July 31, 2014
You just never know. Just when you think you know what to worry about, life throws a new wrench. Or two. Or three :-)
This morning I vented a bit during our morning run. After agonizing, in my usual pattern, along the lines of « What did I do wrong, » it felt good to get it out in the open. And the response I received, in conversation, lightened the weightiness, as so often seems to happen. More on that conversation shortly, though; first, some of the ventings:
Returning here to my work life, I knew to expect challenges. Quite simply, I live in a land where each day—even the most cheery and bright one—is full of daily challenge. Life just takes extra work, and time, here. And some days I get to the end of it, survey the day’s accomplishments with some dismay, and wonder how in the world everything took as long as it did: how is it that a whole day was eaten up by such a seemingly small amount of productivity!?! But I am starting to get used to this fact, and trying to reconcile myself to it.
What I knew, upon landing, was that:
Challenge #1. I would be moving into a new home, with my new husband.
Challenge #2. I would be adding Middle School Math teacher to my work load this year.
Challenge #3. I was losing my Cross Country assistant coaches, and didn’t know where to look for help in that realm.
Challenge #4. I left the library, at the end of last school year, with work to be done, knowing to come prepared to finish up the catalog before school started.
There are more that I was mulling over, but that will do as a shortlist for the moment.
What I did not know was that:
We would be unable to install internet in our new place. The internet company informed us that the previous tenant had an outstanding bill, so they could not give us a new account until that bill had been dealt with. Thanks to help from my school, the landlord was brought into the correspondence and it looks like we will be granted internet soon.
A few days after moving into our new place, we would sit down to enjoy our newest culinary experiment: a new variety of grain that we found in the local shop. The translation of the name they gave us for it amused us, so we thought we would try it out. As we talked about how much we liked it, and patted ourselves on the backs for the successful experiment, I heard a crunch. I pulled a rock out of my mouth and we enjoyed a laugh about never knowing what to expect when grocery shopping here. Two days later, while eating watermelon [yes, really!], I felt an odd sensation and pulled a portion of tooth out of my mouth. In instant panic mode, I found that I did indeed now have a hole in one of my teeth. Envisioning all manner of dental disasters, we scrapped our afternoon plans and instead headed to the dentist. Here’s where blessings kick in, though: instead of being on my own with no recourse, I was with a local friend who knew exactly where to take me, and who could act as translator. A short bike ride later, I was to find out that it was actually a relatively normal issue: not a tooth but a crown broken, that I had actually had for over 10 years already. They were about to start drilling there, taking off the whole crown, when I hit the pause button. I opted instead to leave the rest of the crown in place while I got in touch with the stateside dentist who had given me the crown to begin with. So far, no solutions found, but hopefully all will work out. I must say, though, it was not a very pleasant way to reinitiate into life here!
Also a few days after our arrival, I received a phone call from the school tech department. A few tech support emails, conversations, and file searchings later, I was to discover that our library program has been wiped out from the system, for upgrades, and needed to be reinstalled. No problem . .. except that the system was installed years ago, and no one knew where the original license was. Ok, so contact the system company and get new installation info, right? Except that the school had cut tech support for the library system out of the budget last year, so that the response given was that we were not longer privy to such assistance. Oy ve! My mind raced with visions of redoing all the inventory work done at the end of last year, in an amped up version: instead of just checking off the books, I would be taking each one of the 10,000 some volumes off the shelf and inputting it manually in order to rebuild the library catalog. Oy ve! So far, positive progress has been made with my meetings with finance, administration, and IT, and I have felt nothing but support. Again, hopefully, all will work out.
In this same period of time, I discover a patch of irritated skin. Soon this patch becomes fully inflamed, then blisters up to a horrible level of pain and itchiness. On a smaller scale, I had this same reaction last school year, and determined that I had touched something my sensitive skin did not agree with. Discovering its progression this time around, it is frightening to not be able to determined the source of an inflamed and blistered mess of a torso. We have been tossing around ideas but have resigned ourselves to the fact that we live in a place where the combination of great pollution and little chemical regulation means we likely will never know. But, in the meantime, I remind myself of the gift of a husband who willingly [happily, even!] massages my feet as we lie in bed, in an effort to distract me from the pain elsewhere on my being . . . grace in the interim.
