Monday, May 31, 2010

Sometimes

Sometimes, in the midst of an ordinary task, I am suddenly seized with longing for my life, the way it was on January 11th. That was a time when over 230,000 more people lived in Port-au-Prince - and their lives may have been hard, but they were full lives, lives of people who were surviving and thriving, and they were cut short without warning, and they left behind many who grieve for them. That was a time when I didn't know anything about the Richter scale, or about the USGS website where you can monitor aftershocks or about what it's like to watch people I know on CNN. It was a time before countless families had been torn apart, countless limbs lost, countless recurrent nightmares born. It was a time before every empty space in Port-au-Prince had become a tent city.

Sometimes I wish so much that none of it had ever happened that the wishing almost takes my breath away.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Haitian Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the brave, beautiful Haitian mothers out there. Many lost children in the earthquake. Many lost their homes. Many struggle still to care for their families in their new situations. This song is for all of them.



I had some help with my translation of the lyrics from an alumna of our school, because there were several spots I couldn't figure out. She told me that she had help from her Moso Manman on some parts too! She also told me that Emeline Michel sang at her parents' wedding. Kreyol lyrics follow.


Moso Manman (Special/Rare Mama)
By Emeline Michel
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I won't be able to pay you what I owe you
Come dance my mama
You have to smile my mama
I make you sing for my mama
I can't pay you what I owe
Days pass by, we are now grown
A lot of things we can say
When I look at where I've come from
its not only a miracle of nature
This book of love surpasses me
For the strength that you spent
The house has a central pillar
when you have a rare/special mama

Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I won't be able to pay you what I owe you
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
I look at your wrinkled brow
All your hair has turned white
O Father please give me more
Days so that I can give you love
Strut your stuff (walk around proudly and make a big deal)
You're never grown for your mama
This contract is a written in blood
that lasts till time no longer exists woooooooooo
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
Your door is wide open
No matter what I may do in life
Those who were here have left mama
But you are still here
Dear little mama
You are a stroke of pencil without error (You are a perfect stroke of pencil)
Ask questions, look for answers...mama is always right
Can dance mama
You are a diamond my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
Can give you diamonds my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
mmmmmmmmm (dance my mama)
Dance, dance, dance my mama (dance my mama)
Thank you mama, thank you mama ( dance my mama)
Thank you thank you so much ( dance my mama)
(Dance my mama)
Your door is wide open
No matter what I may do in life
Those who were here have left, mama
But you are ever here
Dear little mama
You are a stroke of pencil without error (You are a perfect stroke of pencil)
Ask questions, look for answers...mama is always right
Chorus
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I won't be able to pay you what I owe you
Come dance my mama
Can dance my mama
I can give you diamonds my mama
I can't pay you what I owe you
Smile my mama
(Dance my mama)

I can't I can't pay you
I won't pay you mama
I won't pay you
Your door is wide open
No matter what I may do in life
Those who were here have left, mama
But you are ever here
Dear little mama
You are a stroke of pencil without error (You are a perfect stroke of pencil)
Ask questions, look for answers...mama is always right
(Dance my mama)


Kreyol lyrics:

Vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
m'ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pap ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w
vinn danse manman mwen
fo'w souri manman mwen
m'fe'w chante pou manman mwen
pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w

jou file nou finn grandi
ampil bagay nou va di
le'm gade kote'm soti
se pa selman mirak la nati
liv lanmou sa depasse'm
pou fos a fiel ki depanse
kay lan gin yon potomitan
lè'w possede moso manman wooooooooooooo

vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
m'ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w
vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w

m'ap gade
fe'w ti vise
tout cheve blan gintan pouse
ou papa souple rajoute'm
de jou pou'm ba ou lanmou
pou mizèl fè gran panpan
ou pa janm granmoun pou manman'w
kontra sa ekri aksan
jouk tan pa rete ankinn tan wooooooooo

chorus
vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
m'ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w
vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w

pot tou gran l'ouvri
kelkeswa sa'm ta fè nan la vi
sa ki te la ta va di'm manmi
ou menm ou la pi di
ti manman cheri
ou se yon kout kreyon san rati
mande kesion chèche repons manman wa'p gin rezon

