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 . . .


October 8, 2017

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.

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.