I would go on with the not-short shortlist, but that’s all I can think of at the moment. It is hard to not already think longingly back to our summer holiday, and to peaceful days on the beach . . .
Ah, but back to that conversation I previewed at the start of this post. So I vented while we ran and soon, after some wise feedback and divinely inspired insight, was feeling a great deal better about it all. I said as much, quipping,
« Thank you, Brother G. You have lifted my spirits in this session »
« Ah, you are very welcome, Sister A. Anytime »
« I must confess, Brother G, » I added, « that I feel more than brotherly love for you »
« Well then, » he replied, « it’s a good thing we are married! »
July 25, 2014
I have spent my life clinging to familiarity. For very good reason: who of us doesn’t, if you think about it? We settle into our routines of action and thought, and then we stay put. Much is said about the process of breaking out of habits—or at least out of unhealthy ones. I’ve heard psychologists speak of the 30-day rule, in that apparently it is supposed to take 30 days to develop a new habit. No doubt this is very dependent upon one’s particular personality type, so far as the exact number goes. But it makes sense to me. My particular pattern is, I think, slightly shorter, perhaps due to a transient life. My frequent moves have made it necessary to learn to adapt quickly, to pretty much anything. This means that I can also very quickly develop new habits, based upon what my present locale demands of me [or at least what my brain perceives it to demand]. Maybe my magic number is something closer to half that, if I have to make a guess about a number?
Frankly, I think that routines and habits are quite normal—even healthy. Because why do we develop them to begin with if it is not due to a need we have for them? I think we are wired to evaluate our situations and surroundings, and then to figure out what works. So the habits we end up with are based upon what we do that works, or seems to, considering those factors. We land somewhere, be it in a physical place or a mental one. We survey our surroundings, again physical or otherwise. We see a need to get out of our “out of place”-ness, and so come up with a way to settle. We determine if it seems to work or not. If it does not, we try something else; if it does, we stick with it.
Back to the changing of habits, and to why I am thinking about this now: I have just returned to my home-away-from-home, after a summer away. And after this summer more than most others, there is more of a need for reevaluating—and for redeveloping routines. At least I assume that I will. Having never entered into marriage before, however, I can only guess as to what sort of personal changes will come. Time will, no doubt, tell.
For now, though, it seems to be enough to just be here, safely. The last few days of our travel were, to say the least, unpleasant. We were both brought to the edge, and over it, of our limits of patience with unexpected hassles. To be stranded and stuck in parts of the world unfamiliar [unsafe, even] to us was not an ideal way to honeymoon. But we made it, as people do. And now we are in our first two days moving and settling into our new home here.
I am grateful that we made the decision to arrive with extra time to do so [rather than my old habit of arriving the day before work began again].
Mind you, it was not a completely un work-related decision: I actually came in order to help with a children’s program. This has been a wild venture for the past two days: one that was out of my comfort zone initially, so far as location, transportation, and newness of the whole place goes. But it did not take long at all to decide that I was loving it. In my own little portion of the universe, it can’t get much better than to spend a day singing and dancing with children :-) Each of the past two days I have been in charge of a particular country program, coming up with four sections for the day: an arts/crafts activity, a cooking demonstration, a game, and an educational presentation. Yesterday was France and today Zambia. Yesterday I returned home spent, and “done.” But today, having gotten a bit into the swing of things, my tiredness led instead to an energized excitement over it all. There’s a melancholy along with it as well, having to do with the temporary nature of this gig. They will welcome me back, I think, for future volunteer sessions; but I suspect that the beginning of the school year will severely limit the amount of time I can spend doing so. I must, I suppose, resign myself to it being valuable in its transitory-ness . . . perhaps as a way to extend myself in service when I would otherwise be tempted to wallow in anxiety over the challenges to come in this year of work, and of life. The challenges will no doubt come. For now, however, I can smile at the sight of 60 pairs of little fingers writing the characters and letters for “Zambia” on their passport, knowing that a window in their minds has been cracked open. Ever so slightly for now. But who knows what sights, sounds, and senses that crack will awaken in future minds and souls?
July 7, 2014
The ties that bind. Two things spoken to me in the past have been running through my head over the last few days.
One said by an aunt, after having children later in her life: “Kids cut you to the core,” she said. While I thought maybe I knew what she was saying, I later decided that most likely I never would know, really, till I had children of my own.