ka danse manman
ou se diaman manman mwen
m'pap ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w
vinn danse manman mwen
ka danse manman mwen
ka ba'w diaman manman mwen
m'pa ka peye'w sa mwen dwe'w

mmmmmmmm (danse manman mwen)
danse danse danse manman'm (danse manman mwen)
mèsi manman mèsi manman'm (danse manman mwen)
mèsi mèsi ampil (danse manman mwen)

pot la gran l'ouvri
kelkeswa sa'm ta fè nan la vi
sa ki te la ta va di'm manmi
ou menm ou la pi di
wi manman cheri
ou se yon kout kreyon san rati
mande kesion chèche repons manman'm toujou gin rezon

danseeeee danse manman'm
danse manman'm
danse manman'm
danse manman'm mmmmmmmm

chorus repeat

(danse manman mwen)
souri manman'm
(danse manman mwen)
m'pa ka mwen paka peye'w
m'pap ka peye'w manman
mwen p'ap peye'w

pot tou gran l'ouvri
kelkeswa sa'm ta fè nan la vi
sa ki te la ta va di'm manmi
ou menm ou la pi di
wi manmi cheri
ou se yon kout kreyon san rati
mande kesion cheche repons manman wa'p gin rezon

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reading Update

Book #23 was The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry, which I read to my son. The book is a parody of "old-fashioned" children's stories, where orphans go through trials and tribulations and come out triumphant at the end. While I found the book funny (much of it made my son laugh out loud), I never quite forgave the earthquake played for laughs.

Book #24 was Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. More a series of short stories than a novel, the book presents vignettes from various lives that are interconnected because of location. Olive Kitteridge appears in almost every story. The stories are sad and lonely.
Harmon felt a rush of anxiety as she left. Some skin that had stood between himself and the world seemed to have been ripped away, and everything was close, and frightening. Bessie Davis had always talked on, but now he saw her loneliness as a lesion on her face.

And from another story:
Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how desperately hard every person in the world was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of terror that life increasingly became.

Book #25 was also about loneliness, but in a much more whimsical and less bleak way. It was Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg, about a widow learning to live without her husband.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetry Friday: The Way Through the Woods



There's a place I pass often on my daily walks. It looks as though there used to be a road there, or perhaps a driveway to a beautiful home. Now it's all overgrown, but every time I pass I think about this poem.


The Way Through the Woods

by Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.


I remember reading this poem in high school but I had forgotten that Rudyard Kipling wrote it. I loved then, and love now, the mysterious feel of it.

I am getting focused on going home to Haiti, but part of saying goodbye to where I am now is appreciating how very beautiful it is here. I will miss this lush green, and the walks that are so peaceful and satisfying. Maybe a time will come when this interlude in my life will seem distant and hard to recall, like that road that used to be there in the woods, but is no longer.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Story from Haiti, part fourteen

Here's an episode of The Story from January that I missed. The second half is about Haiti. Dick Gordon speaks to Dr. Herby Derenencourt, with Catholic Relief Services, Kent Annan, Pastor Michelet Sainte Leste, whose church collapsed in the earthquake, and my friend Maggie Boyer, in her second interview on The Story.

Dr. Derenencourt is Haitian but was not in the country at the time of the quake. He remarks on how at first he heard numbers and statistics, and then gradually began to hear names. He says hearing names is so much different. How true this is.

In pastor Michelet Sainte Leste's church, five hundred people, including some of his family members, died. His church was a three-storey building on Delmas 64.

And Maggie. I have so much love and respect for her. It hurts me to hear her talk about the situation. Since listening to the last interview with her, I have had some conversation with her over email. Typically, she mostly talked about her concern for my husband and me.

Here's my index to the episodes of The Story having to do with the Haitian earthquake.

This American Life on Haiti

This American Life did a show on Haiti and why it's difficult to make things better there, even if you want to a whole lot. It's an hour long but well worth listening to.

