Wet Season

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The air is wet and old and full of life. It feels ancient even though it must be brand new, though maybe it has wound its way through ancient places, into the caverns, deep crevices of the earth that hold memories that go way, way back. 

It helps me to think of the air like this.

This morning Isaac woke up in a mood. Anything I asked him to do, he couldn’t do, because he was too tired. Getting dressed? Too tired. Using the front bathroom instead of the back bathroom (because it was occupied by a teenage sister who wasn’t delighted by his loud demands that she get out)? Too tired, and plus he doesn’t like that bathroom, not even a little. I was in a bit of a hurry, needing to drive for three hours for a morning appointment, so I had to turn over his small grumpy self to his aforementioned, long-suffering sister.

Our friend Claudia is visiting. She has appeared in these pages before, our dear friend Claudia who lived with us for a month in Nepal, dealing with children all little and amazing. She held Solomon a lot when he was a baby, played with him when he was three, ran down to the lake when he got lost, to look for him and now she gets to see him as a lanky almost-ten-year-old. “I love Solomon,” she told me. “He told me stories for an hour on Sunday, in the kitchen. About bears and America.” 

I know the stories. They are the same stories Solo often tells when he meets someone he hasn’t seen in a while, or someone new. He opens up by telling stories. And he loves hearing stories. I love this about him. It’s like he’s saying, “This is me and these are some things that have happened to me.” I remember when he was a little guy and he didn’t really know how to join in with family stories around the table, so he would say, “When I was on the mountain…” and launch into a long-winded imaginary happening. Yesterday, we were sitting around the table with Olga and Vrinda, and we somehow got into talking about toilets. Solo told us a bit about how he hates the loud toilet sound, so he gets up from the automatic ones and just runs out the door! But then sometimes it is hard to get the door open. It’s difficult, getting out the door ahead of the loud toilet sound.

Everything grows in this season. Things feel perpetually wet. The air is full of life: spores and molds, living things that land and grow and spread new life in new places. On walls, under cars, in the sponge of my motorbike seat. You have to admire it. It doesn’t stop.

When the rain pours hard, it feels cozy in the house, but not the kind of cozy where you are warm and insulated. It’s in the house (not well sealed) with us, fresh rainy air that isn’t enough to get us wet, but has us breathing in the mountains, the season. We are not insulated. We are in it, all the struggle of living things, the streams rushing down steep hills.  We are in the wet. And once you are wet in living things, it is hard not to be.

Like the heart. Like living where you allow difficult things to touch you and change you. Where you live among the stories that people tell you and the hurt or excitement of those stories come wafting to you on spore-filled air. You sit in the midst of joy and pain and feel what God always feels. And sometimes this is the air and the season of your work. It’s wet season.

And then sometimes, even in wet season, there is the clearest light that comes at the end of a soggy day. It turns all the water into diamonds, every tree is edged in light. You take a breath and feel the love of ancient things, the cloud of witnesses, the Eternal Love that remains throughout all the stories. Ancient and brand new, all at once. You can remain here in all this teeming life, because he is here as well. Transforming and making all things new. There is mold, yes, but also  there are flowers.

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Tiny ways.

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Last night I went for a drive and all the edges of the clouds were edged with light. 

“Pull me up there,” I whispered.

Are you tired of escape poetry from me?

Listen, I’ve been running forever. Even when I run in place, right there in my kitchen thinking I should really get away but these children surely need to eat so here is the chopping block, here is the kale. Make it healthy, make it full of love.

Even when it’s just a corner of my soul retreating with my imagination, hand in hand. 

Trees, my soul whispers, leaves. The rustling light of leaves.

And my imagination concocts a new kind of Anne of Green Gables, one who actually gets power from trees, because trees and water buffalo and tiny tailor birds tell me that it is okay to be alive.

I am grateful for the books of my childhood. 

Wise people in the world create beauty out of violence, come out scathed but intact, and I have never experienced true violence, I have nothing to run from, really, except for the parts that feel like they will flake off if I can’t protect them sometimes.

