Did you bring back any clothes? This was one of the most common questions people would ask when I returned from an initial six month trip to India. "The dresses are so beautiful and 'Oh, the colors!," they would lean in with excitement filling their eyes. In that moment, there is a heart choice; expose some very real and raw emotions or politely agree. Having been confronted with stories that overwhelmed, evoked compassion and caused me to grieve, the transition from talking about clothes to hardship felt like a leap across the ocean. I had lost sight of the beauty of the fashion, and was focusing in on some harsh realities. I had met the women behind the saris.
Instead of talking about silk and satin, I longed to express my concern for the young street girl who begged me to let her sleep inside just one night and my feeling that she needed to escape more than the elements. I was hurting for the grandma who chuckled and waved flippantly at my reaction to learning she was married at seven years old. Compassion overwhelmed me for a woman who grew up forced to hand sew mattresses for hours a day by her father, propping up her school books at the same time so he would allow her to stay in grade school. It was hard to focus on ornamental beauty, when the lens of my soul had magnified the suffering and injustice of very real, very kind and hospitable women.
Being aware of the potential to create a one brush stroke cultural picture or add to unfair stereotypes that don't apply to everyone also make it difficult to encapsulate experiences that have stretched one's heart across two continents. . The reality is that I had also met children whose parents would hand feed them into their teens and husbands who were tenderly protective of their wives. I saw professional women on the train and trendy girls at that mall. A stranger once gave me his flip flops because my sandal broke and I tentatively partook of a more than sacrificial meal by a couple I met on the bus.That's what happens when you step into another culture. You don't just become a student of different norms, customs, and foods. You are watching a real life movie of contrasts and contradictions that locals don't see anymore because in their day to day lives, it's a mere re-run. The contradiction of need and profound hospitality alone requires a moment of readjustment to previous assumptions.
After arriving back from a third trip to India, my suitcase wasn't filled with souvenirs, but I did bring back a sense of urgency to create solutions. The stories are now more intimate, as I've leaned in to carry others' burdens across culture and to prophesy peace. My journey had to include coming closer to my own beliefs that hope, healing and provision are miracles that we experience throughout our lifetimes and are transforming beacons of truth. Life doesn't end at our last overwhelming hardship, but through faith there is an opportunity to turn shock into sharing hope, mourning into momentum for healing, and powerlessness into purpose. What can we learn? want to invite you along to glean from the women behind the saris.
But in a very real way, the beauty of fashion that I resisted in the first trip I have come to value. The fact that simple purchases can inspire hope and meet a practical need helps to bridge beads to building futures and accessories to action. The opportunity to strengthen and empower very real women is as practical as supporting quality social enterprises.
Contributed by Heather Morse, founder of The Be-Loved Group