Read This

This is the most beautiful post on community and friendship and loving people.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scars

I got an email from a friend today. She said that we both have scars from what we have been through in Haiti, and she asked me whether when I look at my scars, I feel strong or crippled.

I have been thinking about her question all day.

I don't have literal scars, unlike some of my friends; mine are all internal. I like to think that they are fading already. Here on this blog I have been focusing on the positive more lately. I have been feeling blessed, and thinking about what wonderful gifts I have been given.

And yet, I think I am still more fragile than I want to admit. I see it in the way I fell apart looking at photos of my beautiful students. I see it in the way I cried off and on for hours after seeing my husband for the first time when he visited in April. There's no telling what will suddenly make me cry.

My emotions are still raw. Here I used the metaphor of sunburn, and that still feels right. Sadness and joy are both close to the surface. I love and appreciate people more. I am painfully aware of life's fragility and of how precious and irreplaceable people are.

Do these scars, these vulnerabilities, make me feel strong? Are they something I can point to and say: "Look! I survived an earthquake! I am strong!" Not really; not yet. I have learned that I am much weaker than I thought, and that any self-sufficiency I imagined I had was an illusion.

But crippled? Not really that either. Because I have learned that when I can't hold on any more, God still holds on to me. And I have learned that my friends and family, and the family of God, are there for me too.

"These are the stories that make us who we are." - from Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Beautiful Scars." You can listen to it on the video below.

The Story from Haiti, part thirteen

The last eight minutes or so of this episode of The Story is an interview with Roody Joseph. It's a followup to an earlier interview. Joseph talks about life in the tent cities.

Here's my index to the earthquake-related broadcasts from The Story.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seniors

I think I must have been trying not to think about the seniors at our school. I am tired of feeling sad and tired of crying. It amazes me sometimes that I have any tears left.

But yesterday their kindergarten teacher posted 65 pictures of them on Facebook. I looked, and there went my composure.

Some of these kids I have known since Pre-Kindergarten. Many of them I taught in eighth grade. Their eighth grade year was my first teaching middle school. I didn't know what I was doing very well, but they were a fantastic class. Exhausting, yes; full of energy, yes; but so creative. They asked me to speak at their Eighth Grade Promotion. Few things in my life have made me feel as honored as that invitation. I talked about about how each of them was a poem written by God, each unique, each beautiful. I talked about their writing, and how each of them had made me laugh or cry or both. I told them that the world was full of beauty, but that sometimes you had to look for it.

Since then, I have taught some of them again, for French, or ESL, or Speech. I have spent time with some of them in NHS. I've seen the way they have responded kindly to middle schoolers as they have worked in Student Council. I've read through college application essays and offered some suggestions. I've seen all of them around the campus daily, and enjoyed watching them grow into adults.

Now the class is scattered; ten of them will be graduating in Haiti. They have seen tragedy and devastation and they have responded in a way that makes me proud and breaks my heart. Those who had to leave make me proud too, and my heart breaks for them that they will not be able to share this moment with their class.

They are going to graduate on Saturday, and I won't be there. If I were there, I would cry while looking at their slide show, and while hearing the speeches, and while watching them go back down the aisle into their future. Graduation is a time for tears, as well as for joy, every year. But this year's class is special. This year's class has already seen a lifetime's worth of sorrow. They have seen their country destroyed in a moment. Yet they are strong, and brave, and beautiful. I love them, grieve for them and pray for them. I am also filled with hope because of them. The world will see great things from these kids. They will go out and show everyone what Haitians, and expat lovers of Haiti, are made of.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reading Update

Book #20 was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory. I enjoyed this first book in a proposed trilogy about the Wars of the Roses. I still think my favorite Gregory book so far is The Constant Princess (the link is to my review).

Book #21 was We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. I heard Shriver on the BBC's program, World Book Club and wanted to read this book as a result. Even though you know very early on in the book that Kevin is incarcerated because of his role in murdering several people at his school, Shriver manages to fill the story with tension and suspense. Kevin's mother, Eva, narrates the story in a series of letters to Kevin's father, Franklin. While Shriver does a masterful job, I was not completely convinced by Franklin's refusal to believe anything was wrong with Kevin's behavior. I felt Eva's frustration and powerlessness but didn't buy that this was really the way the events would have played out. This is a horrible story and parts of it are very difficult to read. Shriver doesn't have any children and doesn't want to, and you can't blame her if this is her idea of what parenthood is like.