I am better at staying when I run.

Here’s what it is: all the world of people is a code I don’t understand. Getting it wrong feels like stepping off a cliff, my heart in my throat. Twist of the ankle. Even after all this time, nearly forty years, I still don’t understand. I can tell myself and tell myself and tell myself. I write notes and notebooks and learn and memorize and I plunge myself in again and again. I ask questions. I study faces. I learn what is right and wrong and then I say something and it is the wrong thing again and maybe if I was different I would shrug the misteps off, but that is not me and I cry and cry until it feels like my eyes will explode. And then I get up and go into the world again. 

I am so tired. 

Yesterday, feeling my worst, I went to the pharmacy to get some allergy medicine for Kai. It was the kind of day when I felt exposed and afraid of people's eyes, like I didn’t want to be seen at all, I wanted to be invisible. But kids need medicine sometimes, so there I was in the shop. And in front of me were two older Karen men, in town from their village which was probably nearly two hours away. They were short, wearing tribal clothes, tasseled bags at their sides. They looked like they might be brothers, with the same lines in their faces. They stood and discussed all their options, with a leisurely sense of time, and as they did, they reached out to one another again and again, with an arm slung around the back, or gently touching the shoulder, or a hand on the back of the other’s neck. It was purely unconscious, little gestures of affection in the sterile pharmacy, figuring out medication and vitamins, one man translating the pharmacist's Thai words into Karen for the other.

I was so sad, but even then I couldn’t help seeing it. Tiny ways of being there for one another.

My little community has been having some rough days as we try to figure deep things out, and that means more situations where we all feel like we are out of our depth. And in the midst of it, my friends have been kind to me and to each other in generous ways. Leaf, made of light, bringing hope with her words, reaching out, speaking kindness, touching my arm or my elbow or my knee. Ro holding my hand, resting her head on my shoulder. Winnie with her endless kindness, checking in, buying iced coffee, pouring out love. Miri sending me verses and a picture she drew. Brendan with a bowl of food, offering to drop Solo off at his Science club. Josh with jokes and little nudges of humor that say, “You are my friend.” Neil and his rumbles and hums and murmurs of support. Olga with care for my daughter, showing up for hugs and a brief talk on the bench outside my house. All of our Pai community, with smiles on the motorbike, nods, music and help. And Chinua, my own, beloved Chinua, the Superstar Husband whom I have memorized, with arms and voice and lips that all say home. Chinua playing piano, Chinua giving me a hug, Chinua bridging gaps again and again.

I see all these things, these unconscious ways that we reach out to each other, speak love of God with one another. I name them, write them down, and the world feels livable again. Maybe I don't have to disappear.

There are light edged clouds, and there is rice in the bowl. Stones in the jar, in my hand. Imagination and the books of my childhood. My kids and other peoples’ kids swirling around like a stream of silliness and love. Poetry. All is not hopeless. The world is confusing and hard sometimes, and it circles around in new and surprising depths of hurt or pain, but it is edged in light.

The things that help us remain.

The punniest ones.

The punniest ones.

Well, May has taken me by surprise. I forgot how busy I always am, and how much emotional space is taken up by my life in my family and community. It leaves me breathless. I am sinking in, settling and staying and remaining in it all. 

This morning the world feels full of possibility. It rained all last night, which had me wakeful because of the tin awning next to my window, where I could hear the drops amplified like large beasts dancing around in our eaves. But gray is a color that the sky can be, and sometimes large beasts spend the night trampling around and you flow in and out of sleep, waiting for oblivion.

I have found a spot for quiet moments- a large boulder where I can sit and see the whole valley beneath me, a place away from people. I love my house in town, but I can’t see very far from it; only into the friendly eyes of my neighbors. Sometimes I need a farther view. The other day I drove out to my spot after a long day of talking, and found sweet breezes in the hills as I went. The day had been hot and humid, in between rains, but the breeze on the bike cooled my hot eyes. 

