lily’s life

May 21, 2015

My cat almost died this week. She may, in fact, still die. But I am currently eyeing her with hope as she eats small bits of my experimental offerings: scrambled eggs with cheese, bits of chicken, fish eggs. She has moved out of her chair enough to keep an eye on me—significant improvement from last night’s inability to even get herself down from the chair to her litter box. I say “my” cat when I should actually say “his” cat as, in truth, she is a daddy’s girl. So during the past 2 weeks of his village travels, she has seemed to just give up.
We suspect that she is aware of the changes looming ahead, in that uncanny manner that animals seem to sense their owners’ stresses and life events. At an old age, with one set of owners who raised her before us, she may just be saying that she is done with transition and will not cooperate with another one. So in a matter of hours, my great moving stress of finding a new home for her morphed into one of preparing for her death while nursing her as she lives. While at work today, I borrowed a shovel and made a cross, preparing myself for what I feared I would come home to. Instead of a burial, however, I have been alternately holding my breath in waiting and giddy with each active move she makes.
The strange part about this all is the revelation it has given me so far as my own transition and grieving process goes. Up to now, I have been consumed with the business of it all: overwhelmed by the prospect of getting all the books I ordered cataloged, managing inventory, and closing up with school business. I have also been increasingly guilt-ridden over my impatience with the string of goodbye parties and activities I’ve felt obligated to participate in. It seems as if all the other friends and coworkers, who are also leaving soon, have this ability to make the most of these last times together, to cry at the farewells, to wax eloquent about what has meant the most to them about life here. I, on the other hand, am unmoved: all I seem to be able to care about is trying to take care of business.
As I walked with one close friend after the most recent of these gatherings, I voiced my frustration, desperate to get it off my chest. She said she understood, and kindly offered that I should allow myself to feel what I felt, and let myself process as I needed to. While agreeing with her intellectually, I still could not shake the guilt for not caring about what I “should” care about.
But last night, as I woke up yet again to see if Lily was still breathing (the night was spent in a fitful manner of dozing and then reawakening in a fear that she was dead), I realized that I was crushed by the sight of her feeble shell of a self. And not only that, but it moved me to tears. Could it be, I wondered, that my cat is giving me the gift of grief: the ability to get out the emotion that has been locked behind an padlocked gate of ice?
I hope—I pray—that it is so . . .

a couple of cases

May 2, 2015

I wish I had my husband’s heart. I wish that, in the face of a series of significant farewells, I grew sad and reflective, as I see him doing. I wish that, when tears flowed at the prospect of a pending goodbye, my own eyes welled up at the prospect.
I was born to root . . . but bred to roam: raised in a fashion that left me stunted in “normal” settling tendencies and filled with quirky gifts, a few being:
the ability to pack all I really need for a move into two suitcases
a skill at finding the perfect new homes for random items that need giving-away in order to accomplish this 2-suitcase move
the capacity to unpack said 2 suitcases and feel comfortable in a new home in approximately 2 seconds . . . ok, so maybe 2 hours :-)

The other day I discovered an author, as I browsed the poetry section to find a poem to read for one of my classes. His name is Mattie Stepanek, and apparently he has had a fair bit of fame, once making it to the New York Times’ bestseller list. He died at the age of 13, after losing his 3 older siblings to the same disease that took his life (Muscular Dystrophy). This poem in particular struck me, with words expressing the emotion that I with I could express:

“Simple Ablution”

People complain that
Others cry too much.
How sad.
How angering.
How blundering.
Tears are like rain.
They come
Gently, or strongly.
They come
Quietly, or loudly.
They come
Refreshingly, or devastatingly.
But they always,
In some way, come.
And cleanse, and console.
There’s a mess to fix
After the rain,
After the tears,
But it always makes people
And think.
And take notice.
We should all cry
For each other.
If everyone in the world
Cried with and for
Other people and life,
We might be
More caring and peaceful.
We could cry enough
That the world would be
A cleaner and healthier place,
For our people,
For our life,
For our future.