After that one, I needed something lighter, and this next book, #22, Writing Jane Austen, by Elizabeth Aston, was so light that I felt I had to hold on to it firmly, lest it float away. Georgina Jackson has written a literary novel which got critical acclaim but didn't sell at all. Now she is working on her second book, and things aren't going well. Her money is running out and she doesn't know if she will be able to stay in England (she's American). Then she gets an offer to finish a Jane Austen fragment that has been discovered. But shock! Horror! Georgina has never read Jane Austen! She is supposed to be an intelligent author with a PhD (though I didn't believe it for a moment), and yet she begins by reading about Austen's life, traveling to sites connected with her, and speaking at a Jane Austen Society meeting (huh?). Why doesn't she just read the books, already? There are only six of them. I found myself feeling very stressed out for her. Finally she reads them and is, of course, converted to love for Jane Austen. All sorts of nonsensical events take place and there's a happy ending. Aston has written several Austen-related books including Mr. Darcy's Daughters, but I don't think I will be reading any of them. I did enjoy the portrayal of Jane Austen fans who travel around visiting the places where the movies were filmed, Austen's birthplace, and anywhere she ever set foot.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poetry Friday: My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop

I enjoy Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry. This one was new to me this week. It's the story of an uncle. I love it because it is about such a specific person, and yet, like so much of Nye's poetry, about being an immigrant. And then also, a little bit, about me, saying "I cannot tell you - " but then, trying anyway.


My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you— all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.
When he found one note that rang true,
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Here's the rest of it.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lucky

I walked in the mist this morning, and my feet played the refrain, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." So much to thank God for; so many blessings.

I feel lucky.

Before you start formulating theological comments, I know, I know; I don't believe in luck. I don't believe the universe is a random place. And yet the other words available don't fit either: fortunate still has that idea of randomness, of the wheel of fortune, not the game show, but the medieval idea of good things ebbing and flowing, sometimes in your favor and sometimes not. Blessed? Yes, that's the right word, in my world view ("Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows"). And yet, I'm still having trouble with that one. Because if I am blessed, what does that mean about the others who are in terrible circumstances, in Haiti and everywhere? Did God choose to give me good things and to deprive others of them? I struggle with that (in common with much of the Christian world throughout history).

Everything good and bad in my life right now reminds me of those others. I am so blessed/fortunate/lucky, and yet others suffer. I am living with my parents in a comfortable house (so many have nowhere to go). I am parenting my kids by myself (it's temporary; so many are separated permanently from their children's other parent, whether by death or divorce; some can never have children; some have children who are dealing with terrible illness; most of all, my children are alive). I am lonely and miss my husband (so many never have a happy marriage like mine; for so many, their spouse is never coming back). I eat well (so many don't). I receive love and kindness from friends (so many have nobody to talk to). I miss my job (some people never find meaningful work that they enjoy). I walk through the misty morning (some lost their legs in the earthquake).

I had never heard this song before yesterday. (Who is this Jason Mraz fellow? And what is this reference to stealing things?) I saw it on Facebook, where someone had posted it as an encouragement to a woman whose husband is deployed. I keep thinking of the words. I don't really believe in luck, but yes, I am so blessed to be in love with my best friend, to be going home again, to have someone who makes it easier when life gets hard. Our island is a little the worse for wear, and my hair is a little short to put flowers in, and no, I know it's not random luck. But I still feel lucky.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Haitian Flag Day



YET ANOTHER Children's Book with an Earthquake

I am reading The Willoughbys to my son. I shouldn't be surprised any more, but this book has an earthquake in it too. (I already told you about The Trumpet of the Swan, where there is some talk about an earthquake as an example of a catastrophe, and Paddington Here and Now, where Paddington's uncle disappears in an earthquake.)