The spot I love is in the midst of a litchi orchard, and since the litchis are ripe right now, there were bikes that belonged to the farmers who own the orchard. They were harvesting and also, I noticed, pruning the trees, probably preparing for next year’s harvest. Litchi season is so short. So the trees were barer and shorter than when I had last seen them, and large branches were piled at their bases. 

I wondered what the farmers would think of me sitting there, but I went and sat. I hoped they would know I wasn’t trying to steal litchis. I read a few lines from Anne of Green Gables, but was too keyed up to go very far, so I lay back on my rock and watched the light change and the trees move in the wind. 

There is truly no way to order your life to escape hard things. Sometimes you have to settle into them. But what is the reward? What is the thing that helps us remain? I guess there are many. Cloudy mornings like today. Poems. Quirky kids. 

Quirky kids: all of our teenagers (my own and others in their group of friends) are currently obsessed with puns, which is killing me. I try to discourage them by telling them I’m not impressed, but they see behind my words to the amusement and love beneath. They know I think they are amazing, so they keep pulling out their shiny puns, offering them to me grinning, and no matter how mean I am in response, they know I secretly love it. 

Yesterday Leafy was missing when we went to do read alouds, and we called for him until it was apparent that he wasn’t in the house, or around the house anywhere. It was very unlike him to be gone during a part of school that he loves, so eventually I got worried enough (kidnapping! I would kidnap Leafy, he’s a prize!) that I called his friend Taran. 

“Is Leafy with you?”

“No, but my mom saw him out running.”

“Out running. Hmm. Good to know.”

He came back shortly, dripping with sweat. Apparently he’s in a fitness contest. He lifts weights that he made out of milk jugs with water in them and pvc pipe. And he had finished most of his school and gone out for a run. 

And I had five extra boys over for a while yesterday. One of them kept walking around wearing our Power Rangers costume. I’m so glad to be in a life where I get to see people wearing Power Rangers costumes out of the corner of my eye while I’m baking bread in the kitchen. 

So yes. Quirky kids. Also, color and bread dough in your hands. Rising like a mad thing.

Deep conversations during Bible circle. Deeply smart women making incredible discoveries about the words of God. Salad. Music. Possible future travels.

And behind it all, layered behind all the layers, sheets and swathes and reams of God’s love for you. He loves you and loves you and loves you. You walk around in a spotlight of love. He thinks you are adorable. He loves your laugh and your quirky ways. So that’s a thing that helps us remain.

I watched the sky from my rock and then a farmer spotted me as he turned his motorbike around, ready to head home. He smiled and called out, gesturing for me to come, and then he piled as many litchis into my hands as I could hold. I went back to my rock and sat with my lap full of litchis, and it felt like a lapful of light. 

 

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Artist Date

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The days are getting hotter here, with warm damp air in the mornings, hazy with humidity, which becomes heavy and hot by noon, sweltering in the late afternoon, when the power goes out and we go out on the porch to get some air. Everything in my life is sticky with salt and sand, and walking along the village paths, I notice again how the world becomes dust colored (red dust colored, that is) in this season in Goa. The houses have dust thrown up on them from the scooters, the cows are dust colored, and the pigs too. The trees have red dust on their leaves. But the birds are still colorful, darting through the trees, flashes of green and blue. The heat grows. We have less than two weeks with the community here, and I have signed myself up for more cooking and guiding meditation. Chinua will play a concert with his friend Peter on our rooftop tonight. We’re getting every bit of life out of these four weeks that we can.

The sea has been beautiful. I have missed it in our Thai mountains. After a hot day at the house, it is beautiful to walk into the welcoming sea, the perfect temperature, with little waves to play in. Isaac loves the sea. I remember that he loved it from the very beginning, when he was a tiny little guy learning to walk on the beach. They all love the sea. 

I have spent the last few days booking trains and hotels for our journey to the South India. There will also be a few buses and taxis involved, but we can book those as we go. I feel accomplished and also rather shocked by how easy it was (though it did take several days to figure it all out). I remember eighteen years ago that we had to stand in crazy crowds in the train station, pushing to get to the front to buy tickets for the train. Now I can do it all online, and it works! India is changing quickly.

