strangers

November 4, 2017

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Thinking about what it meant for Abraham’s descendants to “be strangers in a country not their own” (Genesis 15:13). And about what it means to live as perpetual “strangers” in this world. My husband and I spend our lives as “strangers” in a very real, and obvious, way. We are expats—we are a different color from our neighbors, we speak a different language, and we have a different home.
Today, I danced with the lady who cleans the library each day as I close up for the end of school. I had never seen her in anything other than her school cleaner’s uniform, and I gasped when I saw her this afternoon for the first time, before the wedding ceremony began. “Auntie J—you’re beautiful!” I exclaimed. She returned my smile as if it was only fitting that I recognize such a fact. And it was. She is beautiful. And I am sorry—ashamed, rather—to admit that I have never noticed before.
After the meal I held back a bit but soon, as happens, the music drew me onto the dance floor. Instead of joining the center ring, though, I noticed Auntie J off on her own and went to join her. I matched her moves, admiring the fluidity she displayed. For several songs, the two of us smiled and swayed in our own world of motion; then a couple others joined us. That is where I stayed until the party was clearing out and Peter and I also headed home.
Later we talked of how good of a party it was. For us, the major gift of the day was due to the fact that we ended up spending it with a small group of coworkers whom we had spent days with but never shared our lives with. They welcomed us into their partying group today, making sure we joined in on all aspects of their local celebration. We did nothing to merit this inclusion—but there it was, all the same . . . and our lives are just a little bit lighter, and brighter, this evening, as a result.
For us this inclusion is obviously significant. But truthfully, is it not the same for us all, as citizens of the world, yet children of the Father? We are strangers here, all longing to belong, and longing to be included. Sometimes we get tastes of what it feels like to be welcomed in, as we were today. How beautiful to think about a day when this taste will be a banquet—an eternal reality of ultimate inclusion.

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tell the story

October 19, 2017

dd101034441960a48893de25fe75ad12e381295aI told myself I would finish my midterm tonight. I started it, but got distracted. There’s something else . . .
This evening we had a smaller group than usual for Bible Study. Many people are sick right now—or under the weather. Or just tired. Those of us here tonight were, I think, also a bit weary. And I think this is the reason we ended up spending a large chunk of time talking less about the study and more about funny tales of life as ex-pats. Sometimes life here kinda ekes the life out of us. I love the classic John Denver lyric “Some days are diamond, some days are stone . . .” and find myself launching into that line rather regularly as the “stone” variety of day crops up.
I think there are times in which a good session of light-hearted banter does more for the soul than any intense heart-to-heart or work-through analysis can do. So tonight, we told our stories . . . and we laughed.
I told my “foreigner!” story. And I told my “African-American” tale. I refuse to write either of these stories down, though. Not now, anyway. As a good, self-respecting, introverted writer, I must cling to a few good crowd-pleaser tales: it gives me an inordinate amount of pride, I must say, to break into a story that draws hearty laughter in a group setting . . . so I will tell you either of those stories upon request—in person ;-)
After some heavy conversational nights at home, it felt really good to do this. But a deep sadness came along with it when I realized that one of these stories is no longer part of my regular repertoire. I used to spend a lot of time with one friend who couldn’t get enough of this story. So whenever we were around someone she thought may not have heard it, she would find some excuse to bring it up. She’d slap my arm with excitement: “Oh—tell the story! You gotta tell it . . .” I would. But without fail, before I could get to the punch line, she would already be laughing so hard that it was rather difficult to continue the telling. I grew to enjoy watching her more than any other audience reaction. I miss her.
This evening the story was well-appreciated. My audience listened attentively, and laughed heartily, at the appropriate place. I laughed with them, and enjoyed the moment. I thought of how much I am enjoying these women in my life right now. As has always happened in my life, I find myself surrounded by really good people—by real people.
I love these friends.
I loved the friend I miss right now.
I will mourn for my friend . . .

