What I brought home

by Josh Kehler, Global Seva India Posted on March 6th, 2013

India is simply amazing.  In the space of a few blocks you experience the absolute evidence of a loving God working in the world to the very depths of human depravity and suffering. Before I feel possessed by the need to transform this experience into meaning and purpose I wanted to spend some time reflecting on our brutal and tender journey through the human faces of sex-trafficking.

Coming into this experience I felt held by a sentiment Somaly Mam expressed in “The Road of Lost Innocence” in which she spoke of the impact of first encountering a man who didn’t want anything from her and the normalizing and stabilizing effect it had.  I came simply hoping to hold this space.  Being a man and being a part of this movement has at times been difficult and strange but in my heart I knew that I belonged here as much as anyone.  Even though my own unhealed mess was going to get opened up I knew this was the man I was being called to be and just had to trust that there was going to be ground under my feet after each step.

Many days I was shocked and in awe of the resilience of the girls and and their capacity to remain so open; to sing and dance and play and laugh and lay on the floor and draw.  I felt so privileged to be sharing this life with each of them.  I felt honored in a new way by each girls brave enough or scared enough to hold my hand, to tell me her name.  I felt gratitude for the gift of this life and the opportunity to show up in some small way for these girls and their openness and willingness to do the same.

Along with these filling and healing experiences came one’s that left me feeling gutted, filled with despair, and more vulnerable then I wanted to feel.  One day at Sanlapp I found myself painting next to a ten or eleven year old girl who had remained aloof and quiet our whole time there and as we looked at each other I saw her scarred and blind right eye.  We wore the same marks of violence right there where we couldn’t hide them from the world.  All the other stray glimpses of suffering and despair hit me as a collective and I felt sure all suffering was entirely personal, that it was all meaningless and all I would be capable of as a human would be to pass my own suffering onto another.   I wanted to run and vomit and use and not feel this, but we just held a glance for a few seconds, a moment of recognition, and stood next to each other and continued to paint the wall.

Coming home has been hard.  In Newark I  drove on the wrong side of the road.  My life here feels cluttered and vain.  I have felt extremely fragile and naked without all the people who held me up through joy and heartbreak.  But, even as the mendhi, the magic markers, and nail polish begin to fade this journey has left its mark on my heart.  I came home stripped of an old layer of defenses.  I brought home a new layer of vulnerability.  I came home feeling like a warrior who has been initiated.  I brought home compassion for the victims and the victimizers.  I came home with less rationalizations and justifications as to why I can’t walk thru this next layer of fear and doubt and insecurity.  I came home unable to look away from what my heavy lifting, what my sweat work looks like.  I came home with a renewed willingness to heal, to stand up and speak in the face of fear, to love without reservation.

Josh Kehler is from Kintnersville, PA. He successfully raised more than $20,000 for the 2012 Global Seva Challenge by mobilizing his community and rising up as a leader for a cause he believes in. Funds raised will help support organizations in India that are providing refuge, rehabilitation and economic opportunities to sex trafficking victims, and empower survivors to lead lives with dignity and respect.

*The opinions expressed in this blog belong to the individual author and are not necessarily shared by Off the Mat, Into the World.