tin soldier touchdown

March 13, 2018

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Touchdown for the librarian. Fifth grade—the squirrely variety. The large class that I began the year rather afraid of: too much preadolescent moodiness, hormonal angst, and stinky feet packed into one room for my comfort. It’s been a definite learning curve but I realized today, they have won me over. I’ve begun to anticipate each day with them, scheming as to how I will win them over. And today, I know I did.
I began with a recap of our recent lesson on Disney vs. The Real Thing. We are studying original versions of familiar tales and comparing them to the prettified versions that they are familiar with thanks to modern film. Today we moved on from familiar tales to a lesson in the “unknown” of H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales, and I read one of my all-time favorites to them—“The Constant Tin Soldier.” As I came to the climactic ending, I secretly exulted at the looks of dismay on their faces. One of the boys called out, “That’s too much!”
Playing ignorant, I made a face and queried, “What’s the matter? Was it too sad?” A girl piped up, “Yeah!” I question again, this time commenting “But they ended up together at the end . . . it’s not that sad!” She shot right back that “Uh uh! They didn’t even get to ever really talk to each other.” I shrugged, smiling. “Too much, eh? Guess you’d rather just watch a Disney movie . . .”
Silence. And I loved it.

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a shoe hack

February 26, 2018

The most important thing I did today might have been to tie a pair of shoelaces. Or perhaps, more precisely, to explain to a 7-year-old that his shoe was not broken because he could not get the lace through one of the holes. I taught this class towards the end of the day, and by this point he had spent the day glowering each time the shoes had to be put back on, angrily protesting that he could not do it. “They’re broken,” he scowled, when I pointed at his untied shoelaces. Another student piped in to complain that they all had to wait for him since his shoes were broken. He glared back at her from his spot on the floor, while the others not-quite-patiently stood in line. I gave up on the argument for the sake of crowd control, letting him walk out without tying them. But a few moments later, I walked out to the hallway to chat with their teacher while they had their bathroom break. Seeing him fiddling again with his shoes, I walked over to take a closer look. “Ok, B, show me what’s wrong with your shoes,” I said. He repeated his “broken” refrain, adding that the hole didn’t work. I realized instantly that he had never learned the hack of just skipping a hole if the lace won’t go through it; he simply assumed that it was impossible to tie his laces when both were on one side of the show. I explained to him that he didn’t have to push the lace through that hole at all, but redid the laces to demonstrate the still-tie-able nature of them. “You get it?” I asked. He nodded, silently . . . but I could sense a soothing in him—a relief at not having to worry about his shoes any longer. A relief at being returned to self-sufficiency, and to not drawing undesirable attention to himself. It was an instantaneous realization for me, in that moment, that the tying of shoelaces was a far more important lesson—at least for him—than the difference between a folk tale and a fairly [the lesson I had carefully planned and scripted for the class, as I had intended it to go]. Truthfully, I think he’ll remember the shoelaces far longer than his library lesson today.
But the ironic truth of it all is that I’m the one who needed this lesson the most. I’d been so intent on following my “script” for the day, and for my life as I intended it to go, and to look, that I’d forgotten that life is more important than the script. I had to stop what I was doing, bend down, and listen. I had to let go of myself to loop those little laces. I had to stop rushing and start noticing. I had to live unscripted.

my own horn

January 18, 2018

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I’ve never felt particularly confident in front of high school students. And I’ve generally felt debilitatingly unconfident in front of middle schoolers. So when I gave what I thought was a pretty decent chapel talk in front of all our school’s secondary students yesterday, it seemed a bit of a personal milestone. One of the things that I find a bit frustrating, to my desire to mull over what is happening in my life, and to process significant events, is that the general pace of the world often feels so much faster than what I’d prefer . . . as if my personal internal clock is running on a perpetually low battery, so that I’m always silently pleading “Wait–don’t move on to the next thing just yet . . . I need to sit with this one first!”
That said, I’m going to take the liberty now to share my chapel talk here. I’m really doing this for myself, out of my own need to document my life. But of course, I don’t mind having readers out there, if this is of use to any of you ;-)
Here’s the talk . . .