flaming

October 8, 2017

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It has, pardon my French, been a ****ty, ****ish week. So much so that I have given up on all niceties. This afternoon I ran into a new acquaintance; she greeted me in good casual, friendly fashion: “Oh—hi, Anna. Let me introduce you to my husband . . . how are you?” “Good,” I automatically replied; but I immediately autocorrected myself. “No, actually, awful—sorry, I can’t give a normal, expected answer . . .” I half-apologized. The smile on her face had dropped to a bit of a stunned expression, but she recovered herself. “Oh—no, that’s fine. Yeah, some days are like that.” I didn’t stop there, though, letting it go with her kind offering. No, I kept going, feeling the need to clarify that it was not just today that had been awful. I told her that the whole week had, in fact, been a [terrible, horrible, no-good?] series of semi-catastrophes.
In another fine display of social unskilled-ness, I had a series of similar replies each time coworkers cheerily asked “How was your birthday?” One example of my replies was this. “Well, someday I’ll look back on it and laugh at how extraordinarily un-happy it was. But I’m not there yet.”
The reasons for this feeling are nothing beyond normal life stresses and angsts. And, when it comes down to it, my this-week issues are truly small potatoes in the grand scheme of things:
One example is that I felt like a failure in one of my work roles [the phrase “failure of supervision” was used to explain the reason for an outcome that I realized applied to my own students: being behind in their work]. Yeah, well, tons of people have far greater work issues than I do, I’m sure—who am I to complain?
My body also chose this week to fail me. The same side that has been an issue in the past reared its ugly head again, this time in my hip. Being immobilized from my usual activities is hugely difficult for me, to say the least. I rely way too much on activity to destress and recoup . . . am, to put it bluntly, an exercise-endorphin addict. So this week has been one of moping for me, in that regard.
Unfortunately both Peter and I had similar feelings about the week. We ended up feeding off of each other’s moodiness to a certain extent—laughing about it together, as we bemoaned our old, rickety, persnickety selves [ok, I am definitely the “persnickety” one: Peter is like the antithesis of that ;-)]. But this weekend we enjoyed each others’ company a great deal, in the midst of the moodiness. It was as if I were clinging to my “rock” while waves rolled over me in waters that, were I my normal, mobile self, I’d be powerfully swimming through. As it is, my professional, physical, and emotional strengths have failed me—all I can do is hang on for the ride.
This evening we were finishing up dinner and Peter began to play with the candle he’s been periodically reworking, making wooden wicks out of matchsticks so that our dinner table flame continues, remarkably, past its apparent death ages ago. I grew quiet, thinking about the fact that we hadn’t had our official “talk time” yet this weekend, during which we were supposed to (in my mind, at least) go through a shortlist of highs and lows in our couple communication for the week. We did this regularly in our first year of marriage and I had mentioned it a while back, thinking it was something worth reviving. So this evening, while I thought about what I should put on my shortlist [though I still had not voiced the topic out loud], Peter looked at me and asked what I was looking at, thinking I had seen something specific. “Well, I’m looking at you playing with fire . . . since we’re not having a conversation, I might as well watch the entertainment.” We hadn’t been arguing at all, at this point, and I didn’t feel like there was any reason to. But the words I spoke then were unkind—they were words that spoke to the lack of control I was feeling in life, and to the need I had to grasp onto something “productive.”
We ended up having a conversation about how, at least this week, the thought of initiating a scripted communication recap is not the most important thing. With our workdays being spent literally next to each other, so far as offices go, and the nature of life here requiring constant together-ness, we have ended up just dealing with our highs and lows in a pretty immediate fashion. It is just too hard to move forward without this instantaneous communication.
What we lack, however, is time to not worry about productivity. The weekends are used for catch-up on life necessities (shopping, cooking, planning, etc); church is a time for leading worship, which for me means that I end up craving solitude on Sunday afternoons; summer holiday is a time to make the “rounds,” as it were, with traveling that wears on us more and more as the years go by.
Tonight, as we talked about these factors, we realized that, in this moment, recognizing the loveliness of Peter’s candle creativity was far more marriage-building that any sort of scripted list that could have been made. I needed to watch that flame and exclaim, “Wait a sec!—I have to take a picture . . . do you realize how stunning this is?” And it was—and it is. Our dining room table is graced with a gorgeously cobbled together tower of yellow and orange that, each night, burns recklessly, and that spills its wax onto the table with abandon each time we blow it out.
Would that I could burn with reckless abandon, spilling myself out freely for those in my life whom I love.