What wisdom coming from such a young heart, and from such deep sorrow in so short of a life! I mused on these words as I finished the workday, trying to coax the appropriate sadness out of myself when speaking to others about my nearing transition.
Shortly thereafter, the school bell sounding, it was time for Track practice to begin. Only two of the students were distance, so I was decided to try to make it a good conversation time as we ran. Both had come on the trip we took a few weeks ago, so I asked them to tell me their highlights from that international track meet. Expecting them to talk about the medals they had won or their time socializing with buddies, I was caught off guard by the first response given: it was a song I had made up one day, as I accompanied 2 girls to the nearest bathroom. Noticing the rhyme one had accidentally spoken, I began to sing a song about how “we all need to pee.” Once getting started with it, of course, I couldn’t resist hamming it up a bit, and making a fool of myself in the process :-)
Now, stereotypically, one would think that this sort of behaviour, coming from one’s 35-year-old coach, would mortify a couple of teenage girls who were, incidentally, in the company of several hundred other teenage girls and boys. So when she gave this response, I looked at her in disbelief. Then I laughed. And the joy that welled up in my heart as we all laughed together brought tears to my eyes.
So maybe not the kind of tears I was trying for but, hey, I’ll take it :-)

*When it came my turn for highlight-sharing, I had an immediate response: our post-meet airport photo shoot. At this point in the game, the races were done and all were happy from the success, tired from the effort, and grungy from lack of showering after the fact. These factors seemed to combine in order to create a mutual sense of giddy carefreeness as we waited our the flight delay. For some reason, it made me particularly giddy to get to join in on the fun as we took a series of jumping photos . . . and somehow, it seems a fitting image for this particular post.


April 3, 2015

Not yet. What if the answer I am to end up with, at the end of an extravagant journey, is “not yet”? What if I, an admittedly impatient—at times, I’m afraid, impulsive—individual, am to come to end of orientation with the realization that I must turn down what was such an invigorating prospect to me?
When all is said and done, I near the end of this trip suspecting that the worth of it was in the family time that it allowed, more so than the academic experience itself. Mind you, I do still believe that the ideas I have are intended to result in some form of higher academic pursuit: I just cannot help but hope that this can happen in a way that does not take away the financial freedom acquired by living “outside the box,” in a sense. Up to this point, we have [previously independently and, now, together] avoided the normal sorts of financial obligations that come from school, home, or other debt; consequently, we have been able to pursue work that does not provide the “normal” sort of compensation.
So what I now realize, after a trip that combined doctoral program orientation with a family visit, is that I am not ready to give up that ability to do such family visits because all funds [plus much more than what we have :-)] are dedicated to education.
As much as I wanted to pursue this, and as much as it invigorated the mental synapses, I suspect that a bit of time will allow for a creative inspiration as to how this dream might be pursued in a way that fits us—the odd birds that we are. Funny thing, that word: fits. It occurs to me that this words has made its way into my vocabulary in a sort of thematic manner; in different seasons of my life, different fits have come . . . “if the shoe fits” . . . “a bun doesn’t fit in a burkha” . . . perhaps, now, “if the dream fits?”
Yes, I’m afraid that a part of life might be realizing that sometimes a dream has to die. Or maybe it is not exactly a death: maybe it is more of a releasing. Didn’t the poet warn “hold fast to dreams/for if dreams die . . .”? It may feel like a death, in that it is no longer held to oneself. But the truth is that it has been let go into the unknown future. Like a dove sent ahead to scope out the territory, it seeks out the growth that we cannot yet grasp hold of. Then, when the time is right, it returns to us, now a green branch of hope carried back from a shining future. So the brightness beckons us forward once again, towards a dream reborn into something better . . .

a picnic

March 11, 2015

It was a picnic. Of all things to throw me over the edge today, I must admit to it being a picnic. We had decided last night that, it being an evening without extra classes, we should use tonight to pack and picnic and head to a city park supposedly lovely with spring blooms right now.
I should have known better than to plan our outing for the day of the week that never fails to use up every ounce of my work energies: this year the Wednesday schedule simply maxes me out so far as the number and combination of classes.
I also should have known better than to make the plan for a week in which I am extra short on help with library maintenance tasks.
I especially should have been wary of any extra adventures in the week of a pending decision I need to make: a huge, many-years-impacting decision. I am perched at precipice, peering into the doorway of a dream come true . . . but a dream that stretches the limits of my confidence. Quite frankly, I do not know if I can do it, never mind if it is wise for us to commit to the expenses [spanning multiple sorts of “costs”] of it.
So it was that I came to the end of the day spent. So much so that a simple request to teach an extra class tonight brought me to a teary-eyed “No—I cannot: not tonight!” I texted P as I got on my bike to tell him I was on my way home. I also warned him, adding that “I don’t know if I can go out—I think I may need to stay home tonight.” I didn’t wait for his response before starting out . . . I knew I didn’t need to. I am married to a man with infinitely more patience and understanding than I can generally muster myself. I didn’t need to wait for the “No problem” that was to come.
Nearing home, I was getting back onto the bike after walking through a doorway when I paused. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of blue on the ground. Though I do not normally take time to pause at this point in the day, I did. Others walked around me as I then bent down and cupped a stunning butterfly in my hands. I do not know why I had the impulse to do so, but as it crawled along, limping from some sort of likely-fatal injury, I wanted to bring it home. P met me at the door and started to move my bike for me but I stopped him. “Wait—I need to do something!” I pointed to the bike basket, and to what was flitting about inside it. We cupped it together in our hands and snapped a photo of it before releasing it again. I do not have high hopes for the future of this butterfly life . . . but I do have hope. Perhaps the same can be said for my own.