In The Willoughbys, the parents go on vacation and send back a postcard to their children which reads, in part:
Though slightly bruised, we have survived quite a lovely earthquake (you may have read the headlines: THOUSANDS KILLED).

The book is full of dark humor, rather reminiscent of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, so this scene is supposed to be laughed at. I love Lois Lowry, but this isn't funny. (Other than that, my son is enjoying the book.)

Hard to Get

by Rich Mullins

You who live in heaven,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth,
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt.
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread?
Did You forget about us after You had flown away?
Well I memorized every word You said.
Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get.

You who live in radiance,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin.
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was;
Still, we do love now and then.
Did You ever know loneliness?
Did You ever know need?
Do You remember just how long a night can get
When You are barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat?
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain,
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained.
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know...

Is if You who live in eternity,
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time?
We can't see what's ahead
And we cannot get free of what we've left behind.
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret.
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led.
And so You've been here all along, I guess;
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Thing

On the first Thursday of January, the secondary staff at our school gathered for our regular devotions. My husband was leading, and he talked about Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. (Yes, my husband is the type of person who discourses on Kierkegaard at 7:20 AM on a school day to a bunch of bleary-eyed teachers. That tells you a lot about him, right there.) After my husband finished talking, another teacher raised his hand and told about his dream the night before; he said he kept seeing the number 1, and I think a voice said something about "one thing." Wow, that's a coincidence, I thought, and then went into my day and didn't think about it much more.

Five days later, our whole world fell apart, and everyone suddenly had a new role. Plans counted for nothing; job descriptions became useless. Staff and students scattered; those who stayed delivered a baby in a classroom, distributed food, interpreted at hospitals. I spoke to my husband on the phone one day from my new home in the United States, and he told me that that day he had worked on arranging an airlift for a patient with a broken neck. Not exactly what he had on his calendar.

One thing? How could anyone will one thing? We were scrambling to catch up, to survive what had happened to us and to the country we loved. We were thinking of many things, mostly things of which we had no experience or knowledge.

I have been thinking a lot about that devotional, and wondering what that one thing is, the Good that we must will, and I know the answer now, even though reading Kierkegaard is not my idea of entertainment. It's not anything original or new, and it is something I already knew was central to the Christian faith. But I know more about it now, after this dark and difficult time.

It's love.

Nothing new. "They'll know we are Christians by our love." "Love one another." "The greatest of these is love." I have known this always - I have, after all, been a Christian for almost forty years. The difference was that this time, I was the one that needed the love.

Of course people have shown me love before; I have many people in my life who love me and do a good job of showing it. I have a wonderful husband and a great family. I have many dear friends. And of course I have had trouble before, and needed help. But I had never been so needy before. I had never been in such desperate need of other people.

And the other people came through for me. They showed me love. My family took my children and me in and fed us and cared for us. Other people called and wrote and listened and cleaned out their closets and sent me packages and took me to lunch. They showed me love not in a dutiful way but so beautifully, caring for me and suffering with me. Everywhere I went, people told me they were praying for me - and they really were. I know they were.

I appreciated it so much, but I also felt bad. I didn't want to be needy. I didn't want to be so desperate to talk to people, and I definitely didn't want to be crying all the time. I wanted to be strong.

When the earthquake happened, I was reading Ezekiel in my devotions. For the first couple of weeks afterwards, I couldn't read the Bible at all. When I started up again, I went back to Ezekiel, and I persisted in that for a while. Finally I realized that all the destruction of cities was too much for me to read about, so I moved to the New Testament. And after a while I came to Philippians.

I have read Philippians many times, but it had never struck me before just how much the book is about human relationships. Paul is talking to people he loves. He isn't just telling them to behave, he is telling them how much he misses them, how much they matter to him. "It is right for me to feel this way about you all," he says, "because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace....For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." Later when he talks about the Philippians helping him, he says he didn't even need what they sent him, because he can live with very little, but he tells them, "it was kind of you to share my troubles." It isn't the stuff he needs; it's them. He loves them; they are his "joy and crown." He talks about the "encouragement in Christ" that people can share with one another, the "affection and sympathy." Paul needs them. He isn't too tough to need them.