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It was a magical moment in Library-World. No one else saw; and, likely, no one would have cared if they had. But I saw; and I cared.
The class had already been a good one. I find it particularly gratifying when I can see that I’ve broken past the pre-adolescent, cool kid aura, grabbing their attention in spite of themselves.
This time I had done just that. I’d “teased” them with portions from two different “scary” books, and I had watched the looks on their faces with a smug satisfaction. Yep—they were hooked :-)
At the end of the lesson I told them “Time’s up,” and stopped rather abruptly. The reading took us right up until the end of class, since I’m used to this group half-heartedly approaching check-out time, if they do it at all. But one kid lingered in front of my new display shelf of “Books to make you scared!” titles. He paused and then, hesitantly, asked, “Can I check this one out?” pointing to one of the display titles—a poetry collection. I grinned as I realized, simultaneously, that this particular book had a twin copy on the shelf, and also that I happened to remember exactly where it was. “Sure!” I replied, walking over to a neighboring shelf. I might have been slightly over-dramatic when I whisked the book off the shelf with nary a pause, taking it back to my desk to check it out to him.
Did I imagine his wide-eyed expression when he muttered “Thanks” and headed off to follow his classmates? Maybe it was just my imagination . . . and maybe it was magic.

taking a breath

September 25, 2017

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The last words she spoke to me were words of anger. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing in response. I never will.
When I learned of her death today, I relayed the news matter-of-factly to my husband. “I’ve wondered if this would happen,” I added. I continued moving through the motions of the day, assuming, I think, that I had no reason to be sad about the loss of a person I had already lost years ago. But you don’t lose 25 years of friendship just because 2 recent years have been lacking the same. I began to realize this as I swam. The waves washed over me accordingly, and I began to whisper/gasp out the thought “breathe” with each stroke, speaking the words to her. It was she was who begged me, while bumming at the pool one afternoon 6 years back, to teach her how to breathe while swimming. I dutifully donned my swimming instructor cap [no pun intended], and began the lesson. Instead of watching attentively, she proceeded to grab her camera and photograph my face as I passed her mid-stroke. By the time I had finished my first two demonstration laps and had emerged to explain the mechanics step by step, in detail, she was doubled over in hysteric laughter. I stared at her confused while she attempted to explain. In between fits, she gave up and pointed me towards the pictures. “Your face,” she sputtered. “You have no idea how funny you look when you’re opening your mouth like that . . .” She lost it to her laughter once more, while I furrowed my brow in my best not-amused expression.
We gave up swim-breath lessons after that day. But I still think of her when I’m taking those breaths in the water.
This afternoon I cried instead of laughing, though. I breathed out my “Breathe!” prayers. I waded in the waters of my sorrow.
I mourned for my friend.
I mourn for my friend.
I will mourn for my friend . . .

librarian-speak

September 21, 2017

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This week I stumbled upon a lesson that rocked my world . . . or at least my upper elementary library lesson world. It started simply enough, with a recognized title I had shelved on my “emergency” lesson plan stack (for those days when I need a bit of inspiration help—or, perhaps, a last -minute grab bag pick, as the case may be). At any rate, this was a day when planning ahead had been a struggle, with interruptions abounding. When it came time to think about the two groups of elementary kids on my afternoon radar, I was stilted. But in they filed, and into “Koko’s Kitten” I began. It was the kind of book I knew was quality material, for a non-fiction lesson; I was unprepared, however, for the brilliance of the class as it played out. For one, the story itself was far more moving than anticipated. I was not the only one with tears in my eyes at one (no spoilers!) point in the tale—I think it even got to a few of the too-cool-for-school pre-adolescents in the crown. Then, when the story had ended and discussion began, I asked a few normal genre questions. One kid piped up here and argued that this book was fiction, because animals don’t talk. I corrected him, saying that, in fact, this gorilla does talk: audible words are not the only way to “talk.” I then began signing to them and, after a moment, said, “Did you get that? I was talking to you just then . . .” They got the point, and before I knew it were asking me for more of a lesson in sign language. I couldn’t really afford the time for it by then but couldn’t resist arguing with one dissident who scoffed at the idea. “This is library class, not sign language class!” It gave me the excuse to launch into one of my favorite librarian-speak rants, in which I explain that librarianship is all about “finding stuff,” with “stuff” being information. And pretty much any sort of information counts, so it’s really like a job that means always learning about new things, and figuring out how to figure out whatever it is you might need . . . yeah, us nerdy sorts can’t help but get a kick out of this idea ;-)
Anyhow, the sum total of this particular class tale is that all went well—remarkably so for a group with a rather squirrely reputation. You just never know.