February 2, 2015

This week I had an uncomfortable experience as an educator. I made a decision to refer one of my students to an extra-help class. It was a decision I made very quickly, putting together pieces in my head about the student’s work this past semester and then dashing about to various people I needed to consult for the change to happen. It was fine so far as decisions themselves go: there was no harm in the effects of it. But I realized that I erred in jumping impulsively from thought to action without stopping to question possible alternative solutions or to question my own motivation for acting so hastily. Thankfully, I am not high up in the rankings of administrators in my school, so the checks and balances occurred in spite of my “now” mentality; yet it gave me pause when I realized my weakness for such impulsivity.
As so often happens, though, there was grace for the weakness. So much so that I was blessed with a sweet moment of “needed-ness” in a way that filled my own “neediness” . . . kneading.
In between classes, I heard the kids across the hall and poked my head into the open door. The teacher, in mid-sentence, beckoned me in. “I bet Mrs. G knows how to knead dough,” she announced to the little ones. I laughed at the truth of this suggestion, realizing that I did so multiple times per week, to keep my little household [i.e. my bread-loving husband] stocked. So I ended up helping to instruct a bunch of 6-year old pairs of hands in the art. And as bread making so often does for my own mood, this communal activity did the trick of easing my educator’s angst, smoothing . . . and soothing.

baby steps

January 23, 2015

Is it possible to transport one’s sensibilities back to the experience of learning how to walk? I feel like I have done so this week. Several weeks ago, one of my knees decided to rebel against me. I kept functioning as usual, so far as daily activities—and running—goes until I could not do so any longer. Finally, a week ago, I admitted that I had to stop running; it has been so very humbling to realize just how hard this has been. The downside, I suppose, to being trained for a marathon, is that not being able to run those long distances anymore . . . not being able to run at all—has left me jumping out of my skin in an itch to move.
Some research into the symptoms led me to peg the pain on a common long-distance runner’s ailment known as ITBS. From what we’ve been reading about it, it can heal itself naturally, but does require enough time off to at least start the healing process. Stretching is also crucial. Both of these two things—time off and stretching—are, I must admit, not customary for me. Thanks to a supportive husband, however, I have an in-house physical therapist these days. I also have a sounding board to help fend off my tendency to overthink, and so brood, over anything I feel is amiss in my life.
And there have been clearly divine gifts during this time of “fasting.”
Getting to teach Grade One P.E., for instance: I have been on a high over the possibilities, after working on a lesson involving basic motions combined with upbeat music so as to “dance” in a way that helps young bodies learn direction and coordination.
The weather has also suddenly, drastically, improved. After being housebound by the cold and precipitation, this week of bright sunshine has brought us back outside, soothing nerves and lifting spirits.
Today I asked my walking buddy if she’d be up for a “trial run” after work. She responded with her customary “Sure!,” and we went out. I had to know if my pain-free spell meant I was ready to run again. So at a snail’s pace, and in hamster circles around a mini track, we ran. I mused on the strange nature of this “run,” and wondered what sort of growth lesson I was learning. I can think of quite a large number of potentials at the moment :-)
This week the elementary classes celebrated the 100th day of school. As a part of it, the kindergartners created a banner of their footprints. Baby steps . . .?

