the hurdle

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.


March 25, 2014

IMG_1009Maybe it’s the smallest surrenders that make the greatest growths in the soul. In my life, at least, it’s easier to rise to the challenge in the big things: the obvious challenges. When it know great things are being required of me, it feels as if there’s less of a choice … Of course I need to do this thing in front of me!
But when it’s not so clear, and when it’s a small thing that needs to be done, I end up much more inclined to war with myself over the actual doing of this thing in front of me that may or may not ever be recognized for the strength it took to do.
This past week God asked something of me. I felt the nudging for a few days and, for those few days, I fought. God, please don’t ask this of me. Not now. I can’t handle anything else at the moment. You know my plate is full-surely this isn’t really Your voice … But I knew it was. And I knew I simply had to decide: would I, or would I not, listen to His still, small voice?
During our afternoon walk on Tuesday I told M about my struggle. I didn’t tell her what it was; I was too cowardly yet to be held accountable in that way. After listening to my agonizing, she simply responded that “I sense this will ease a burden, and lighten a load for you.” No! I wanted to argue … You don’t understand: THIS, that is being asked of me, is the burden-that’s my problem! But I knew she was right. And somehow, in the mere speaking of the struggle, I knew I could say “yes” to Him. By the end of our walk, I was able to truthfully tell M that I was at peace now-not because I looked forward to it, but because there was a peace in the resolve of the decision being made. Yes.
By Friday afternoon’s walk, I was able to thank M for the part she had played, and able to tell her the details of the nudging I had said “yes” to. It was indeed a small thing. And, you know, I don’t believe He would have loved me any less if I had held onto my will in this “small” thing. But I would have missed out. The things He asks of us are those that will make us more real. More whole.


March 14, 2014

IMG_1131“Life is strange with its twists and turns, as every one of us sometimes learns . . . “ In my grandmother’s house there is a wall hanging with a poem written on it. My brain has a tendency to grasp onto words and roll them around incessantly. Sometimes these are words that I particularly like the sound of. Other times, though, they are just words. Words that stick whether or not I consciously like them all that much. This poem falls into the second category. I don’t particularly like the poetics of it and, though it is true enough, don’t even particularly care for its platitude-like nature. But ever since I was old enough to read, and retain, its words, they have reappeared in my brain every time something happens that reminds me of them. This is one of those times.
Last week we had a scare: an attack in the city that led to a sort of lockdown. In the immediacy of it, all I was concerned about was the disruption to my intended schedule: What would happen to the music team when I couldn’t get there for practice? How would I get the weekend errands done if I was not allowed to bike around as usual? Would the little ones understand when they didn’t get to go to library for preschool story time?
All very small-minded questions, when it comes down to it, considering the greater scale of terror that had just occurred in other lives. But I’ve always struggled to really grieve [and even really care] about things that do not seem to touch my own sphere of people or life; I am not proud of this emotional handicap, and it has led to prayers I have prayed for the breaking of my heart.
As the day of the attacks wore on, however, I began to notice some strange things going on in my otherwise-unaffected self. I was overreacting, for one, to normal interactions. And I was on a bit of a high, more hyper than usual for a Sunday. Most strikingly, however, for me, was the fact that I couldn’t seem to communicate effectively: conversations that are usually easy territory for me were a struggle. By afternoon I was piecing together the bits into a realization that I was reacting to a past part of my life. Here I was, living in a city where nothing but safety has been evident for the year plus in which I have lived here. Our struggles just don’t go into the realm of safety. I had taken this feeling for granted, clearly, so that now, illusion shattered, I was feeling the fears of the life I led two years ago: fears that were constant. But this afternoon it was a fleeting sort of fear that, once recognized, was easily dealt with. In between bread risings, we went out for a walk. Starting to walk, however, I stopped, took off my shoes, and started to run. I didn’t bother explaining anything, in words I knew I didn’t need to. After running for a while, I came back to him to resume our walk. “Feel better?” he asked. I nodded, and we carried on with the walk, and with the day.