And those people who were still in Haiti, working twenty hour days to help make things better? They weren't doing it in some impassive, dutiful way. They were grieving deeply for the suffering; they were showing love to people who were in desperate need.

The one thing we are here for is to love one another, and receiving love is as important as giving it. We need others; we need them desperately. Now that I have been on the receiving end in such a dramatic way, I think I am better equipped to show love to others. I understand better now how just being there in the middle of the pain is terribly important; you don't have to have answers or be able to fix the problem.

Here's what Kierkegaard says:
Only the Good is one thing in its essence and the same in each of its expressions. Take love as an illustration. The one who truly loves does not love once and for all. Nor does he use a part of his love, and then again another part. For to change it into small coins is not to use it rightly. No, he loves with all of his love. It is wholly present in each expression. He continues to give it away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart. Wonderful riches! When the miser has gathered all the world’s gold in sordidness -- then he has become poor. When the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire -- in the purity of the heart.

My One Little Word this year is LOVED. I have never felt this as much as I do now. I am loved by God and by others. I want others around me, whether here or in Haiti, to know the same thing. Everything else is secondary to that one thing: love.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Leaving Well

As I'm thinking about moving on, and back to my life in Haiti, I keep coming back to Dave Pollock's thoughts about leaving well. (I don't know if it is original with him but I heard him talk about it several times. You can find it, and more of his wisdom and the wisdom of Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.)

Dave said that to leave well you needed to build a RAFT. The letters stand for:

R - Reconciling conflicts. Whatever unfinished business there is in the place you're leaving, deal with it before you go. Otherwise you'll keep dealing with it in your new place.
A - Affirming relationships. Take some time to appreciate the people you will be leaving behind. Let them know what they mean to you. Think about what you love about the place you are leaving.
F - Farewell. Say goodbye to people, places, pets, and possessions.
T - Think destination. Think about the place you're going. Gather information. Try to be as informed as you can.

One of the things that made leaving Haiti difficult (other than the earthquake, the trauma, the lack of sleep, the destruction, that is) was that we didn't get to leave well. We didn't have enough time to say goodbye or to wrap up anything. We just left. Now we have more time, and we want to leave well. So we're building our RAFT.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Decelerated Reader

Before my sudden and unexpected move to the United States in January, I had had no first hand experience with Accelerated Reader (AR). I had, however, taken a course in which I was required to read several articles about the program and evaluate its effectiveness. You can find much of the criticism of AR online, and you can also read the studies done by Renaissance Learning, the company that produces AR.

Now my child is in a school that uses AR. She is twelve years old, and to say she is a reader would be like saying Mozart was slightly interested in music. She probably averages four books a week, and when her pile is getting short, she starts to panic. She carries a book with her everywhere she goes. Obviously my daughter needs no program to encourage her to read. She's going to read, no matter what.

For her, the way AR works is that she reads stacks and stacks of books, and then when she goes to school she finds out which of her books, if any, has an AR test with it. If it has a test, she takes it, and gets points. She had to set a goal of many points she would earn. Since she had no idea, she asked the teacher for advice and was told that she shouldn't aim too high - perhaps 100 points? This goal-setting is important because part of the reading grade is calculated by whether the students reach the goal they set.

A couple of weeks ago, the teacher asked my daughter if she realized that she had surpassed her goal. Since we arrived here, she had earned 500 points. She was eligible for all kinds of prizes and would be invited to a party for all the kids who met the goals they had set for themselves. She would have a lot more points if she had taken tests for all the books she had already read this year before we came to this country. Also, many of the books she reads, including the Discworld series, to which she has recently become fanatically devoted, have no AR tests, so she can't get any points for them. (She does have the option of writing a summary of a book with no AR test and getting some points, but she doesn't care about the points enough to do that.)

The prizes mean nothing to her; she calls them "goofy little prizes." (She makes an exception for chocolate.) She doesn't want to go to the party. She just doesn't care.