words & worlds

January 19, 2015

In a strange sort of irony today, I was asked for book recommendations to help a young one about to transition from here (home) back to the United States (parents’ home). She explained that the child’s teacher had asked her to help, after the teacher and parents had noticed some unhealthy fear that seemed to be stemming from the pending move.
I was about to do some online searches to provide inspiration, coming up blank with an off-the-top-of-my-head self-query. Then I stopped myself and wondered if, instead, I should try a potentially less-professional approach. I still don’t know if my decision was correct but it’s what I decided . . . so be it. This is what I explained:
I told the woman that I remembered my own walk through transitional grief, at around the same age as this child. Even though I had some other traumas coming into play, in addition to the move, I do vividly recall the confusion brought on by the move from the country I knew as home to a strange and unfamiliar U.S. I also recall taking comfort in the books I read. I told her that the Chronicles of Narnia had provided me with a beautiful fantasy world that I could “escape” to when reality was just too much for my young sensibilities to process. I shared how other books [such as Where the Red Fern Grows, Missing Mae, and Out of the Dust] had allowed me to identify with a grieving character, so that I could weep along with a fictional person for the very real people that I had lost. I also suggested that books such as A Little Princess and The Secret Garden may help by providing a young heroine to identify with who was dealing with similar transitions.
After talking for a bit about these titles, along with a few others, I admitted that I was probably not offering the expected sort of “therapy” titles that she had been told to look for. I know the series of board books that were marketed as such: titles listing behaviors children should avoid and attitudes they should aspire to have. I also admitted that the books I was listing were probably above the target age range, and perhaps too long to lend themselves to an easy one-time chat with a child. But I just couldn’t help being wary of overly didactic, expected types of material. I also happen to believe that high quality literature can reach a much broader age range than some people seem to think . . . and that children are able to see through a lot of conventional grown-up assumptions. So I went with my gut.
As it turns out, my gut response turned out to resonate with this woman. A mother of TCKs herself, I guess she may have observed some of the same things I had experiences. Who knows what the outcome will be for the child in question: but I like to think that the stack of books I checked out today will resonate, in some positive way, in a young one’s heart.

solid “D”

December 26, 2014

Some time ago I wrote about one of my students, and about a moment of glory that “Joe”—who does not do math—had in the classroom. There ended up being a bittersweet conclusion to the story this past week. Bitter, in that the reason it was the “conclusion” is that he is no longer one of my students; but sweet, in that it gave me [us?] hope.
After what I last wrote, he had more of a positive attitude in the class, but remained a problem student. His ability to entertain other students was far more consistent than any timely assignment completion could ever be. As a result, his grades remained very poor: hovering around the 50% mark.
Towards the end of the semester, I assigned our project. I decided on a “Math & Sports” theme, with the goal that it could offer those who struggled with the numbers themselves a chance to tap into another interest. And with a 20% weighting, this project could potentially be quite a nice boost . . . or downfall. As it turned out, quite a few ignored warnings about plagiarism and turned in clearly copy-and-pasted papers to me. After grading them, I gave a class lecture about how I would be returning some of their projects to them for a re-do . . . “If I hand you back your paper later today, you will know why,” was my stern benediction as the end-of-class bell rang.
Lunchtime was spent walking around with a stack of offending papers while I found each student and had a conversation with him or her about what I had seen in the paper, and about how it needed to be fixed. While I did so, I saw Joe. I stopped to tell him how proud I was of the good work he had done on his. He had obviously put his heart for soccer [] into the project, and the work had paid off. “You did really well,” I told him. “You’ll see tomorrow,” I added with a hinting smile. He had made a B+.
Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Joe’s family would be moving to another country—already—at the end of this semester. Around this same time, I’d begun talking to his new math tutor. We agreed that he seemed capable—just easily distracted by prospects of P.E. class and soccer practice, and unwilling to spend the time needed to get past the mental block. He also had trouble remembering where he had put papers, so even if he did his homework it had trouble making it back to me.
Encouraged by the boost of his last project, however, I began touching base with his tutor about the work he had done and noticed a rise in his grades. One day I went in to talk to him about his imminent departure. Realizing that he might be able to get up to a passing grade, I asked him to study hard for the last test. “You are in a one-on-one match right now,” I began. “You are one team, and Math is the other. You’ve been practicing for some time now and are about to have the tournament. This is it. You can win . . . you can beat Math!”
He did it. He worked hard, and he got a B on that test. As I calculated the final grades, my spirit sunk a bit. I saw his grade still failing, and I saw that I had never gotten one of the last homework assignments turned in by him. By this point, he had gone already, leaving a few days before school actually ended for the break. I did some hunting, in case he had done the work and I could track it down somehow, but had no luck. It was so close! I thought. His tutor encouraged me, saying that regardless of the grading outcome, he would benefit from the work put into the class. I agreed. Yes, it’s not the grade that matters. I know it’s the effort—I tell students the same thing all the time: why do I forget this truth myself?
The day before the break I got my grade verification sheets and began to double check with my grade book. I saw a mistake and then realized, with a smile spreading across my face, that the only mistake was in my own mind. Turns out, I had a different idea of the grade scale in my head when I looked at the numbers last: I thought the dividing line between D and F was higher than it actually is for my school’s secondary grading scale. So, in fact, Joe’s grade had risen enough at the end that he did have a D . . . a solid D, no less :-)