They say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” While true enough, in a poetic way, I think this is a bit of a misleading truth. A more accurate [if less poetic] statement may be that “long periods of presence combined with brief spurts of absence make the heart grow fonder.” This is a reality that I am struck by at the moment, away for a conference. While here, I find myself musing on the fact that for all the times I have wished to get away from the daily grind of my workplace, it takes no longer than one day away to be missing it . . . missing those children, and missing the coworkers who function as my family in so many respects. Yesterday, while still there, I found myself relaxing from my usual level of productivity-stress.
For one, I looked out the window to see a science class testing out some homemade kites. I walked out to watch, smiling with their teacher at how “cute” the kids were as they ran around barefooted in the grass. I snapped a few photos, collected a few unwanted kites [which now form a bit of a hanging display in the library], and then I returned to the parent letter I was writing at the time.
For two, I snuck out again during lunch recess [I say “snuck out” because I generally stay put during recess so as to be available for potential check outs]. No one was seeming to want the library so I walked out to join the kids as they played. I smiled at the sight of one of my French students laying in the grass . . . contemplating life, or so it seemed. Watching her for a moment, I then walked over and, on impulse, laid down next to her. We did not say anything: just laid there watching the other children. After a few moments another child came over and laid down next to us. From the other side of the field I overheard a “Hey—what’s Miss J doing over there?” I looked over and waved at her, as a way of a response. And I smiled again. When it was time to go back inside I stood up, brushed myself off and wondered if I was wet from the dew. It didn’t really matter, though. Didn’t really matter at all.

feed the birds

February 18, 2014

IMG_1096This weekend my mood went to the birds. I had spent Saturday morning in a sort of a funk. It was not exactly a bad mood, as I was able to enjoy time reconnecting with a friend I had not seen in a while. And the sun was shining brilliantly—a fact that oftentimes has tremendous uplifting powers for me. But on a deeper level I was conflicted. I was battling my own moodiness—a darkness stemming from my inability to control my own emotions: an inability to be who I wanted to be . . . to love the way I wanted to love. I was, in short, feeling my fallenness. And this was the self that I brought into an afternoon intended to be spent planning the necessary logistics for a soon-to-come future together.
As we headed out, I couldn’t pretend anything other than where I was, so I just blurted it out, admitting that I was not in a good state of mind to be figuring out details. I ended with a sigh, “I wish there was a pretty place to go . . . somewhere to just be in beauty.” Rather than responding with any hint of disappointment, he just nodded and suggested we go to the lake. “Oh!” I said. “Could we? That sounds wonderful!” So we scrapped the intended destination and, instead, walked along the lake. For a spot smack dab in the middle of the city, I was shocked by how immediately soothing I found the sight of the water and the feel of the breeze.
Then, we fed the birds. I shrieked at the feel of the seagull wings sweeping against my hair, and beaks brushing my fingers. But they were shrieks of joy, coming from a wide-mouthed smile. And, just like that, the fog in my soul lifted. We even ended up carrying on with our intended agenda after all, with positivity.
Since that moment I have been musing on the frailty of my inner workings, and on the futility of placing any sort of confidence in my own skills. There is no goodness in me that can rise to the challenge of what a life can toss in my path. There is no amount of control I can muster to counteract the emotional ups and downs that buffet this brain on any given day. There is no “self” that is worth having confidence in.
But there is One who is.

the unflight

February 5, 2014

It was an unflight to remember. Yes, an “unflight” –a 10-hour “flight” during which the airplane did not move. Actually, I take that back: it did move. More times than I can remember; but each time it began a take-off, the attempt was aborted. The funny thing about it all was that, like most memorable incidents, the trials of it ended up creating a sort of communal [familial] goodwill among the 2-hundred-some lot of us. I’ll explain that later. But first, the beginning . . .

It began with a sprint. My first leg of the journey was slightly late so that, with only a 45-minute layover, I had to make a mad dash through the airport in order to catch the main leg of the journey. Or so I thought. As it turned out, I could have turned that sprint into a 26-hour stroll.

