on this day

November 30, 2021

Today is apparently “Giving Tuesday” in this part of the world—or so my bulging email inbox loudly declares. I’m not really a good market audience for much of anything, so am pretty accustomed to quick clicks on the delete box. But I did skim through one newsletter (ironically, entitled “the Skimm”), and one portion caught my attention. Instead of limiting the idea of donations to tangible items, it acknowledged the value of the gifts one contributes to the world by nature of the talents one offers. 

Reading this gave me an ache of realization that I miss feeling as if I am contributing in this manner, with daily service coming from a hands-on caregiving work life. My unanticipated extended “holiday” has left me grasping for something to grab ahold of that will provide, if only for each single day, a sense of having done something worthwhile. Sometimes this is a conversation. Sometimes one more “t” crossed or ‘i” dotted in the endless rigamarole of hospital bill dealings. Sometimes a challenging workout. Sometimes a successful new recipe (or, in my habit, non-recipe-thrown-together-invention).

Today I offer a memory. Or perhaps more of a remembering.

For those to whom the life of Klaus Bernard Joujan mattered. For those touched by his particularly striking life of service and devotion. For those to whom this day is forever marked in memory by the nature of his passing . . .

. . . 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.

give my heart

November 22, 2021

Is it the weather? A slightly-too-overcast, slightly-too-cold sort of November day?

Is is the day of the week? A Sunday, which I’ve always found to be oddly melancholy. When I mentioned this fact, off-handedly, to my friend while on our customary midday walk, she asked

 me why? I paused, realizing that for as long as I can remember, I’ve taken this norm for granted. “I don’t know,” I responded. “Maybe the break from routine? The loss of an immediately productive schedule?” . . . a byproduct of a personality that is driven by a need to be needed?

Our walk today, however, dreary though the day may have been, lifted me out of my melancholy. Realizing this, after the fact, it occurred to me that the conversation itself had been powerful enough to transport me out of my emotions and into the moment.

My friend’s relaying of her rather remarkable week made my jaw quite literally drop with astonishment. I both laughed and rejoiced with her at the marvelous turn of events.

And then I relayed a series of events from my own past, realizing as I told them that the memories had been laying dormant in my mind for too long. The remembering of them brought a sense of grounding to my soul and, ironically, a renewed vision for the purpose of my here-and-now life.

Settling down tonight to our reading, my husband and I are listening to the Celtic Christmas channel. I know-it is not yet traditional Christmas-music-listening-time. Traditional, schmaditional, is what I have to say about that.

In The Bleak Midwinter comes on.

“Oh,” I say. “I love this song!” I pause, wondering what I love so much about the song. Such a melancholy tune, really. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for those . . . but, oh, the lyrics. Yes. It must be the lyrics . . . 

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

*i took no photos today. this was a shot i snapped years ago, in Zambia. somehow the loveliness and innocence of this little one caught my heart. and seemed to fit.


November 11, 2021

Today, in this country, it is Veteran’s Day. In honor of the greatest veteran I’ve ever known, I am reposting now what I wrote in April 2019, on the day of PaCharley’s funeral . . .

Today the American flag flew half-mast, proclaiming to all in our city that a great man is gone. When we arrived at the national cemetery, Peter noticed the flag and asked if he had missed some recent tragedy in the news. I told him I didn’t think so … “it’s for PaCharley,” I added. Turns out, it was.
Three volleys of 7 rounds were fired before the graveside service, and empty rounds presented to my grandmother, along with the flag.
Last night my uncle was contacted about expected numbers at the church for the funeral. He was asked to give an estimate, so a few of us began to brainstorm. We listed the expected family members and then moved on to others. Someone suggested that attendance may be light, considering workday hours on a weekday. “I don’t know,” I said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the city cancelled work for the afternoon, so that people could attend the funeral.” After all, as I know I’ve written oftentimes before, PaCharley never met a soul he didn’t like. A soul.
Sure enough, the sanctuary was filled to over flowing. Though I didn’t actually know how full it was until after the service. We filed in as a family, to fill all the front pews, and it did not occur to me to look behind us. Only as the service was ending did I think to wonder how many were there; so I kind of snuck back in, doubling back around after the family procession. I walked up the stairs to stand in the choir loft and peek at the crowd that was there. A crowd of souls who loved my PaCharley.
*Funny thing—the first time I wrote that sentence, I wrote “souls loved by my PaC.” Same difference, I suppose. Loved. Loved by.
GramBea selected the hymns we sang and, on impulse, I left my seat to go stand beside her and hold her hand. I suspect I learned how to sing from her, as I’ve always automatically found an alto harmony. From the other side of her, my uncle joined the trio, with a strong tenor.
Before I married, I was accustomed to visits to the U.S., during which I would stay with my grandparents. We would often sing the doxology as a blessing, in a three-part harmony.
Today we sang that three part harmony once again. Hands held tightly, voices strong; so far as I could tell—or cared, for that matter—we were alone in a packed sanctuary. Alone except for PaC, who I know for sure was singing right alongside us from his new, eternal home.

