November 30, 2012
Here we are again. It is this day, once more. And on this day, this year, I am sill in the land of extremes. In a land where the sun’s rays shimmer softly over the harshness underneath. Where the snow lies, lovely, on hills that hide life as we know it . . . and life as we do not. How is it that time manages to flow so seamlessly, at once too fast and too slow? So it is that ages ago–yet not so long ago–life happened . . .
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.
November 28, 2012
Torn. Yes, that is what I am right now. A day of mental acrobatics and waverings, squeezed into the usual busy-ness of a school day. The answer, of course, is that I should do what God is leading me to do. Yes, I know. And yet, as is more often than I’d like the case, I find my emotional self interfering with the knowledge of God’s leading in my life. My heart leaps to conclusions I think, maybe faster than my soul cares to follow. I think maybe God leads in a slower manner than I am comfortable with, so that I want to make quick decisions based on the intensity of my emotions. And afterwards I wonder if I have jumped ahead of His leading . . .
I want to trust that He works in the midst of, and perhaps in spite of, the way in which my wiring tempts me. But I worry that I mess things up in my haste.
When it comes down to it, I suppose it doesn’t really matter so much whether I worry or not. Thy will be done. In spite of me.
So in the midst of this day, I was handed a sleeping baby. For a few moments in between clamoring kiddos, I held this little one and mused on the peace incarnate contained in that beautiful face. I clasped onto that moment and reminded myself that all shall be well. That the big picture is greater than me.
November 26, 2012
A quick snippet in the middle of one busy workday of one jam-packed week: a “this is why I’m here” moment. A crew of filmmakers was at the school today, and my library aid was one of the students they decided to feature. So during the period of the day in which I have her in the library, I got to witness her being filmed in her work and interviewed. To see a young woman who is so very intelligent, and so very diligent, able to make her voice heard here, from this country, to go out to the world, it was a beautiful thing. Maybe washing library books is not the most glamorous sort of thing one could be filmed doing, but she was eloquent as she explained it to them. “I don’t know what other libraries do,” she began. “I’m sure they all have some way of cleaning books too. But here we have even more dust, so I just wash them all when they come in. With Windex.” She smiled. And I smiled with her. Then they moved on to less mundane topics such as her career goals and life dreams. And I thought about how much I admire this young woman, and how I hope to help the voice of other third culture kids, like she is, to be heard, clear and strong.
This photo is one I snapped last week, as she was working on an art project. She happens to be a talented artist as well as a fine washer-of books :-)
November 22, 2012
Lord help me . . . I don’t wanna start over again. A part of me is clenching my fists like a stubborn child right now, saying [like I did when I was a small boarding school student], “Ine! Nakana!” No! I don’t want to!
I have grown comfortable in this home, with this “family.” As Professor Higgins sang to Eliza, “I’ve grown accustomed to your face.” Like an awkward lover, I feel like declaring my love to all to all around me these days. I feel that anxiety that comes when time is short and days are numbered, the pressure to make the most of it all. Reluctantly. Yet here I am, readying to leave, to start over again, who knows where? What can I do now but trust that my next landing point will be divinely orchestrated and unforeseeably blessed.
As we neared the starting time for our staff/compound potluck meal today, I realized that no one had planned any sort of Thanksgiving activity like we had last year. So I quickly put together a “Thanksgiving tree.” I decided to do paper rings as ornaments on the branches, so I made one as a demonstration, putting the first thing that came to mind on my own ring: “I am thankful for my ISK family.” And it is true. I am. I am blessed with an incredibly family, by blood. And I am doubly blessed by the family of the communities that get to fill my current working, playing, and living life.
November 14, 2012
Sometimes gratitude sneaks up on me. I busy about with the daily details, stressing as I am prone to do, and rushed as is my norm. And then a reminder comes, breaking me out of the mental rut. Barraging me with the truest of realities, and with the loveliest of beauties. Tonight, a true friend reached out to me. She gave the most valuable gift of her time, and she imparted to me grew wisdom–wisdom gleaned from many decades of serving the highest King. She spoke of righteousness as a deceptively simple reality we often fail to aspire to, due to a lack of understanding. But what if all righteousness consists of in a daily life is simply that of “living right,” as she mused. What if we are truly living great, eternal lives when we simply take each mundane step and do the best we can with the smallest of moments? Now that is something I can strive for.
That is the kind of right living that my coworker demonstrated for me when she worked long into the evening to make one batch after another of homemade clay so that her students could enjoy a hands-on demonstration of their animal unit. This was no small task: I laughed when I worked on the blue batch, telling her it was like making nshima in Zambia: the kind of home task that is an entire body workout with the effort of rapidly whisking the wooden spoon through an unwieldy pot of thick, messy goo. I was a bit worried about this blue batch for a bit, actually, with the way the lumps were threatening to interfere with fine malleability for little hands. But the lumps subsided, and the clay turned out fine enough. Today when I visited her classroom, the kids eagerly showed off their masterpieces-in-the-making: a finely finned shark family, a striped-and-spotted snake, a pink-trimmed peacock. Clay masterpieces. May the Master’s hands do their work.
November 7, 2012
Today being our Friday as far as school days go, I couldn’t help but get a bit playful when I saw a crew of students about to go down the slide in a row of about 7 people. I laughed at the sight of them, then asked if they’d wait a minute while I got my camera. Once I had it, though, I decided to just go down the slide with them. When I got up to the top, however, I saw that the platform was slanting downward a bit precariously, and I worried that the whole thing was about to topple. So instead I had them all go down immediately rather than stop to take pictures of them. After they went in, back to class, I did a quick inspection and then went on down the slide after all . . . figured that even if it was about to topple, I still had to get down somehow.
Then the day lost its normalcy. Something happened–I still don’t know what–and the alarms went off around the school. I was with the 1st and 2nd graders at the time, and we stopped them in the middle of their lunch to take them inside, to the designated safe room. After 20 minutes of so of taking roll, keeping them quiet, and comforting frightened little ones, we got the “all clear” to file back out. We let them return to their lunches and, as I walked past one table of laughing youngsters, I paused to listen. Apparently one of them had decided that his lunch was not as he had left it. “The T@lib@n ate my lunch!” he declared. The others of course decided that the same fate had come to theirs as well, leading to a chorus of indignant declarations. I just shook my head and smiled, somewhat sadly. Life as we know it, I suppose.
November 1, 2012
I found myself prowling for a photo tonight. As I scrubbed layers of the day’s paint off my hands and feet, I glanced periodically at the sky, and at the way the setting sun was glimmering on the mountains. Finally I just grabbed my camera, plus an extra lens, and went roof-hopping, alternating from one building of the compound on to the next as the shades of light went from gold to pink, and back again.
“What do you find beautiful there?” comes to mind once more . . .