Making melodies out of the humdrum.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Anything Can Happen if You Let It

About a week ago, I saw Mary Poppins in Dallas with Brooke. It was one of those spur of the moment things that just turned up and then, turned out quite well. I tend to think spur of the moment things always do. 

I have always loved Mary Poppins.  I went through this figurine stage when I was about nine years old. You know, the little porcelain things that collect dust on your bookshelf?  Yes. I was an avid collector.

I had a bunch of farm animal figurines that I purchased during summers in Wisconsin, and then I had a Mary Poppins.  Additionally, four years ago I bought a purse because of what (I thought) was its pretty quilted pattern.  I always receive compliments on the purse, yet on numerous occasions people have told me it looks like a Mary Poppins carpet bag (you know, the bottomless one). The resemblance must be striking because that's a random comment so I cannot help but think that Mary and I are aligned in some way.  And I know it's lame, but whenever I hear that Feed the Birds song and think about little Michael saving his Tuppence for the birds, my eyes well up. 

So, you understand why I had to go see it last week.   
The performance was vivid and colorful.  Brooke and I were a bit weirded out by the way all of the Banks' nannies prior to Poppins were made out to be angry closet drunks but I think that's part of the artistic license.  Besides, maybe they were.  I like how performances always make people and circumstance exaggerated, dramatic and downright eccentric but it all flies because it's a musical. Let's be honest. You sit watching the performance and inevitably think, "This is a little bizarre..." but for some reason everyone smiles more than they get uncomfortable. Because it's on the stage?  I guess.  I wish we did that more in real-life, not just stage-life, because everything would be a lot funnier that way.  

So we listened, with great enthusiasm, to the Mary Poppins songs: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Spoonful of Sugar, Let's Go Fly a Kite, Feed the Birds (tear-jerker) and ChimChimaRee.  To my great excitement, there was a new song to add to the Mary Poppins repertoire! This one was called: "Anything Can Happen If you Let It." Another way to light up, in her Poppins way, that nugget of wisdom that I know but don't do:  Let go. Relax.  Be still. 

Letting go of these things that we hold with clenched fists is no easy task even though the catchy melody makes it sound like it is.  What a challenge it is to be still when we aim to secure and to manage.  To control and to change.  Even more so when we label this managing and controlling and changing with virtuous words like ambition and prudence. And who are we kidding?  The security is cozy, but temporary and illusory, and could vanish in a hot second. 

But Mary, in her controversial but glass-half-full kind of way, reminds us that something even better might be beyond that coziness we've settled into. 

Love it. And her.  

Thanks, Mary :). 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Africa Bite

I spent this past Saturday in Austin with a friend.  We call it favorite things day-- a.k.a soul care. The week was long, and it's not that it was all bad, but when you work with people in crisis it could go all bad all too quickly.  I'm still trying to figure out how to live on that edge while still maintaining regular blood pressure for a 25 year old.  And, I'm hopeful so please don't tell me that social workers are always stressed out.  Although my supervisor did tell me this week that to work with our population, one has to have a "dark side."  I have never thought of myself as having a "dark side" parse, but maybe I do.  

Austin included the following "favorite circuit:" freebie art gallery called Austin Art Garage, Anthropologie, Book People, dinner at Karibu ( a new Ethiopian food restaurant) and Whole Foods.  We drove home feeling nourished. 

While I am VERY excited about the new skirt and Splendid cardigan (Splendid as in the brand, splendid not splendid as an adjective) I got at Anthropologie, as well as the perfect pie pumpkin and hydrangeas that I bought at Whole Foods, I really wanted to take a moment and write about Karibu (which means "welcome," in Swahili by the way).  We didn't know how to order Ethiopian food, but the mixture of lentils and green beans and chickpeas delivered to us on a pizza- pan type thing was delicious.  The best part? No forks.  We sopped up our food with a crepe-ish bread and talked about Rwanda and the people that we met there that we probably will not ever forget but also not ever talk to.  Well, I take that back.  I still get random emails from Rwandan students that say: "Not much English. Met you for a time. Genocide in 1994. Kisses!" Unfortunately, I gave out my email admist a rush of meeting about 53 excited teen aged Rwandans, and I have no faces in my memory for these emails. 

At Karibu I said, as I have said before, that Rwanda is vivid and real still, but like a dream. And when something is actually a dream you can file it away as a dream, but since it wasn't, I'm not sure where to put it.  People have told me that maybe it just doesn't have a place, but I very much like things to have places for things, especially these things that affect me so. 

I have been thinking about Rwanda a lot, still.  This morning at breakfast I thought about how mushy African food really is delicious, but by meal three, you are really ready to actually use your teeth and chew something.  I thought about the genocide this morning when we read Psalm 46:2 and 3. 

So, I finally got myself together and wrote a letter to the many people that supported me financially and prayerfully while I was on my trip. I'm embarrassed because the letter is long overdue, but even so, here it is: 

Dear Family and Friends,                                                                                    

I know this letter is long overdue.  After a whirlwind of a summer, I have finally taken the time to share with you some of my Rwanda trip.  Before I do, I want to thank you for the support I have received and felt from each of you.  I am both blessed and humbled by the outpouring of financial donations, encouragement and prayer with which you have so graciously provided me. Many, many thanks.

 I toyed with giving you a play-by-play account of what we did, whom we met and what we learned.  But, containing the experience I had into a journalistic account, travel log or the like doesn’t seem to do my time in Rwanda justice. It feels too narrow, especially in a place where time was never the essence! So, to share Rwanda with you, I will try my best to tell you what I learned and what I felt, and now, what it is that I (think) I might know.  