The second was not spoken by a relative of mine, but by an artist I enjoy. She noted that when something happened to her sister, it felt as close as if it had happened to her.
This week my brain has merged these two statements, so that I have come to the conclusion that my own truth is that, for this particular situation of my life, my relationship with my sister is cutting me to the core. Not in a bad way . . . but in a brutal one.
Being here with her now, after several years, and after significant life changes [in her case, the birth of twins and in mine, the advent of married life] has done something undeniable to my “innermost being,” as King David so aptly put it. I am broken.
This evening, I clung to little B as he slept and I wept. My husband tried to relieve me of the child but I refused to let go. I rocked myself to comfort with his little body while I cried, aware that the heaving in my own chest was the same as that which I was trying to calm in him so soon before. He slept soundly through it all, blissfully unaware.
We are strange creatures, us mortal souls. How quickly we cycle through the seasons of a life! In some seasons we are hardly aware of the passing of the moments. Childhood comes to mind as one example of this; and, likely, the latter stages of some lives also fall into this category.
In other seasons, moments are agonizingly long, each one seeming to last an eternity. Motherhood, for all its supposed brevity, can I think fall into this category as well, when the cries of an infant are inconsolable and one’s nerves are shot.
But what do I know of such things? The older I get the more I know about how little I know . . . and this is just one of the areas in which my ignorance is glaringly evident. Yes, what do I know? In the here and now, about all I can think about—can know—is that I am tied to my sister and, consequently, to the little ones who have sprung from her, with cords stronger than any human creation can sever. Bound.
June 23, 2014
This story is very much in progress, as we have a broken down vehicle currently sitting on the other side of the Sound—and many miles yet to drive. I must admit as well to be currently bogged down with frustration over the dealings with repair companies, rentals, and the like. This evening I couldn’t have been more honest when I told T that I wished, more than anything, that I could accept her invitation to play with her in the backyard. Oh, how I wanted to play! Yet the business required for the next day had to be done . . . business that looms still.
So though the business looms, we are, for now, safely settled—for this one evening at least—with family. As such, I can tell Phase One of this tale . . .
The day began ordinarily enough: we had spent a good evening at my cousin’s home, treated to sweet hospitality and some fun crazy kiddo time. And the start of the travel was smooth, heading to a lunch with some of Peter’s old friends. He enjoyed the time to talk; I was happy as a clam to be swimming and trampolining with their girls :-) Next stop: Ferry ride #1. No problem. A short drive later we arrived at the port town for Ferry ride #2. Entering the town, though, we heard some strange sounds from the engine. Soon it was clear that we needed immediate repair. As the car was still running, we thought we could get as far as the ferry and then deal with repairs once on the other side, with my brother. We made the wrong call. While rolling into the landing ramp, after purchasing our ferry ticket, the engine gave up. It was done. My heart sunk as I realized we would not be able to get to my brother’s. This was the last ferry of the evening, and besides, how could we get any repairs done if we left the car in order to visit them? After a few calls made to towing companies and to my brother [towing companies were AWOL, neither answering the phone or returning my messages], we were getting desperate. We had to get out of that lane in 10 minutes. The lady officiating loading and unloading was kind enough to talk to us as we tried to find a solution, patiently waiting while we figured things out. She then went further and arranged for a driver to come push us, when we suggested we could push our car into the adjacent long-term parking lot. This was blessing #1.
About this same time, I got another call from my brother. He told us his friends were out boating and had just offered to come get us: they were at a landing nearby and were on their way to meet us. Though worried about leaving the car, we quickly accepted the offer, knowing that our priority now was getting to see the family. I envisioned a dock nearby, so was surprised when it took a good 20 minutes for a lady to arrive. Turns out, she had waded in order to get to the beach and had then hoofed it for a good distance to find us. We quickly resorted our belongings, paid for parking, and put a few extra layers on. I was soon extremely grateful for these layers. The walk to their boat was, in fact, a bushwhacking session, crawling through downed trees and sliding down hills . . . baggage in tow. We finally found an entryway onto the beach. By this point, the earlier stress was gone: instead, I was gazing at the sunset with a stunned feeling of “What in the world are we doing?!?” But soon enough, a speedboat made its way towards us and lowered its anchor. We shed our shoes, tossed our baggage into the boat, and climbed in ourselves. The hour-long ride was a cold one, but happy. We had intended on picnicking while on the ferry, so we huddled there in the bottom of the boat, shielding ourselves from the wind as we ate and drank. And oh, how sweet it was to see my brother, soon thereafter, at the top of the hill waiting for us! How sweet to have a full day to hike, picnic, and swim with nieces: a day that was a lesson in accepting the blessings, and the angels that come along, even when the days to come are uncertain. Lord, let us trust that You will not forget us . . . that Your goodness will continue as long as . . . we both shall live?