*I got to enjoy the company of family this Christmas . . . something that has not happened for several years now. Christmas morning, as we slowly woke up, I wandered around the house with my niece for a bit. She introduced me to the horses, pointed out a pomegranate tree, plucked a sprig of rosemary for me, chatting in a calmingly nonchalant manner about random things as we went. We paused in a patch of sunlight and we both quiet for a bit. I closed my eyes and faced the sunshine as she grabbed a twig and began to sketch in the dirt. After few minutes she had produced a fine rendering of a rainbow arcing over both a shining sun and a grazing horse. I looked at her work and smiled at the realization that here, in this random vacationing moment, life was happening. Life. No matter that I have no scale with which to measure the meaning of this moment: it matters. So it goes. A measured math score matters. A random sketch in the dirt just as much. And it is good.

when dreams die

December 21, 2014

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

The lines to this poem, by Langston Hughes, have been running through my head this week. But the lesson I had to learn, so far as I can tell, from this vantage point in my life at least, was in fact to let the dream go. For now. Who knows what the future may hold but, whatever it is for this next year at least, is not what I had in mind. For quite a few years now, I have been nursing a dream. It was put on hold, for practical reasons having to do with the work assignment I ended up with . . . and that was ok. I was more than busy enough to let it rest.
But now, this year, I dove back into it—rather, we dove back into it. The two of us, excited in the pursuit that we thought would occupy us for some time. This past week, the door was closed. I was, quite frankly, crushed. I spent a few days alternating between weepy spurts and robot-like work-as-usual. I did not get it. Why? I have been asking. Why did it seem so obvious, so exciting, so perfect. The perfect plan. MY perfect plan. Ah, yes—there’s the rub. It was MY plan. I assumed that it must be His plan as well. Surely, if as a couple we are both looking towards the same idea, it must be the right one. Right?
Wrong. I have a long way to go, I expect, before really understanding why not. And the truth is that my reaction was at first not accepting it. I saw the door closed, envisioned a blank slate of a future in its place, and panicked. I started searching frantically for the next door to take its place; I went into a stress-response of hyperactivity. In my old modus operandi, this would likely have worked. I am accustomed to rapid life transitions and quick turnarounds. But this time, it’s not just me. It took some touch couple-hashings-out for me to come to terms with the fact that, just because something may have worked for me as a single woman does not mean it will work for us as a married couple. This time, we are a team, and we must orchestrate our strategic lines of offense and defense accordingly. Once we began the teamwork process, I realized that my initial ideas of alternative planning were not necessarily conducive to our life-together plan. I had to push a pretty major, pretty heavy “pause” button . . . and let the dream, as I had envisioned it, die.
The unexpected part of this process, however, was that before making what would have seemed like a let-down decision to me, I was unsettled and on edge. Afterwards, however—once accepting a “normal” future that would have felt like settling for less—I felt an unexpected calm: a sort of inner exhale. I was ok. We were ok . . . and we will be ok.
Perhaps, in my world:

Hold loose your life
For He who holds firm
will offer new dreams:
the kind that can’t die.

on this day

November 30, 2014

It has been another year since this annual posting. This year finds me in another quite-different season. My location is the same as last year. But I am no longer traveling alone. I have a partner in life: one who is almost as unusual as I am :-) We fit each other well . . . marriage is good.
That said, life itself is no less trial-filled and rocky than it ever was. Some days find me trudging forward with gritted teeth. But some, like this morning, find me running freely, grateful for the gifts that I so often forget to be grateful for.
The gift of a weekend away from the city . . . the gift of music that moves me to run along a remote village road with my arms lifted high in praise . . . the gift of water clean enough to wade into . . . the gift of this life that is mine for the taking: mine alone to live.
As I ran today I found myself talking out loud as the music, and emotion, moved me. “Do You love me?” I asked. I do not know why the words came out; but I believe it is significant that they did. Because I was able to answer out loud. “Yes, I believe that You do.”

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.


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