alphabetically grateful

September 12, 2017

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My husband is my hero.
He is on Day 2 of a 3-day complete fast. I am not. In some effort to join with him, I happened upon a very good exercise today. It was inspired by a Catalyst interview I listened to, with Max Lucado, about his new book entitled Anxious for Nothing. In the interview he mentioned a simple but striking point: that anxiety and gratitude cannot coexist.
I began thinking about the truth of this statement, and it occurred to me that, considering the combination of my general nature and my recent attitude towards life, I would do well to “fast,” in a sense, from anxiety. I began to try to redirect my thought life from the constant train of worries to a sense of thankfulness; but I soon found that this approach was too general and, consequently, ineffective for me. I realized I would need a very specific thought-pattern in order to accomplish any real anxiety-banishment. What came to mind then (probably thanks to a great deal of alphabet talk in training of library interns and with my lower elementary classes) was a one-word alphabet list of my day’s “thanks.” I walked my mind through the letters of the alphabet, attaching a single mental image—one moment—that I could associate with a word to go along with that letter. This is the list I came up with, along with explanations if necessary:

Alphabetical order. See above mention of its usefulness with all ages of students.
Bini. A student I had come in today for a 2nd try at following directions &, consequently, getting to select the book of his choice to check out. He was clearly diligent and conscientious this time around, and his bright and eager smile brought me near tears . . . the joy of reconciliation]
Chocolate. Though generally associated with my own [daily, I must admit] enjoyment of the stuff, today it brought another sort of pleasure. This time, after finishing a favorite read-aloud, and moving on to check-out for Grade 5, I was, frankly, happily shocked to find girls and boys clamoring around me with requests for pencil & paper. Not having asked them to do anything, I was perplexed until I realized that they were gathering around the book I had finished in order to copy down the recipe included at the back of the book, for the chocolate cake the protagonist makes with her grandmother. My smile then grew too large for my face.
D. See “S”
Empty. The pool today, for my afternoon swim [during which I composed this list]
Full. My belly. [sorry, hubby!]
Goss
Home. Of daily and future varieties.
Introversion. I complain at times about the trials of being an introvert in an extroverted world. But the truth is that I like being an introvert, and would be quite horrified at the prospect of pretending to be anything else. Imagine that—an extreme introvert not liking the idea of things associated with extroversion! ;-)
Joujan. I like my name [and the family that goes with it]
Kiddos. See “Z”
Lon Po Po. The version of Little Red Riding Hood that I was able to introduce to the 1st grade class today. Gave me the thrill of getting to pull out a few words from my out-of-use Chinese vocabulary . . . and then I got to see them fighting over the two copies I had available for them to check out.
Music. Sitting in a staff meeting today, I found myself looking at the face of the music teacher [one of the few who’s worked here for all our 3 years—sadly enough]. I thought of how much I love her, & her daughter [who is one of a rare breed: kindly conscientious and diligent teen.
Numbers. Of the Dewey Decimal variety. I got to wax poetic about the thrills of library organization, thanks to a “captive” audience of 8th grade research students. Some of them might have even cared . . . about the grade they were going to get on their paper!
Orange. My favorite color for flowers. And the color of the bloom that is currently, surprisingly, re-blooming on my front porch.
Peter
Quiet. The library that I was able to close a few minutes early this afternoon, thanks to the shortage of its usual middle school dwellers [not that I ever feel anything but sweet affection for the dear youngsters. Bless their hearts]
Rain. I’ve been complaining about the overabundance of it. But I know that if it were not for the amount we have recently had, we would be miserably melting by this point in the hot season. I did, in fact, enjoy today’s light drizzle.
Sun. It came out today—briefly. I managed to stand outside in it for a few happy minutes, my cloud-weary skin soaking in its rays [and its vitamin]
Time. I had an unexpected enough of it today, on the weekday that generally leaves me fearful in anticipation, thanks to the usual lack thereof.
Under. The lovely feeling of being submerged in water that’s slightly too cold, for a brisk swim, & then of taking a soothingly hot shower.
Violin. I cheated. This one refers to two days ago, & to the joy of having a talented guitarist on the worship team. I must admit, with a fair bit of musical embarrassment, to a slip of the tongue [brain fart?] that had me refer to her as our “violinist”
Welcome. “You are welcome” is a happy phrase around here: an invitation to us foreigners to be part, and to partake, in whatever food or drink they may be partaking of at the time.
X. Again, I cheated. This time with not even a semblance of inventiveness. I have no idea . . .
Y. Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?
Zoo. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of one, on any give school day. But when it comes down to it, I love the crazy kiddos, and the madness of a life spent surrounded by them.