June 17, 2014
I wish I could have pushed the “pause” button. It’s over now and, I must admit, in one way I’m just relieved that it is. There was a fair bit of angst and agonizing leading up to it, with all the things involved in planning such an event: things that my unskilled-at-event-planning-self was utterly overwhelmed by. But when it came down to it, the most beautiful thing happened—I was able to feel like just my normal self throughout the day; and that normalcy was really the most heaven sent gift that could have been given.
We started out on a jovial note: my maid of honor and I woke up to the delivery of coffee from my brother. He asked me about it beforehand, saying “Hey, it seems like a cool thing to do would be to bring you a wedding day coffee. Never heard of anyone doing it, but I think I’d like to—what would you like?” A short while later the van showed up, and my family members began comparing their selections of choice. As she does, mom proudly displayed her cup and spelled out the drink, while the rest of us raised our eyebrows at her customarily froo-froo brew, compared to our more stout selections. I got to be the morning hero, doling out a few prized gummy bears to my niece before sending them off for some serious bulk shopping. My mom, you see, had offered and, later, insisted (when I was worrying about the workload and asking if I could take the job away from her) on managing the food herself. She has this ability to just sail through tasks like that that others of us shrink from in horror. I don’t know how she does it but, when she told me she could handle it, I admitted that I have 34 years of experience to prove that yes, no matter what “it” may be, she can indeed handle it! Sure enough, she managed to pull off, with the happy hands of several willing family members, a full spread of fabulous picnic fare, perfectly suited to our barn reception. In fact, she pulled off the same sort of feat with my flowers. After some comical arguments in the planning process, she ended up surprising me at the last minute by doing the flowers that I had hoped for, but that she thought she couldn’t do with logistics such as Southern heat involved. There they were, though: daisies and wildflowers lovely as anything I could have pictured!
When we first entered into this planning process, we wanted it to be a family affair, with everyone just pitching in so as to make for a simple and low-stress event. What I was to discover was that making it a family affair just might not be the way to go if you’re looking for “low stress” :-) It probably could have potentially been quite “easy” if we had hired it all out. But I would not have had it any other way that what we did. The arguments and angsts that came along with it just served to make for stories to tell in the future, and made it so much more of an event than the day itself. It became, instead, a process of getting to know the new family members, and of relearning relationships with the old. I never dreamed that I would be comfortable displaying my worst, teary-eyed, overwhelmed state when surrounded by others. But I started to joke, as the day approached, about the number of meltdowns I had had so far, on any given day. Such is my family, however, that when I had hit my limit, they simply sent us off for some alone, recovery time while they carried on with the planning. Sometimes we all need to relearn that truth that the world will continue to spin without us propelling it onward :-)
I now sit in a bit of a stunned state, awed by the displays of love and kindness that we have benefitted from all along the way in the year leading up to this day. How do you say thank you for gifts that go above and beyond in so many ways? And is it even possible to do it adequately when such displays are just the latest in a lifetime of them? I guess that’s what happens with family: there’s just no rhyme or reason for the things we do for those we love. And for all the ways I want to now list things out and track them in an organized, librarian fashion, I wonder if maybe this is a category in which I will have to accept failure . . .I am destined to fail in the task of paying back all the love that has been given. So be it.
One of the things I have heard with some regularity over the last few months has been that “It’s your day!” This would generally be prompted by some sort of agonizing on my part about how to make the best decision: the one that would please the most people. I have generally waved off this comment. Depending on my mood at the time, my response would be either some sort of sarcastic statement about how, obviously, everyone BUT me was in charge of the decisions. Or, more commonly, I would launch into an attempted explanation of how my own happiness hinges so heavily on that of my family members that I cannot be pleased with a choice unless it seems to be one most likely to please the most people. Yet, inasmuch as I feel incapable of shaking this mindset, I am fully aware that it will send one running in circles faster than a pup chasing it’s own tail.
