving force behind my devout prayers and religious practices–fear of displeasing God and of being thrown into the fires of hell where my soul would be consigned to eternal damnation!
I’m not saying that fear has no hold on me now. I still fear straying away from godliness into the darkness; and I fear death, especially the death of that which gives my life meaning. So I keep listening to that which keeps me going, and I keep seeking to find that which gives meaning to who I am and what I am doing.
I guess this experience is not unique to me for I’m sure there is in each one of us the same longing. So I must say that mine has been sustained all these years by a passion—some call it “fire in the belly”–that awakens me in the morning with new ideas on how to realize the world that I wish to see, and how to engage new ways of doing things so that that world would become a reality.
But there are times like this in the evenings when I find myself embraced by a blanket of darkness woven from the fabric of my own fears. And the fears are many. They are lurking behind one thing or another within me. There is the dull and sometimes sharp pain in my lower left abdomen (that has visited me again lately) that I fear. There is also the fear arising from feelings of inadequacy, of being alone in my views about my work and ultimately accountable for my failures and shortcomings, of no longer believing in the dream, of thinking myself naive or insane (or both!) for having believed in it in the first place, of running away and giving up on it and, finally, of giving up on my “good and godly” self and my hope-filled striving.
Like night and day my dreams and reality are so disparate that interfaith peacebuilding, in my experience, is a painstaking and difficult endeavor. This is especially so when dealing with the challenge of addressing people’s differences in ways that are respectful and non-violent. When will enough be enough for me? I wondered as I curled like a fetus underneath the blanket of the night.
Will enough be enough when the Muslims and Christians (in the grassroots communities that we are serving) give up and refuse to collaborate for peace? Will enough be enough when the individuals, institutions and organizations that support The Peacemakers’ Circle stop believing in us and no longer share their resources for our work? Will enough be enough when the funds run out? Or will enough be enough when the pain in my body keeps me from waking up in the morning with renewed hope and optimism, or from waking up at all?
When will enough be enough? I guess I will never know, not perhaps until the physical realities of my world keep me from dreaming new dreams and from pursuing them with fire in my belly. But, try as I might to douse it, the fire remains alive and burning. Sometimes it blazes so bright it threatens to consume me, and I no longer know where my puny self ends and where the dream begins! So I keep holding on to my dreams as I keep striving with faith and hope to crawl out unfazed from the blanket of my fears.