*Forgive the repeat of last post’s photo op. I couldn’t resist another of the same plant’s joyous blooms.

summer learnin’

September 1, 2017

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Linking up with Emily P. Freeman this month, to talk about the timely topic of “10 things I learned this summer.” So without further ado . . .

  1. Greek is hard. Up to this point in my seminary career, I’ve been a bit spoiled, in that for the most part I have taken classes that are relatively easy for my brain to wrap around, under professors who are generally complimentary of my performance. This summer I have been humbled to discover that Greek is extremely difficult for me—or at least taking it online, as an Independent Study. For much of my life I have considered myself a language person, sometimes even feeling a bit sheepish about how quickly languages come to me. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve lost my skill. Maybe Greek is just different. But for whatever reason I am currently stressing fabulously over an upcoming exam, fearing that I will fail the course altogether.
    2. I’m a glutton for punishment. When I discover something that makes me feel good, I make it a habit. As my husband gently chided me recently, I tend to act as if something that is good to do once must be good to do every day. A few years ago I discovered swimming, finding it to be an amazingly effective stress reliever that I could do consistently here where the weather is often too hot for my former preferred activity of running. So I swim every day, unless dramatically prevented from doing so. This has carried on to a variety of summertime locations, some of which have been WAY TOO COLD for swimming. I’ve gotten myself near-hypothermic with my attempts. And lately, even though we have been back in Ghana for a month, I’ve continued to suffer miserably as I swim. The weather has been strange here, with the rainy season continuing long after it normally disappears. We’ve also had cool winds, making the swimming pools (all outdoors here) become very uninviting. But I still swim, returning home with chattering teeth and exclamations of how awful the water is to Peter who, no doubt, is kindly holding back from comments as to why in the world I would continue to subject myself to the misery I consistently complain about. I continue . . .
    3. I can be a grown-up. Or at least do some grown-up things. “About time!,” you might say, as I slide steadily towards 40-base ;-). But I’ve gotten away with a lot of avoidance of future planning up to this point in my life and, realizing this, Peter and I set out this summer to do something practical about the fact that our lives currently do nothing to plan for retirement. We decided to invest in land and had a summer of land-hunting. It was a somewhat unpleasant, somewhat unorganized, and somewhat aimless hunt. But, at the last minute, we managed to come out all right . . . and are now feeling pretty good about what we did!
    4. I have good neighbors. This seems to be a bit of a theme of my life; it seems that no matter where I land, good people end up right there to give a helping hand when needed. This summer I had a slew of good kin (like my mama!) and good friends. We were wined and dined, and generally royally treated by the fine folks who deem us, for some reason, worthy of their time. And somehow, that pattern continued right on to life here. Our move brought us this school year to a compound of 3 apartments that have us welcomed in to others’ lives in a daily, delightful manner. More on that in #5 . . .
    5. I like promoting community. One evening as I planned our dinner club, I commented to Peter that I never realized I had a thing for setting up neighborly sorts of things. But one of the first things I did with our compound was to see the value in a meal rotation and set one up, so that we alternate evenings of cooking dinner for the 3 apartments. It just occurred to me that it takes less effort to multiply a meal than it does to cook a brand new one every night. And with the time commitments required by the teaching profession, it just makes sense to do what we can to lessen the stress entailed my meal planning and prep. This rotation has offered an economical and healthy alternative to other outcomes of schedules that leave little space for time in the kitchen. And thankfully, so far I don’t think I’ve wearied anyone too terribly much with one-pot, down-home dinners :-)
    6. I need to sing. Specifically, I need to lead worship. This summer I continued my trend to seeking out ways to sing at the churches we spent time in. I thought I was wanting to take a break from my responsibilities in that regard but, turns out, I didn’t want a break—I just itched to keep singing. So now, as this school year begins, I find myself a bit tickled pink that I was invited to join the chapel music team. I used to watch longingly from afar but, thanks to some good friends heading it up this year, I get to be “one of the gang,” as my old Peanuts sheet set used to proclaim. I wonder where that pillowcase went, now that I think about it . . .
    7. I need to write. So tonight, in the midst of worrying about replying to emails, studying for seminary classes, and outlining committee meeting notes, I am not doing any of those things. I am writing this post.
    8. Sometimes I don’t follow all the rules. I used to think I was always a goody two-shoes. I think perhaps I’m actually more of a people-pleaser, though . . . or at least worried about what people think of me. But my underlying motivation isn’t even that: I’m actually an “upholder,” if you are familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies. So I’m a bit self-centered when it comes down to it. I want people to think well of me. But when it comes down to it, I’m more deeply concerned with following through with what I’ve either set out to do, or with what I think is right. Don’t know whether this is good or bad, but, there it is!
    9. This list will have only 9 numbers (see #8).