On this end of it all, I am starting to suspect that the truth, for me at least, may be something of a rather different slant. Maybe the decisions and people involved were, in fact, about everyone else. But maybe that “everyone else” includes me as well. For if the day belongs to the whole family, then the day also inherently belongs to me, as a part of the same. And when it came down to it, I truly did feel like it was my day—even in the parts that I just stepped back from altogether. Because I am the one who gets to mull over, and claim this day for the years to come.
I get to picture the look on those two little flower girls’ faces as they waited for me to tell them when to walk.
I get to remember fumbling with that little one’s sandals after she, noticing my own bare feet, asked if she could walk barefoot as well. A successful last-minute wardrobe change there in the grass behind the wedding guests.
I get to remember a spur of the moment tossing of my bouquet to that same little one as we left for the evening, and the smile on her face as she caught it.
I caught my mom crying during the ceremony and, I think, later as I was singing a duet with my uncle. I admit to a bit of a difficulty focusing on everyone, however, in the midst of it all, so could be off on the timing of the tears :-) I have seen my mother cry in the weddings of the other children, however, so this I kind of expected. I did not, however, expect her to sing. My mom stood up during the reception and sang a song: one she had done as a duet with my father many years ago. I am quick to tell others of my general dislike for surprises; this one, however, defied the norm. I was awed by the moment, and captured by my mother’s loveliness . . .it made “my day” :-)
Thanks be to the Giver of all, in whom is found such kindness that He would deign to grant us times designated solely for the purpose of basking in untainted Joy.
June 4, 2014
All I can figure is that He must get a kick out of dispensing doses of extraordinary grace. Otherwise, the amount with which I have been favored would be ridiculous.
Twice, you see, in the span of two days, I have exhibited shining displays of, er, brilliance. And twice, in those same two days, I have been spared the consequences. Quite miraculously, I might add.
Three days ago I landed in country. Ordinarily, I am quite the light packer, enjoying the challenge of carrying all my own possessions easily. Incidentally, I am also prone to carry with me everything that is essential to my life. This fact will come into play in Part II of the story. For now, however, back to Part I . . . So this time around, I am traveling with a friend and we are both carrying extra baggage for others. I thought, by the end of the 18-hour journey, that I had gotten accustomed to the number of bags I had. I was wrong. We arrive at our destination city, load up our belongings, and head from Seattle to Tacoma. Unloading our things at my cousin’s home, I look around me and say, with a sinking in my belly, “Where’s my other bag?” R looks at me, startled. “Did you not pick it up?” I realize that I cannot remember when I last had it. But it obviously did not make it all the way with me. In my travel-weary daze, I gain a bit of adrenaline-energy and gear up to head back to the airport. R stays with our other bags at the house and I alternate between wishing I had not skipped coffee that day and mulling over possible ramifications of a failure to reconnect with my bag. I should add here that I had a distinct blessing in this endeavor. R and I had intended to take the bus from the airport. Upon arrival, though, two angels had announced that they would drive us to our destination. It was a tight fit in their vehicle, with bags piled on top of us, but we were more than willing to sacrifice space for the ease of travel. Now that I think about it, had I had all the bags I should have had, perhaps this gift of a ride would not have happened at all! At any rate, these same angels, when I realized I was missing a bag, declared that they would drive me straight back to where I had come from. Nearing the airport, they mentioned that they would have to leave me, but that they would pr_y for easy bag retrieval. I mentioned that I had a too-good-to-be-true hope that the bag was where I had left it, and that it would still be there, waiting for its wayward owner. Moments later, I hopped out of their car, promising to let them know how it ended. No more than 10 minutes after that, they received a text from me: “It was still circling around, all by itself, on the carousel. Thank you!!!” Not until the second trip back from the airport, however, sitting on the bus, did I have the courage to update my fiancé on my safe arrival . . . and admit to him the sordid details of it :-)