We started off well, boarding as usual. They played the safety video, and we began the taxi. Nearing liftoff, a thud came from below, after which the airplane slowed and, soon, came to a stop. After a few minutes, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. He explained that, as some of us had heard, a noise had come that made him decide to return the aircraft to the gate for further inspection. We came back for the first 3 hours of waiting time. At this point the aircraft was determined to be safe for take off and we started over. Another no-go. Thus began a string of issues, ranging from mechanical to pilot shift changes to FAA regulations to medical emergencies.

Did you know that each time an aircraft comes to a stop, it has to replay the safety video before taking off again, even if all passengers are still seated? After a few repetitions, however, the crew members just might begin to introduce the video with jokes about how well we all know it . . .

And did you know that if a pilot times out on his allotted work time before the flight begins, they might have to call another pilot in who will have to drive two hours from his home in another state in order to take the trip? Mind you, he might just discover, once he has boarded the aircraft, that federal regulations will prevent the flight from taking off at all, after such an extended delay . . .

Have you ever observed a passenger become so irate that she stands up in her seat and begins ranting about how we should all join her in attempting to get off the aircraft because we have the “power” if we will “join together?” Happily, in this case the campaign was unsuccessful . . .

Were you aware that your stowed luggage, if composed of just the right materials, can clash with another bag in such a way as to imitate mechanical failure? Consider factoring this knowledge into your next baggage purchase . . .

I mentioned “familial” at the beginning of this piece. At first glance one would assume the use of this word to indicate a purely ethereal feeling: what I felt as I neared the gate on Flight “take 2” and saw so many people I had spent the day prior bonding with; In fact, as I walked by I said out loud to all who could hear, “Look at us—we’re like one big happy family!” And indeed, we were acting like it. In the midst of conversations about artificial insemination and bees [yes, I do in fact mean the real versions of each of these two topics. No pun intended], we began to take photos together and exchange contact information. After one photo, a recent acquaintance answered his phone and I could not help but hear the words of two intersecting street names that I know very well. After he hung up, I asked him if he was talking about an area near my old home. Turns out, he was. A few more queries in, we discovered that he spent time there many years ago and knew some of the same people I did. To be more precise, he knew my grandfather from business, and was pleased to hear that I had just come from a happy visit with two still active-and-chipper grandparents. What astounded me the most, however, was when he mentioned that he recalled meeting my father. This conversation happened as we boarded the aircraft and was the cause of a few distracted document-handlings and a good number of amused heads shaking and smiles from neighbors in the queue.

The second day of this flight’s attempt was almost smooth. We could not, I suppose, be all together without a few “apologies for the delay” and one start and stop. But this time, the second trip down the runway was completed. The pilot prefaced with “Let’s get there!,” and when we actually lifted off, the cabin erupted in cheers and applause. Onward ho, with 14 hours and 27 minutes of an actually-in-the-air flight :-)Image