*Photo is of a flower that was given to my by a roadside shop owner that is now potted and sporting new blooms, after being simply plucked out from the ground after I exclaimed about its loveliness. Simple pleasures.

Other roads

July 24, 2017

IMG_6247Rifling through my wallet to pull out my dimes and pennies, I apologized to the clerk. “Sorry,” I told her, when I had the right amount for my gas station cappuccino, “I like to use up my spare change before leaving the country.” “Oh!,” she said, her weariness morphing into a starry-eyed smile. “Must be nice,” she added. I felt at once guilty and starry-eyed for my own version of hers. “No,” I started to explain, “I just live there …” My voice trailed off as I thanked her and jolted myself back into the fast-paced mindset of get-in-mom’s-car-and-get-on-with-trip-to-airport mode. I squelched my desire to explain the ins and outs of this life journey, reminding myself that the average stranger is not likely to be interested in my poetic musings … and, for that matter, I’m not all that interested in waxing poetic when international travel is looming in my immediate future. But the fact is that, in between the fits and starts of frenetic business matters, my deeper self is preoccupied with a deeper sense of reality than that which is urgent. I know something about myself that the world does not yet know. I know that each year it gets harder to say goodbye to the “home” that family is for me. I know that my independent, self-sufficient, footloose-and-fancy-free globetrotting persona is not the deepest part of who I am. I know that the experiences I have had as a resident of Asia, Africa, and Europe have been invaluable and have formed me–or perhaps have simply filled a mold that was already there? I am also growing aware of some truths that are more obvious but that I have not been so aware of till now: of the ways in which 40-ish-ness affects my interests, my intellect, and my physical self, for one. And of the ways in which marriage changes those aspects as well–or perhaps the way it makes them more fully authentic?
I know that I have countless steps to take yet before coming to any real maturity or wisdom. But I think I’ve come a little ways along that path of late. And I think I know where this path will lead in the not-so-distant future.
A poem I happened upon this morning, via Anita Lustria’s Faith Conversations podcast, says it better than I can. I will close with the words of Ruth Bidgood.
No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
lay in the other valley,
or regret the songs in the forest
I chose not to traverse.
No need to ask where other roads might have led,
since they led elsewhere;
for nowhere but this here and now
is my true destination.
The river is gentle in the soft evening,
and all the steps of my life have brought me home.

Read the rest of this entry »