Part II. So after a pleasant day spent with my cousin and her rowdy little ones—a day spent in part preparing for the road trip to come and in part being on kid-duty, R and I hit the road the next day. We picked up some necessary items at the mall, and then picked up some food-to-go before hitting the highway. This first day was a short day so far as travel goes, with only one state between us and our destination. She was planning to spend the next state’s visit with her cousin, and I had made plans to stay with an old college roomie. As I neared her house, she told me that she was going to request a night off at home, so that the two of us could go out when I got there. We were giddy with the prospect by the time I arrived, quickly packing our swim bags after dinner. When we got to the soaking pools, we were asked for our ID’s. I reached for my wallet. I then dug for it. Then dumped out my backpack with a befuddled expression. “Um . . . I don’t know where it is. “ They seemed a bit amused when I instead handed them a photocopy of my passport. “Will you take this instead?” I asked. I explained that I always have passport copies stashed in various places. They nodded as if they understood, but I don’t think they quite tracked with me there. They did accept the form of ID, however. Though pleasant enough, I must say that our soak was not all that relaxing for me. I could not help but obsess over the wallet, racking my brain over where it could be. Finally it hit me: the last purchase I had made was a state earlier. I looked up the location of the coffee store, my friend helping me find the phone number, and we ended up juggling our two phones as we sat there in the pool. I almost couldn’t bear the suspense of asking, when the salesperson answered. But he cheerily enough informed me that he had my wallet. Fast forward a day and now you will find me with my valuable possessions in the mail, on the way back to me. This cafe not only held my wallet safely for me [presumably leaving all the foreign currency in tact ;-)], but they offered to ship it to my next destination in the road trip.
My friend and I were running errands when I got a call from the store manager. He had gone into work early that day so that he could take my wallet to get it sent out to me. He told me the shipping options and, as I thought, I asked if he could have me pay upon receipt. As I said it, though, I stopped myself. “Wait a sec,” I said, “you can just raid my wallet to pay for the shipping!” “Uh, ok—you want me to do that?” he asked. “Yeah, that would be great!” He agreed to do so and then we had an awkward exchange in which he said, “Ok, well, bye. Guess I won’t talk to you later!” “Guess not” I replied. “Bye then”
And there you have it. That was this morning. By this evening, I was consumed with chasing a 3-year-old around the playground and laughing with her mom over the profundity of her comments.
Grace. Life is grace. And maybe, by definition, that makes it extraordinary . . .
June 2, 2014
There were a lot of tears this week. Tears of others, and those of me. The other day I had one last walk with M. By this point in the series of goodbyes, my eyes were dry. I couldn’t really cry anymore. Business had to be done. My home needed to be packed up; bags needed to be packed for the next leg of summer travels; people on the other end of those travels needed to be contacted; wedding planning needed to be done . . . No time for tears.
Instead, I told her that I couldn’t really handle saying goodbye, so I was going to just pretend that it was just another afternoon walk for us. We had even opted for a boring walk around the school playground, choosing something as normal as possible before our normalcy would be gone. As we talked, we spoke of next year. We prayed for the holes in each of our hearts to be filled. Our friendship had been a gift, filling a neediness in each of us. We must, then, trust that this neediness next year will be filled. Somehow.
Then, as our time ran away from us, we hopped on our bikes, as usual. We biked slowly together towards the school entrance, as usual. We waved, as usual. “Have a good evening,” she called out. “You too,” I replied. “See ya tomorrow,” I lied. I turned into my gate and clenched my teeth. So much for those dry eyes, I muttered to myself, as I blinked my way home.
I should be used to this. This is the nature of life here. Sometimes I’m the one leaving. Sometimes I’m the one staying. I don’t know which is harder. I do know that it gets harder the older I get, which I didn’t expect. And that is where, I suppose, He gives provision as needed. This time I say goodbye to some as I stay put and begin a very new sort of journey. This time it is a journey into consistency . . . a journey into commitment; connubiality; conjugality; name your synonym, I suppose :-) That most normal, yet most mysterious of gifts. Lord grant me the ability to embrace this new season with a grace beyond me.
May 24, 2014
It just got hot. Really hot. And with the kind of shriveling sunshine that only 1,900-metre altitude could dole out.
But truthfully, I haven’t really minded the heat all that much. After this year’s harsh winter, I have found it a refreshing change to be battling. It has also been a bit helpful for me professionally, as it is much easier to sit tight with my looming mountain-o’-library-inventory when the usually tugging outdoors has a not quite so appealing tug anymore.
