Choosing Well by Ivy Helman

pei headshotI’m moving to Prague in the Czech Republic at the end of August.  (In case anyone is concerned, I will still be a regular contributor to this blog.)  In part, moving to Europe feels like diving headfirst into the unknown.  At the same time, it also feels right.

A full-time teaching job still did not materialize again this year despite my best efforts.  I’m beginning to see the blessing in that since a full-time job would have made the decision to go that much harder.  Yet, the decision to move wasn’t easy either.

My plan in Prague is to teach English to local business people as well as feminism and ecology at Charles University.  Neither of these plans is solid.  I don’t have any job offers yet.  I could go there and everything could fall through or I could go there and decide to do something totally different.   In many ways, it’s up to me.  I’m not sure if I have ever placed myself into a situation in which I have so much freedom.  At the same time, I’m also quite nervous about the entire situation.  At least I’m not moving to Prague alone.

This reminds me of some recent headline news.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for the thousands of children coming “illegally” into the United States.  I feel for them.  My situation is completely different than theirs but my experiences with planning and motivations for leaving fill me with a sense of empathy and compassion towards their dire situation.  I don’t understand all of this discussion of deportation and incarceration.  They are children!  Why aren’t we offering them hospitality and love?  We should help change the pervasive patriarchal violence and poverty that forces extreme desperation like this in the first place.  In the interests of compassion, peace and cooperation, we should listen and provide support to the countries from where these individuals come.  It is not an “us versus them” situation.  We are one human community with one earth and its limited resources.  We need to learn to share, to act responsibly and to protect each other and the world we share.  When did children, or anyone for that matter, become “the enemy,” become “illegal,” become “problems to solve”?  They are not and never should be considered in such patronizing ways.girls

There are very few things that we do daily which do not require us to make a decision, whether that is moving to Prague, making breakfast, riding public transportation, donating money to good causes or deciding on the fate of children whose only goal is to find a better life.  Yet I wonder how often we make decisions thoughtfully and carefully.  Perhaps, we choose based on which path offers us the least resistance or which one just feels right.  I wonder: how does one know she has made the right choice; how does one know when she has reflected enough to decide; what principles does one consider for deliberation; and do all choices have to be decisive or can they be vague and flexible?  Even answering these questions require decisions!  Oy vey!

I don’t have solid answers for these questions.  Nevertheless, I’m convinced that values, priorities and practice all help us make better decisions.  Feminists make decisions on different criteria than nonfeminists.  Environmentalists have a completely different value set from oil tycoons. Children often have less experience making choices necessitating suggestions and guidance.

Decisions are an important aspect of our everyday lives, yet most decisions we make aren’t conscious choices.  In other words, if we thought about every decision we made, we’d never get anything done.  Yet, if we only consider large decisions real ones, then when we are faced with them, chances are we feel inept to make them.  We might consider ourselves to have no experience or criterion on which to know if we can even make good decisions.  We have to learn to trust our decision-making abilities.  Our choices have led us to where we are and our choices can lead us safely onwards.  While we may not get every decision right, chances are we’ve learned from our mistakes.

Making the decision to move to Prague was a choice.  Was it the right one?  Was it the best one?  I don’t know the answer to either question, but I trust myself to have made the right decision.  Counting all the decisions I make in a day, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself.

Prague Castle

There is one more decision that deserves notice.  I’ve chosen to learn Czech in Prague even though I could probably do fine without it given the international nature of the city.  Learning Czech is the right thing to do if I am going to live there for at least a year.  In addition, if I don’t, I will never be able to communicate one-on-one with my partner’s grandmother who speaks no English.  She and my partner’s mother seem like amazing, strong, beautiful and fun women.  They are just like my partner actually.  I can’t wait to get to know them!  Surprisingly, I’m not sure I know a family who laughs as much as the three of them do and I can’t wait to be a part of that.

I think I’m on the right path.

To those deciding the fate of newly arrived migrant children: I hope you choose a path of love, support and compassion.  Make the right decision.

Ivy A. Helman, Ph. D.: A feminist scholar currently on the faculty at Merrimack College.  Her most recent publications include:  “Queer Systems: The Benefits of a More Systematic Approach to Queer Theology,” in CrossCurrents (March 2011) and Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents(2012).

Author: Ivy Helman

Jewish feminist scholar, activist and professor living in Prague, Czech Republic.

9 thoughts on “Choosing Well by Ivy Helman”

  1. I hope you get a work permit before you leave, as a residence permit in Europe is not easy to come by for Americans–unless you are married to a European. I know from difficult experience in Greece, which is why I became a Greek citizen in the end.

    Have a wonderful time!!!


  2. Having just moved to a different city, I wish you and your family all the best and can offer you some clean boxes to pack in! ;-) (liquor stores have the best boxes for this job, btw) Prague sounds so exciting, and with a fun family it sounds perfect.

    I find that as I get older decisions are more “intuitive” – no agonizing like some young folks seem to suffer. The path presents, the road is taken or not, but my inner “know-er” seems to know which way is life-giving. I sounds like your inner “know-er” also knows. Relax and enjoy the new experiences and people. Safe travels, and remember, the boxes will eventually be all sorted out.


  3. Re: “I don’t understand all of this discussion of deportation and incarceration. They are children! Why aren’t we offering them hospitality and love?”

    I have had this same emotional discussion with a number of friends. No, we don’t discuss; we lament, we cry, we wail. Why in the name of all the goddesses/gods do politicians insist on talking about “securing our borders”? It is like shutting our hearts to those in need. They are children. How sad that we have plenty of money to create weapons to destroy, but none to help these tiny refugees. And THIS is why we need more women in positions of influence.


  4. I agree that it is hideous that we are trying to deport these children. That goes against what the prophets and Jesus preached, but unfortunately many who claim to be Christian are ignoring that.

    Have fun in Prague! You’ve made the right choice to move there. I gave up a job to spend a year in Sweden when I was young and it was an awesome experience.

    Blessings and safe travels!


  5. Ivy, I’m so excited for you. Living in another country for a year is a life-changing experience. This is a wonderful opportunity. And Prague of all places. It was once home to a thriving Jewish community, including the author Franz Kafka. Enjoy!


  6. It is going to be awesome. You are going to gain so much insight. Traveling broadens you and gives you a very different perspective. I think you have already started the process: it can be hard to understand the plight of an immigrant unless you yourself experience the emotional and mental process of immigration. You have articulated very well the situation of these children who like you, are trying to start a new, hopeful stage of their life journey.

    Try to get out and see some more European countries, too! Germany, Austria, Poland, Austria and Hungary are right next door, then you can skip over to Northern Italy, maybe take in some Switzerland and France…..that American passport will open many doors that would not be available to other passport holders.


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