fruit

July 6, 2017

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We celebrated the 4th of July by picking asparagus beans. I’d never heard of them, never mind seen them on the vine but, as we showed off the blooming wonder of a garden to Mom’s visiting friend—Mabel—she stopped mid sentence to berate Lou for not picking the asparagus beans. Turns out the poor guys were growing so low to the ground that their showy purple hues had gone completely unnoticed. We “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed a bit, hopefully rescuing the pride of the productive plants, before plucking them clean of their fruits.
I almost didn’t go down to the garden, though: I had preparation for an upcoming flight in mind, along with the trip back up the mountain that night. In general, I have come to a peace with the portion of my nature that is just not a partier—more prone towards the “party pooper” personality, if I’m honest about my nerves and level of sociability. Come a certain “pumpkin” hour, as I used to joke with old college roomies, I just want to be settled into my room, curled up with something to read and a cup of tea as I wind down for bed.
A few exceptions come to mind, during which I let loose with a rare partying side of myself. One involved a college catering gig for a ritzy island family, after which my fellow server and I were invited to relax, and enjoy the party fare. That night I consumed a rather large quantity of exquisitely tasty “fruit salad.” The hours afterwards are fuzzy in my memory. I recall a great deal of time spent lost in dancing heaven, to music that was perfectly danceable for me (probably hip hop or reggae). I remember being returned home to sit around and recap the night with our other housemates. To my embarrassment, I learned that I had not been simply carried away by the music that night; something special in that fruit had assisted the process—my friend had not mentioned it to me at the time, opting to nod with amusement while I raved about each tasty bite. My other housemates were equally amused at the telling: one also reassured me when I blushed, noting that it was likely a positive way for me to spend one of the evenings fresh from my first true heartbreak. Looking back, I suspect she was right; I also suspect that I needed to learn to lighten up a bit from some rigid ideas about “proper” Christian girl behavior. It has been a long and sometimes steep learning curve for me, in that regard—becoming who God intends for me to be and not an idea of who others expect me to be.
I digress. What I was going to write about was last night—our 4th of July celebration. It was a cozy group of 7 of us: my parents, my grandparents, my mother’s childhood friend, who now lives in Florida, and my husband and I. We ate chicken and beef kebabs, along with plenty of garden-fresh veggies and mom’s famous bread. We laughed about small things, like my weak joke of “Where’s Jack?” when Mom commented on the impressive height of one of her beanstalks, wondering how we would manage to pick the beans. My grandparents headed home around 7:00 pm, and my husband and I did so closer to 8:00.
Nothing of consequence happened. Except one thing. One small twinge of that gut-tugging feeling you get when you know something in your heart needs attention. This happened at the moment when Mom headed down to the garden with Mabel. As I mentioned, I almost did not go. I was starting to pack up the car and had in mind a to-do list and a schedule. But when I watched Mom start her slow walk down the hill, Mabel beside her, I stopped what I was doing. Looking at their backs, I felt an immediate loneliness, nearing panic, at the thought of them leaving me behind. I wanted to be leisurely walking with them, chatting about nothing in particular, at the slow pace Mom herself jokes about when she’s using her walker. I wanted to be one of the girls.
In that moment, I realized that I had not had this feeling before—at least not directed towards my mother. I had spent the evening soaking in the presence of this friend I had heard referenced so often in childhood. I put pieces together in my mind as we talked—like the fact that this was the friend who lived in the neighborhood we moved to later on, when we came to the U.S. Her mother had fed the children creamed eggs on toast—a dish that Mom carried on herself, so that the taste of it still reminds me of childhood comfort. I watched the two of them share memories, and I laughed with them when Mom told my grandmother that Mabel was staying with them that night—“Yes, we’re going to have a sleepover!” she grinned.
Honestly, I think I might have felt a little bit jealous. My mother is a good friend. I know this because I have come to know some of her lifelong friends. People who are good friends to others attract good people to them, and this is the case with Mom. She has a small circle of solid, true people, who would drop everything if they were needed. In fact, I have seen them do exactly this.
When Mom was recovering from the accident, one of these friends came to take the 4 of us, along with Mom, when she was allowed out for “field trips” from the spinal center. Some of my first post-accident happy memories are from visits with her: I recall the sheepishly proud feeling I had after she gave me my first American hair cut. Looking in the mirror afterwards, I noticed the way it suited my features, and framed a face that looked more feminine that I was accustomed to feeling (for all my desires to be a strong and independent woman, I am afraid that it did little for my pre-adolescent ego to be told that my muscles looked like a boy’s).
Another of Mom’s lifelong friends more recently treated me as one of her own family, giving my husband and I the luxury of having our wedding at her top-notch bridal-pick of a farm. She told me she considered me family, and that there was no need for the huge cost usually associated with this venue. We were able to have a beautiful, but simple, “us” sort of wedding, because she associated me with my mother.
My life has been full of similar instances—of occasions in which I have benefited from association with someone like my mother. I’ve taken this fact for granted and have, oftentimes, responded to her with a semblance of adolescent eye-rolling or irritated “Mother!” moments. Somehow things are changing (I guess it’s high time, considering my near-40-ish self!) Instead of coasting along on a life of association, I would like to spend this next season of life choosing to choose. I want to choose the life that has been given to me, and to choose all the joys, blessings—and even heartaches—that it has to offer. I want to choose, this time around, even the family that I did not originally have a choice in. Here, and now, seeing the beauty of what was given to me, I want to choose love. And I want my family to be my friends.