Today I’m going to talk to you about finding joy in serving others. First I’d like for us to look at two passages in the Bible. Then I’m going to tell you a story, that you may remember a portion of from Mr. L’s chapel talk last semester.
But first, Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV):

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Last week we learned about why we can find joy in serving the Lord, and here we see how serving others is also serving the Lord. When you look into the face of another person, it’s as if you are looking into Jesus’ face as well. Wow! That’s quite a responsibility, isn’t it?

Let’s move on to another verse now, this one from Proverbs.
Proverbs 19:17 (NIV):

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Does this mean that we should do nice things for people so that we will get nice things in return? I don’t think this is necessarily what a “reward” is. God doesn’t just give us nice things—that’s not the point. God is about good things, and about goodness in our hearts.
Have you ever done something that you knew was right, and good, and known it with such confidence that it didn’t matter who saw you, or who told you it was good . . . you just felt that goodness inside of you? I think that’s the kind of reward God is talking about in verses like this one—the kind of reward that lasts a whole lot longer, and goes a whole lot deeper, than a plate of fried chicken, or a brand new iphone.

I promised you a story, didn’t I? Rewind many years to when I was little . . . we’ll have to go back a long time for that, considering my age ;-)

[I’m going to interrupt my own speech now, for brevity sake, and summarize what I said from here on out. I told them about my family, and about my father’s death. I told them about how Peter and I searched for the grave not long ago, as I blogged about in the previous post to this one. I also told them the bizarre “coincidence” of how my own family story paralleled that of another teacher here, as I blogged about two posts ago. I ended with this quote, from a book I’m currently reading, by Donald Miller (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, 197)

God does not answer Job’s questions. It’s as though God starts off His message to the world by explaining that there are painful realities in life we cannot and will never understand. Instead, He appears to Job in a whirlwind and asks Job if he knows who stops the waves on the shores or stores the snow in Wichita every winter. He asks Job who manages the constellations that reel through the night sky.
And that is essentially all God says to Job. God doesn’t explain pain philosophically or even all its benefits. God says to Job, Job, I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn’t about you.
Job responds, even before his health and wealth are restored by saying, “All of this is too wonderful for me.” Job found contentment and even joy, outside the context of comfort, health, or stability. He understood the story was not about him, and he cared more about the story than he did himself.

I ended by telling them that they too—each and every one of them—have a story. That we all have a unique set of gifts that make us perfectly suited to the unique call on our own lives. No one can tell us what that is: but we have access to the One who is willing to speak that into our lives.
So go out, and live your story. Get carried away in the wonder of something so much bigger and greater than you, and so much better than any story you could possible imagine for yourself!