January 21, 2014


You just never know with teens. This school year has been a bit of a learning curve in my present library. Not because I’m new to the school [or to libraries, for that matter], but because when I came last year it was in an unfamiliar position—a true learning curve—as a fourth grade teacher. The initiation into life here, then, was a rather harrowing one. And it left me overly stressed for much of the beginning of this year: I suspect simply because I got used to a high level of work stress and was afraid to sink into a more natural one for me . . . a “too good to be true” mindset, perhaps. All that to say, I’ve been figuring out this librarian thing all over again ☺
One thing I did without thinking too much about it was bending the old rules a bit by allowing the high schoolers to bring their lunch in. After watching them stand in the hallway with their plates for months, so eager to get into the library that they were unwilling to “waste” the time in the cafeteria, I just beckoned to them one day. “Come on in.” I said with a sigh. They looked at me oddly. “Just bring your lunches and come in.” I told them that so long as they sat at the table in the uncarpeted area while they were eating, it would be ok to come in. They nodded eagerly in agreement and the select few has ritually dined in the library ever since. I need to be in the library for both lunch periods, available for checkout, so am accustomed to saving in-library projects for that time frame, when I can busy about without being fully engaged as I am when teaching library classes. So I have grown accustomed to just doing my work and half-listening as they talk. Recently I realized, however, that I have also grown to look forward to this period of the day. With my normal elementary workload, I’ve found it refreshing to experience the high school world. And I’ve started to suspect that a few of them kind of like me as well [a suspicion that brings out the best—er, worst?— in my dorky desire to be one of the popular kids ;-)].
One of the girls who comes in bears an aura of devil-may-care about her. She is in her own world, and doesn’t really care what others think of her . . . or so it seems. I’ve started to notice, however, little indications of sensitivity tucked underneath that sarcastic exterior. And it has given me the desire to let her know that I enjoy having her around. With this sort of adolescent phase, I know better than to try to pry, or be overly affectionate. Instead, then, I just casually drop hints as best I can: hints that I think she is pretty cool.
This afternoon I packed up my things as usual to head out once I was done. If students are wanting to study in the library after hours, though, I try to allow it. I will just leave them there and return later to lock up. Doing so today, then, this particular student was reading as I left. I told her I was heading out and said that if she was gone when I returned, I hoped she had a good evening. She waved goodbye to me and I went out for my walk with a coworker. Later on I came back to lock up and almost missed a note on my desk. When I did see it, however, I grinned heartily. It was no big deal, really. But this small note spoke volumes to me. It spoke of the value behind each small moment of a day. It spoke of a brimming heart hidden beneath a gruff exterior.

a village Christmas

December 25, 2013

A village Christmas. I could never have imagined it would be the way it turned out to be. Mind you, I knew going into it that it was to be a blind acceptance of an unknown to-come; I could not have predicted any particular sort of way 5 days in a remote village could be. And, frankly, it was with a good deal of trepidation that I stepped out of my comfort zones to do this. For one, I was out of my technology comfort zone: for one who is normally internet-reliant for all manner of connectedness, no online access for this amount of time would be no small venture.
For two, this would be out of my working comfort zone: it was going into someone else’s work life, basically as a bystander, and letting go of the crutch that my working identity generally functions as. Finally, this would be a departure from “comfort zone” in the expected “comfort” level of the word: logistics such as no indoor plumbing, for one (the closest outhouse being down the hill, past some homes, and back up the hill again) meant any Western idea of comfort was, well, anywhere but here! 
But the surprising thing that happened, once I’d had a day or so to get my bearings, was the realization that somewhere deep inside the city-dwelling self I have become, there is a part of me that was shaped by my early village-dwelling existence. So I found myself settling happily into the pace of days spent observing toilet installations, playing impromptu games with laughing little ones, and then, in the oddest manner imaginable, celebrating Christmas. Christmas Eve began with a discussion over the breakfast table as to how the workday would begin. One project leader had left for a supply run that day, leaving us with a shortage of both supplies and leadership. The suggestion was made to do an alternate task at hand, hiking to the water source for an inspection. The village leader suspected it would take us 5 hours. Since it actually took 4, I later had my own suspicions that he was tacking on a significant chunk of time to allow for an apparently slow female hiker :-). It was, in fact, an arduous climb. For portions if the trek I felt like I was having to dredge up rock climbing skills (and, alternatively, bottom-sliding skills for the way down). It wasn’t particularly pleasant either, with the sun growing quite warm and the guide warning us against baring skin when in the tall grass. My fear of itchy skin overpowered present discomfort so I begrudgingly kept my winter jacket zipped up to my chin. 
Eventually we made it to the top and inspections were made of the small streams that sufficed as water sources for the village. At one of them, after Peter had spoken with our guide for a bit without figuring out what the exact problem might be, he asked the guide if he could see the other end of the pipe that was directing water from the collection tank down the hill. He held the end up to his mouth then gave it a forceful blow. When a chunk of mud came out the other end, Peter scooped it out of the holding tank and smiled. “I’m really just a glorified plumber,” he quipped.
On the way back down, once I had determined for myself that I would, in fact, survive this hike, it occurred to me that I should somehow commemorate this as the day it was. I began to quietly hum “away in a manger.” Peter heard me and joined in, so I began to sing at a more normal volume. For the rest of the hike we worked through all the Christmas carols we could think of. One of my falls came in the middle of one of the songs I tend to get particularly engrossed in. I got up and recovered my bearings, still singing as I did so. “Maybe we should stop singing …” Peter suggested. I insisted that singing had no effect on my hiking abilities and we carried on. 
By the time we returned to the village, I was covered with a layer of botanically interesting, but personally undesirable, burrs and prickles of all manner of species. I was dreading the prospect of removal until I realized that, village life being what it is, the process would be relatively painless (no pun intended). As the women laughed at me, and commented on how “li hai” (strong) I was to have finished the hike, the prickle removal was made short work of, with many hands.
That afternoon held more septic tank installation work for much of the village. So though our team had spoken a bit of attempting some sort of nativity play, we were short on both time and energy by the time evening came. At dinner, however, a mention of caroling was made. I almost jumped off my stool as I envisioned the idea. “Why not?” I asked. “Is it appropriate? Can we? … Let’s do it!” So we spent Christmas Eve caroling-going from one village doorstep to the next, and ending each with a “sheng dan jie quai le!” (“Merry Christmas!). Judging from the shy smiles on little faces and the amused grins on big ones, I’m quote certain that some significant Christmas goodwill was spread to all … Or at least to most :-) 
Once we had finished, and bedtime neared, I began to think towards the travel coming the next day. A tear rolled down my face when I spoke out loud the realization that I was sad. Sad to be leaving, so soon, this place that so rapidly stole my heart.
The next morning we left on motorcycles. My backpack strapped to my back and my hands gripping the driver, I think I grinned the whole way down; I was smiling at both my love of motorcycle transport and at the amusing way this ride was commemorating Christmas morning. A motorcycle ride led to a bus ride shared with a tank of live fish and, as I write this, we travel on. On to the next stopping point and then, the next day, on to the next adventure.
“Oh God, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Ps 8:4)
…that You are so good as to fill the heart of a woman who wants You, and who wants to want You more?