No, the heat war is a much more natural one for me. So long as I can take swimming breaks in the midst of it. Swimming. Ah, swimming. Sweet swimming! There was a time. Once upon that time . . .
The beginning of this school year brought a revelation from one of my local friends that she was about to head out for a 2-year service venture on the seas. As is common in this country, she had never learned to swim. She and another friend, consequently, decided they needed to learn, and so they asked me if I would be willing to instruct them. This was an easy “yes” for me. Sure, I felt like I had too much to do on any given day, but this would be one of those outlets that makes the rest of the duties manageable. They began to search for a pool for us. Finally they found one that was clean and pleasant, and not too far from our homes. It took some doing, but they succeeded in securing us a swim card that would last for the year. However, with the onset of the rains, and then the snow, we never ended up using our card until this spring. There were times I would have gone regardless, but it’s not culturally appropriate to swim when the weather is bad, even if the pool is safely secured against the elements. Finally, in April, the sun had returned steadily enough for us to begin our swims. We were in swimming heaven for the next month, snagging evening and weekend trips as much as we could manage. I did my best as a dutiful instructor, and also managed plenty of my own fun in the process: who knew I could manage two full-length laps of butterfly, in a row!?! And who could have predicted that my usual breaststroke-freestyle routine could so quickly morph into a discovery of the pleasant peace of backstroke? I mean, I didn’t even know I could do backstroke!
But then came the day, the fateful day. M received a phone call. “We are so sorry to inform you that, as of this day, our pool can no longer allow foreigners to enter . . .” Simple as that. It seems my suntan and swim-capped hair did nothing to hide my glaring foreignness. It’s the nose that gave it away :-)
In all seriousness, however, I must admit to being a bit stunned. And humbled, as I realized that I have never before felt anything remotely like true discrimination. I have lived a privileged, golden life of access. And suddenly, I can do nothing to change the lack thereof. I am grateful for the lesson. And, incidentally, hugely grateful for an early wedding present of a humidifier.
**So the next day, at the close of a sweltering afternoon, the skies caved in. As we cleaned up from the graduation ceremony, a loud clap of thunder sounded. Minutes later, the rains came. People began to take shelter and look for umbrellas. I went outside with the little ones.
April 20, 2014
We were the coolest bunch of ragtags I’ve ever been a part of. As we walked into the school this weekend, we met another team and struck up a conversation. A sentence containing the words “first track meet” was spoken. “Oh wow!,” I heard, “Your first track meet this season?” “Uh, no . . . our first track meet. Ever.” Silence.
Yes, our first track meet ever. Somehow we haven’t managed to pull off the logistics necessary for one yet. But thanks to the hard work of the co-coach we no longer have in country, it just happened. From the start, it was clear that we would have stories to tell, with energy belying the fact that we had all had to leave school at 5:00 the morning of the meet in order to catch a flight that would get us there in time for opening events. Mind you, by the time after-dinner socializing had begun, that energy was long gone: they were a pitiful bunch, really—begging to be allowed to go to bed while the rest of the teens enjoyed games and a live band . . . a band with which I would never have the guts to pump up and spontaneously harmonize to “I’m gonna be” ;-)
But I digress. What I was going to tell you about was the first thing that made my day—a day that was made a thousand times over by the end of it. First off, I should explain that our school has not managed to brave the world of hurdles. For one, I am clueless as to the coaching of them. For two, we have not had the funding to purchase. For three . . . oh wait, I forgot: there are only two reasons I can think of at this point in my travel/running weary brain.
So the first event of the weekend was hurdles. Once all were set up, one girl could contain her curiosity no longer; she went over and began experimenting with them. She then looked over at the coach next to her. “I could so do that! she exclaimed. He shrugged, “Why don’t you ask if you can?” I was walking over from the other end of the field when she came running to me with her request. I didn’t stop to think beyond running myself over to the administrating coach to ask. He called over to stop the guys who were in the process of taking out an extra lane of hurdles. Those extra hurdles were no longer extra. As you might suspect, she did well. Really well. She also went on to medal in several events. Not bad for a first-timer, eh?