Like a river, glorious
Is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious
In its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth
Fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth
Deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Christ Jesus,
Hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest.


November 9, 2021

Finishing up my swim this morning, I looked up to see a cheery smile next to me in the lane. An elegant older lady, in a vintage swim cap, asked if she could share the lane.

“Of course,” I said, “but I’m finished anyway, so no need.” I added my compliments on her pink flowery cap, and then bid her a good swim. Once out of the water, I was toweling off when a distinguished gentleman caught my eye and waved. With a broad grin that brought to mind the grandfatherly king in The Princess Bride, he pointed to the woman who was now in the midst of a graceful breaststroke. “That’s my wife!” I smiled widely back at him, and then he turned around to carry on with his unique brand of water aerobics.

I couldn’t help but picture a heavenly basketball court. PaCharley is shooting hoops. GramBea is trucking it around the perimeter, busy with both her walk and, likely, conversation with a walking buddy. PaCharley catches my eye. “That’s my wife,” he says, with a broad smile. He turns back to  the hoop and swishes a three-pointer.


November 6, 2021

Unmoored. That’s the best word I can think of to describe the feeling that is growing in me. For two weeks now I have been basically unscheduled for work. The practical (better?) half of me reminds me that I was struggling to motivate myself to face the recent harsh environment of the office, and that its simply par for the course as I am only employed on an as-needed basis, and for now, the person I was replacing is back on duty. I am simply not “needed.” But the more time my brain has to ruminate, the more the emotions take over, and I begin to convince myself that I was deemed unfit for the workplace, and that rather than let me go they have just decided to stop asking me to work. My fear-side says I am, in fact, not “wanted.” I suppose there as a bit of work-related PTSD that comes into play as well, having had a decidedly scarring working experience this past year, calling into question all my old ideas of my own competency and enjoyment of having a working role—a place to belong, really, if I am honest about my desire when it comes to work.

I wish I could tell you that I have been using this time to do all the things I usually say that I would do if I had more time. I would have our cellar stocked with canned veggies and cured meats, readying for winter on the homestead. I would have edited my children’s tale, perfecting it for sending out to potential publishers. I would be going to creatively inspirational spots, sitting with pen in hand, jotting down ideas for stories . . . perhaps finally writing down those memories for a memoir (though I feel woefully inexperienced and immature for proper penning of any decent memoir!).

I am not doing these things.

So what do I actually have to show for this extra time, you ask?


I used a single winter pumpkin to make a single loaf of pumpkin bread. That bread is now gone. If I do say so myself, it was one of the best pumpkin/walnut/dried fruit breads I have ever tasted. But no, sorry—you cannot try it. My style of recipe-invention means throwing what I have into a dish, without measuring or documenting anything. As my husband likes to comment, any time he tries something that works. “I know—I’ll never have it again.”

I have done exactly zero editing on any of my past writings. Truth be told, I have a horrible habit of writing and then never looking at said writing again. There it is.

I went to the butterfly garden yesterday, the day it reopened. After days of cold and wet weather, I was basically just longing for that ridiculously warm and humid room. I skipped every other part of the building full of exhibits, walked straight up to that room, and stood there, staring at the butterflies and smiling at the child next to me who had a large monarch perched on her finger. After a few minutes, I walked back out of the building and carried on with the series of random errands I had filled my day with. I didn’t even take any pictures.

I did, however, take a single photo this week. Walking into the Y one morning for a swim, I paused to notice the striking hue of a leaf laying on the asphalt. Continuing on to get out of the rain, I changed my mind and turned back to snap a shot. 

This is it.

Today the sun came out, easing the angst a little bit. The overall sense of aimlessness remains; but for this one Saturday the warmth feels like, almost, enough. The week has been full of social outings, if not of work stress—a fact that is, in itself, a blessing. So tonight I am doing the simple bits of housework that I rely on for daily grounding. I swipe my bathroom and kitchen sinks, wipe down the counters, vacuum the carpets, and quick-mop the floors. I roast some of our garden potatoes for dinner and pop some popcorn for Peter’s afternoon snack. None of it is of any grand significance. Or is it?

I read long ago of a term called acedia, used to describe the temptation monks would feel to lose track of daily, routine tasks and, bored by the monotony of them, simply sleep or daydream instead.

I find comfort in this reminder—a sort of solidarity to the realization that even those spiritual fathers had to discipline themselves to carry on with the minutiae of a day. So be it. 

It’s been a minute since I tackled those cobwebs that gather in the corners (my method, actually, is to grab a rag—or a dirty t-shirt, for that matter—and walk around the house swatting at them like flies. It’s actually rather therapeutic ;-))