 A page in my Rwanda journal is devoted to a list of words that best characterized this “land of a thousand hills.”  While it seems rather reductionist of me to summarize a nation of such strength and beauty in three words, I’ll do it anyways. For me, Rwanda was gracious, alive and open.  First impressions really are priceless, especially when traveling, and these three words began my word list on Day 2 of our trip.  They stick with me and will remain my words for Rwanda.

On that same Day 2 when Rwanda became gracious alive and open, our team drove around for some time in our ma-ta-tu (Rwandan word for bus), and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people outside! It sounds na├»ve, but I wanted to ask the people on the side of the road, “Where are you going?” People were walking (or skipping, or running) barefoot, people were in deep conversation, they were hanging up signs, digging ditches or carrying jugs of water.  People rode up and down the street on bikes, oftentimes with two or three babies in tow.  Even though this day-to-day (that is: the digging, and the carrying and the towing) looked at worst unpleasant and at best humdrum and routine, when we interacted with Rwandans, I thought their life was exciting! Full! And, perhaps most significantly altogether peaceful.   I walked away feeling refreshed and encouraged.  They seemed to embrace life, down to the very moment.  Or maybe, I was just seeing people who were simply convinced that life embraced them—I’m still not really sure which way it might go.

Early on in our visit, we learned about the Rwandan genocide, which took place from mid-April to early July in 1994.  I went to Rwanda with a vague idea of the atrocities that took place, yet visiting the many memorials honoring the 800,000 victims reshaped my perceptions.  One survivor’s story resonated with me in particular when she equated the terror of mid-1994 with a morbid silence.  “For 100 days,” she said, “no one said a word.”  I don’t know that I have ever imagined fear as acutely as I did as our new friend shared further details.  They were gruesome.  I have always found great value in sharing stories.  There is something that (can be) so genuine when people share a bit of his or herself and the listener willingly receives it. Relationship. Connectedness. The like. Yet as I listened to this young woman’s story, which was like so many other Rwandan survivor stories, I felt overwhelmingly moved yet entirely disconnected. 

What do I know? I thought to myself.  What do I know of courage or of hope or of family or of forgiveness? She spoke about these things with such grace and such candor that my eyes welled up. “How easy it is! “ I thought to myself. “How easy it is to feel convicted about these very things our friend spoke of from the comfort of my Waco, Texas apartment in a place where I am supported and encouraged and rest-assured that I will go to bed well-fed.  Writer Anne Lamott says that our most ardent and genuine prayers go something like this: “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and “Help me, help me, help me.” And in that moment, I thanked God over and over again, for this lady, for her story and for the way it brought me down to my knees.  Right where I should be.

Learning about the genocide at the beginning of our trip opened me up. It opened me up to experience and to heartache and to the moment because perhaps more than before, I believe (not just know) that this moment is all that we have. And indeed, most of Rwanda I can classify as a series of moments.  The moment that true beauty was an old Rwandan woman dressed in bright yellow grabbing my hand and saying “mara-ho.”  The moment that our bus driver, Cyusa (pronounced Choo-sa) told us that he  “would never forget us” and was “full of happy.”  The moment two Rwandan orphans, one named Rose and the other a name that I cannot pronounce, taught me a traditional Rwandan dance.  They were so kind and so patient with me and then all of the sudden, the dance wasn’t awkward anymore, it was fun! The moment that I looked around and saw that everyone, yes everyone, was dancing and laughing and dancing some more.  The moment our team found we would, in fact, be performing the song “Father Abraham” in front of a Rwandan congregation.   There were many more full moments like these, most of them brimming with such unique experience that I could barely stand it, and sometimes, it felt like I should be able to touch it.

But most of all, Rwanda opened me up to the greatness of our God.  Indeed, part of this characterization is, narcissistically, a response to how big the world felt and how small I felt when I was in Rwanda. But the other half has to do with the mysteriousness of our God’s love. 

Before I explain, bear with me for a moment. In my social work classes we spent a great deal of time talking about empathy. That is, how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes: honor their experience of course, but with a bit of intuition, or an attempt to conjure up the feelings that the client might be experiencing.   If your client is grieving, take yourself to a time when you suffered great loss.  In other words, invade the mystery of the other a little bit.  Recognize that your experience will never be his or hers, but in the name of service, link a bit of your life and maybe even heart to the one before you.  In Rwanda, I could not do this. It was all mysterious. And it didn’t even feel like I had a right to touch it. I could not touch it.  I was too far away.  In these moments I felt I didn’t know how to relate. I didn’t know how to understand.  There were times when I thought that I didn’t even have a right to listen.  I probably didn’t, but true to their graciousness, the Rwandans shared.

But the really funny thing? In spite of this initial disconnectedness this total foreignness, this “oh-my-goodness my world is being shaken more than I bargained for” kind of feeling, we were all still together.  We played together (yes, a soccer game Rwandans vs. Americans), laughed together, broke bread together, worked together, danced together, worshipped together and did, in fact, communicate.  It was altogether mysterious and beautiful and felt filled with the Spirit of God.  We felt close in the purest kind of way, the kind that transcends self, that does not have to do with self, but rather, redemption.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “ ‘ The kingdom of God is not to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’”  (Luke 17: 21-22).   Jesus tells us here that the Kingdom of God is within our grasp. Closer than we think.  Maybe right under our very noses. And in Rwanda, there was a holiness that brought such light to those words.

 God and all His goodness, all His hopefulness, all His light and His love; all these things that I seek in all the wrong places seemed to just come.  What a blessing! While the vividness of Rwanda has faded a bit, sometimes it seems that the memories rush in as alive and as gracious as the Rwandans themselves.  In the midst of these waves, my cup runs over. 

I hope that yours are too.

Love and Grace,