on this day

November 30, 2013

So on this year’s “on this day,” I once again find myself living in a different country from the last year’s “on this day.” But this time I’m not planning my next move. This time the transitional period has been a bit different. More on that may come in the future. But for now, without further ado, on this day . . .

I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.

It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.

That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.

The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.

So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.

I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.

Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.

I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.

I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .

Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.

And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.

On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.

I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.

7 minutes

November 26, 2013


I had a bit of a “Chariots of Fire” moment today. Tomorrow we have the annual school Turkey Trot, in which all the elementary students will be running courses of various lengths, according to age level. The littlest among them have some difficulty keeping on course [and avoiding the temptation to stop along the way to investigate various rocks and bugs and such], so I have been asked to run with them during my free periods this past week. Running with 4 and 5-year-olds has been an interesting learning curve for a Cross Country coach, to say the least ☺
Case in point: this morning’s Kindergarten run. I intended to stay ahead of them all for the entirety of the loop, so they could all look ahead and follow my path. One youngster, however, proved to me that I highly underestimated the speed and stamina of a 5-year-old: he kept me on my toes [;-)], so much so that I eventually gave up and let him take the lead. Once he had finished I went back to fetch the remaining runners.
After getting all the obvious ones I saw the last one walking along a lap behind on the track. She is very obviously special needs; the school is trying to get her tested and properly cared for but up to this point she has been studying along with the rest of the children. I have had her for both art and library classes from August till now and, up to this point, have not had any interaction in which I was aware of a connection with her.
Today when I went to bring her to the finish line, I jogged towards her and reached my hand out: “Run with me, Janie,” I said. To my surprise, she reached her hand towards mine, grabbed hold of it, and began to run. The P.E. teacher, watching us from the finish line, told the rest of the class to cheer us on. So Janie and I ran almost an entire lap together to the sounds of “Come on, Janie!,” “You can do it!,” and “Go, Janie!” coming from a chorus of young voices. Periodically she would look up at me grinning and, to my surprise, she did not once let go of my hand, or stop running. We finished the race. I went back to the library. And I spent the remainder of the day smiling about those 7 minutes with Janie.


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