There are so many gifts. A new little gem of a hideaway restaurant. Uttapam and sweet lassi. Groups of kids calling hello in high pitched voices. Friendly beach dogs. The heart-shaped leaves of the trees next to our house. So many friendly people who have seen our kids grow up. The peaceful lines of palm fronds. Miri and Sarah and Svenya and Laura, beautiful women, all of them. A chance to cuddle the baby of our friends, and see my sons dote on him. Open mics where people sing their hearts out. My neighbors brushing their teeth and clearing their throats. The motorbike, the roads, the birds, the houses and smells. They are all gifts to my eyes and my heart.

My friend Nadine, from our community, asked, “Why does that man have curly hair on one side and no hair on the other?”

And I answered, “It is his comb-over, but the weather makes it too curly to stay.” And we laughed. Her husband told us that in Sweden, they call the comb-over the Robin Hood hairstyle. 

“Really?” I asked. 

“Yes,” he said, “because you take from the rich and give to the poor.” He reached from one side of his head to the other.

I went to a contemporary dance gala the other day, and it surprised and inspired me. It was true contemporary dance, very different from things I have seen here before, and it was so, so beautiful. I am inspired and also frustrated, not getting the time or space I need to write. Maybe this is like one long Artist’s Date. I am storing up inspiration. Filling my eyes for a future time. Possibly. 

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for my patrons! The Day in the Life video for February/March should be up today! If I can get the slow Internet to upload it. :) 

A travel day.

This morning I am sitting on the porch at a friend’s house, listening to the calls of the koel birds and spotted doves and feeling completely content. A dog is licking my toe, my boys are swinging in the yard, and the air is still fresh, though it will be hot later.

We are on our way to India. We’ll be in Chennai tonight and Goa tomorrow night. I look forward to those extra senses that get awakened every time I go to India. I look forward to the coconut grove and the sea, to the fishermen and people in the village that I have known for years. I look forward to their expressions of awe when they see how tall Kai and Kenya have become, not so much to the inevitable comments about the weight I have gained. 

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We’ve had a lovely and eventful week. We left last Thursday for the Shamballa in your Heart festival, which is a Japanese music festival in the mountains, with Thai, Japanese, and international musicians. We camped in several tents and brought another friend along. To get everything there, we made a big tarp package on the roof of our car and then tied it up with bungee cords like a present. This is the second year that we’ve gone to this festival and we love it. The kids love being outside the whole time. It’s easy camping with bathrooms and foodstalls that are affordable. The vendors remembered us from the year before and one even had pictures of us on a little board that she had made. Our dear friend Aya is one of the organizers and she found ways for all of us to be involved. Chinua led a couple Open Voice Project workshops (teaching choral singing) and I got to do some live painting, collaborating with Kenya for the first time. 

The finished painting.

The finished painting.

I’ve dreamed of collaborating with her for a while, because our styles are so different (she is very much an illustrator, more talented that I can believe) and I think they would complement each other well. So it was a dream to do a live painting at one of the stages, listening to music and painting alongside my daughter. It felt like a dream I wouldn’t even have dared to have. So lovely.

I also remember going to the hotsprings with Ro, Lilli, and Becca under the stars, walking in the night to the little pools, getting back to the tent, sleepy and warm despite the chill in the air. Drinking coffee with Leaf in the morning. Listening to amazing jams with Chinua on mandolin, lovely guitarists, and a talented fiddle player. Guiding and attending Christ-centered meditation in the sleepy heat of the day. Music and dancing. The way Solomon loves festivals and music, joining in with Chinua’s workshop, singing and dancing his heart out. The kids running around all day, through rivers and to the top of giant rock piles. Bible circles as a bunch of people read through the book of Romans outside, beside a stream. 

I loved looking out at the stars above the tent flap. Sitting and watching and talking with people from all over the world. Ah, it was beautiful. 

Now we head off to the land that always holds part of my heart, off to dear Miri and the rooftop meditation space, to the sea and delicious food. It's a travel day, just one of many in our lives.