Monday, July 13, 2009

Me and Patty Hearst

For my older readers, no explanation of this title is probably necessary. For those of you who are younger, you might need a quick pop history lesson.

In 1974, Patty Hearst—the 19 year old millionaire daughter of publishing’s legendary Hearst family—was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in Berkeley, CA. Two months later, bank video cameras caught her brandishing a machine gun during a bank robbery with the SLA. When she was finally arrested along with her kidnappers, she called herself an “urban guerilla” and was committed to the causes of the SLA. Her family’s ritzy attorneys couldn’t convince a jury that she wasn’t a willing participant in the crimes; she got 35 years in prison (later shortened by Jimmy Carter).

Today, Hearst symbolizes the desire to break away from normal society and live anarchically. She also stands as a prototypical case of the “Stockholm Syndrome,” a phenomenon where captives begin to care for and empathize with their captors. Rather than hating and distancing themselves from their jailors, prisoners will begin to love their familiar surroundings.

As my time in Africa winds down, I find myself thinking about this crazy story from 1974.

For much of my four years here, I adamantly preferred my old way of life in America. The easy life. Friends and family close by. Abundant free time. Familiar cultural surroundings. Fast food—tasty, cheap, and easy to come by. I gladly settled in here, knowing that my work for God’s kingdom was far more important than a lifestyle preference, but nevertheless, if I had to choose…

But I’m starting to feel like Patty Hearst. I actually think I’m going to miss the bumpy roads and the daily electricity outages. I can see myself longing for all of my wife’s yummy meals from scratch when pre-made frozen meals and fast food become regular again. The spiders, the dust, the monkeys wailing, the roosters crowing, the freezing concrete floors, the drafty windows, the neighbors dressed in rags, the arid brown valley.

I’ve grown to love my captors.

And I’m also wondering if my love for my captors has turned me crazy when it comes to “going home.” Will I go around wielding my philosophical machine guns in normal folks’ faces? Will I storm the bank of normalcy and demand Western society to pay up for the good of Africa? In other words, will reverse culture shock zap me?
There’s also the other side of this coin. Will my allegiance to Africa make others look at me like I’m the freak? Will the presence of this stranger from Africa cause everyone to feel uncomfortable? Will the mere sight of me be like Patty Hearst wielding a machine gun over head?

The answers will come soon enough. Eight days, actually. There is one fact that offers me some consolation. Patty Hearst is still alive today. She’s out of the SLA, she’s out of jail, and she has some semblance of normalcy in her life.

Even if I’m feeling like Patty Hearst today, it’s good to know that there is life after Patty Hearst, for her and for me.

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