going backwards

January 2, 2018

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“To go forward sometimes you must go backwards.” So says the fortune in our bag of chicken flavored plantain chips as we sit down at the close of a long New Year’s Day.
And yes, we ate plantain chips for dinner—along with maize from a roadside market stand and boiled eggs, to make it a square meal. Or round, if you must quibble about actual shapes.
Indeed, we did feel a bit as if we had gone backwards today. We traveled a bumpy 8-hour road trip to get here last night. Not knowing when the bus would start yesterday, we had gone into town, packed for the road, with our friends who were headed to church. Once we had purchased tickets and been assured that the bus would leave at 13:00 and that we were to be there at 12:00, we opted to follow our friends to church rather than wait there at the station. It was a lovely service, with songs from both the youth group and the children. Had I been my normal self, I’d have been dancing along with them. As it were, however, nervous about the unknown journey ahead, I could not be on a pew in a crowded room. I got up to stand in the back, seeing many others waiting outside. I smiled at the performances, and recognized the beauty of it all . . . but I was removed, unable to shake the distraction of road-weary and road-worried angst. We jetted out as the service was ending, were dropped back at the station at a punctual 12:01, and then waited in a bar that doubled as a ticket station until the bus rolled in at 13:08.
Soon into the journey, I worried that we would not make it at all. The bus had pulled over to the side of the road for what we assumed to be a passenger drop. When I opened my window, though, and peered down, what I saw was a pair of boots sticking out from underneath the bus and a set of tools on the ground beside him. After 20 minutes of baking in the bus, Peter asked if I was going to go outside and join the children. “Join them as they poop?” I teased, having watched several mothers assist youngsters with their bush business. I did decide to get up, however, and joined the bystanders on the road. As I got out, the man handing tools to said boot-bearing repairman dashed past me, following the trail that led to a nearby cluster of grass-roofed huts. Two minutes later he re-emerged, still sprinting, and handed an unknown object to the man under the bus. The bus horn sounded, people followed the cue to file back into their seats and, soon, we were back on the road. “I guess that nice massage effect we felt earlier wasn’t a good thing,” Peter remarked. “Man!” I quipped, “And I had paid good money for these VIP seats!”
Considering the warnings we had received about the hazards of the roads, it ended up being a surprisingly smooth journey. One bathroom stop led to the discovery of Zambian-made kombucha at one of the snack stands. This combined with window purchases of bananas and cat naps kept me calm. Slanted cell-phone recordings of recent movies with subtitles that appeared to be in a font that translated to jibberish kept me somewhat entertained. And then, well before I expected it, we were rolling into the village of which my first memories are hazy but my last run strong.
We had anticipated being able to spend two days there; thinking through our early morning flight out of Lusaka, we figured that if we took the early morning bus, we should arrive by evening, and then head to the airport for a rather marathon-like traveling run. But asking around about the bus, we learned that we might not be able to find an alternative transport of there was any problem with the journey; it would be best to give ourselves an extra day for the trip.
So we had one day. When I admitted to Peter that I felt like this had been the mission of the trip, he was surprised. Frankly, so was I. I had done an excellent job convincing myself that it was no big deal—that I didn’t expect to find the grave. The odds were stacked against us. We had no communication unless I could connect my phone to wifi (which, generally, was not available). I had no idea who had led me through the woods to find it 6 years ago. I remembered no one there, so far as I knew. It was a shot in the dark.
We headed out, following the visual trail of four photographs, counting power poles and comparing tree branch silhouettes. We found what appeared to be the closest pole to the position in the woods, and we waded through the brush and cobwebs, comparing stones to photos and mental images.
But we did not find it. I felt a sort of numb hopelessness, wondering what we were doing. Why had we spent thousands of dollars to come all this way? Did I really think it would work? Should I have tried harder to make it work? Did I really WANT it to work?
I don’t know. I don’t know why there was not a miraculous discovery, as I do believe miraculous things happen. More specifically, I feel them happening in my own life. This miracle did not.
After boarding the bus for the return trip, I looked at Peter and said “Let’s do this again next year.” He didn’t react for a moment, trying to determine my level of sanity. “I’m serious,” I said. “We know what we should do differently.” He agreed with that bit of brilliance, and we spoke briefly of the possibility. With a couple days of travel left to go, I could not allow myself to get into any true planning mode, so far as that goes—a great deal of energy goes into mentally and physically gearing myself up for the journey at hand . . . but this time next year, who’s to say . . . come what may?

on this day

November 30, 2017

IMG_6606Last year an odd “coincidence” occurred as it came time for me to share this post. This year the same thing . . . the same sort of coincidence has coincided [;-)] with the day. I still don’t have any idea what the significance of this is, but it clearly has one, so I will simply tell you what happened and let you draw your own conclusions.
In chapel yesterday, the speaker was one of our new-this-year teachers. The topic he chose to talk about was his sister. I knew that he had a sister who had lived where we did in Zambia, but did not know specifics until now: and today those specifics hit hard. In short, she lived in our village. She worked in the hospital in which I watched my mother lay on a rickety hospital bed. She was a missionary doctor. And she died young—younger even than my own father was at the time of his death.
What struck me as I listened to her story was how small this world is. I thought of the two other families who lived near us in Zambia, who had their own tragedies within a year of ours—the death of a 16-year-old to a croc, and the death of the father of four to a brain tumor so rapid he hardly had time to treat it before it took him.
Like my coworker’s sister, my father knew early in life that he would go to Africa as a missionary. I have never had such a sense of purpose. Oftentimes it seems, those who die young are those who had a great mission in their lives—the sort of thing I’m a bit envious about, truth be told. But I certainly have nothing to complain about in this life that I’ve been granted. It is a good life—a “wealthy” life in the way that really counts.
This year something even more significant than the coincidences is on my horizon. My husband I are about to revisit that same country of my childhood. He will see my old home for the first time. We have talked about this since we were dating, and this year decided it was time. I am terrified. I feel ill-equipped as any sort of tour guide, and I’ve grown fearful in my “old age” about travel uncertainties, discomforts, and expenses. Yes, it is time;there is no other. In 25 days we will depart. But today it is time for this . . .

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.

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.

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 . . .