Continuing the pinch-hitting trend, we had a relay team decide that they liked doing the 4 x 100 well enough: why not add join the teams doing the 4 x 200 too? Why not get a 3rd place medal while you’re at it? We had one similar highlight after another over the two days of events.
But I think what struck me the most—and what I applauded them for in our pre-boarding airport recap meeting—was the “teamness” of them. I kept watching the ways they cared for each other: running to cheer on their teammates; carrying shed jackets and shoes; bringing waters and snacks; supporting limping, or dog-tires competitors . . . in short, showing real care. These kids don’t just claim to be friends: their friendship has hands. And feet. Fast feet :-)
Incidentally, we also managed to end the weekend with one war wound. A war wound that occurred on the bus ride from the finished meet to the airport. One young man discovered that he had crushed the lens of one side of his glasses, leaving them in his pocket during the races. Intrigued by the idea of potentially having lens-less frames to, I suppose, look cool in, he proceeded to push on the other lens with his fingers. Shortly, we were taping up a bloodied finger, which we took turns monitoring for the rest of the journey home.
April 5, 2014
About those twists and turns . . .
So this past week has brought a twist that blindsided my little corner of the world. It changes everything. Or so it feels at the moment. In a way I feel sheepish to be even claiming, as it were, this event, as my own portion of the pain is miniscule in comparison to the pain of others involved. But it has touched me all the same, and as I cannot deny this fact, I might has well reflect verbally on its ramifications.
One day this week I headed out to practice as usual and was perplexed to find my co-coaches absent. As dedicated as this couple is to the sport, I could not imagine why they would be absent at all, never mind without warning. But we carried on as usual, me with my distance runners and another parent helper filling in with the sprinters. The next morning I came into work early, checking email before heading to the morning meeting. Seeing two emails from this couple, I read them immediately . . . and a pause button was pushed on my day. They had suddenly left the country, after a discovery of quickly advancing leukemia in their youngest son. Because of the rate of progression, there was no time to even go home from the doctor: they left instantly. The day passed in a blur of work-as-usual interspersed with tears. The 4th grade class, in which this son was a part, shut down altogether when the news was announced, allowing each child time to grieve and process. In fact, the whole school felt to me to acquire a sort of communal feel, as thought we were simply one giant 300-person family going about the business of supporting each other as we figured out how to move forward from here. And in terms of business, I had to get to it pretty rapidly, as we had just booked flights for a Track Meet which was headed up by this couple. I was faced with the realization that I had to figure out what to do now about solely chaperoning a trip that I did not even have any flight, lodging, or event information for. As so often happens, however, those details began working out smoothly enough, as others pitched in to help with the planning, and as the family themselves landed and was able to be in touch again.
Now, only a few short days later, Spring Break has begun, promising to allow for a bit of space to reflect, in unexpected ways. This day began with setting out for my planned travel, gearing up for a long journey for the sake of event planning that is not exactly high on my enjoyment-level-radar. Arriving early, we leisurely made our way to the check-in counter. Once there, however, it quickly became apparent that this flight was not going to happen smoothly, if at all. As I had made the purchase through the airline’s website, the connecting flight it had given me was, as I have now a new realm of knowledge for, “locked” in this country. I was beginning to envision cancellation altogether when they finally figured out the issue and fixed it. By this point, however, my original flight had left and so I had to be rebooked on another one. I was not amused. I very much dislike surprises, and I especially hate not being where I [think I] am supposed to be.
P, as he does, took it all in stride. “We have some more time together,” he said with a smile. I grunted my agreement in a manner highly unbecoming of one committed to a lifetime of such time together. But we began to walk around, heading out to see if the sun was warm enough to enjoy out on the airport asphalt. From where we stood there, however, we noticed a surprisingly peaceful area of paths and gardens down below. We wondered if it was even accessible, being as deserted as it was. But we soon found a way down there. What came next was a true blessing of an afternoon. We meandered through the paths, admiring the roses and enjoying a conversation that meandered just as much as our feet did, covering both seriousness and pure goofiness. Time passed rapidly and once the flight time had arrived, I was amazed at how much brighter my outlook had just become.
It is amazing how vivid the small things become when things in life hit us. Moments become more meaningful [unfortunately, this applies to the negative as well as the positive, with human nature being what it is] . . . Colors become brighter . . . People become more real. I guess we all have a little bit of Velveteen Rabbit in us.