The number of points available for each book (and my daughter has no idea how many that would be) varies according to the length of the book and what the reading level is. The books in the school library have stickers on them indicating their reading level. These are calculated very closely; a book might be a 6.5 reading level, or a 4.1. If a student chooses to read a book that's a lower level than her tested reading level, her average level goes down. Unlike my daughter, most kids wouldn't choose a book that looked interesting if it wasn't an AR book. It's all about the points.

I asked my daughter if she thinks that the AR program motivates other kids to read, kids who normally wouldn't read at all. She said yes, probably it does, because meeting their AR goal is part of their reading grade. But once they are out of school, why would they keep reading, if getting points is the only reason they are reading?

AR has been explained to me as a good idea because it's a way you can check for comprehension if you have kids choosing their own books. That's great, except that the tests are mostly factual and don't get into any kind of true comprehension of the issues or ideas in a book. Conferencing with kids seems as if it would be more effective, at least in addition to an AR test if not instead of it.

The title of this post? That's what my daughter calls AR. She's not really a fan.

Poetry Friday: The Art of Losing

Elizabeth Bishop's beautiful poem about the art of losing has been running through my head this week. You can't love a person, place, or thing without fearing its loss or without suffering greatly when you do lose it. The poem says that the art "isn't hard to master," but then enumerates loss after loss, large and small, demonstrating how very hard the art really is.

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

...

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


It's not possible to break up a poem like this well; for one thing, it's a villanelle and the rhyme scheme is a joy to behold. It all needs to be read together. Here's the whole thing. In the sidebar, there are links to "Poems About Difficult Love." What other kind of love is there? And yet, the idea that we could lose what we love makes that love so much more intense. When I think of how easily I could have lost my husband on January 12th, I love him more than ever. As long as we live in this world, love and loss are linked. The older I get, the harder this art becomes to master.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reading Update

Book #18 was another one by Anita Shreve, A Wedding in December. There's too much going on in this book, which is about a wedding (yes, in December) of high school sweethearts who have married other people in between and are now getting together twenty-seven years after graduation. The wedding guests are mostly friends from their high school class, so that the wedding is also a reunion. It is December 2001, so there is much discussion of 9/11. Bridget, the bride, has advanced cancer. Right before graduation there was a tragedy and Stephen, the roommate of Harrison, was killed; there's unfinished business there. Nora, who was Stephen's girlfriend, married a famous poet, and he recently died. Agnes, who has never married, has a secret she's been keeping, and she's also researching a disaster that took place in Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The point is that tragedy can change everything, and that's not necessarily something of which I need reminding. However, it is endlessly fascinating to think about those choices you didn't make, the "non-stories," as one character calls them. How would life have been different if you hadn't met that person, or gone to that party, or had that conversation? All the characters face these questions in the course of the novel, and since they are compelling characters, you care about the answers. If they could change things, would they? And would the reward be worth the pain they would cause?

Book #19 was a read-aloud to my son. I usually don't count the books I read to my children in my yearly total, but I decided to count this one because, well, it's my blog. The book was How To Train Your Dragon: Book 1, by Cressida Cowell. My son (aged 7) and I both thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is completely different from the movie, which we also enjoyed. In the book, there is no dragon-killing; every Viking trains a dragon for use as a hunting animal. A book of instructions for doing this exists, though few people can read (it's really a shame to admit that you can), but it contains very little useful information. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third is the son of the chief, Stoick the Vast, and is expected to be a Viking Hero, but he isn't doing very well at it. This story tells how he gets his dragon and how they begin their adventures together. It is highly entertaining and suspenseful and includes plenty of the type of gross-out humor popular with boys my son's age. And there are six books in the series! Hooray!

This post is linked to the May 15th Saturday Review of Books.

Four Months

Today it has been four months since the lives of millions of people were changed by the earthquake in Haiti.

We still do not know exactly how many people lost their lives; we will never know. We mourn them all.

Two million people, more or less, live in temporary housing, and the word "housing" is a generous one for the arrangements most of them have. Take a look at this photo essay showing a rainy evening in one tent city, this one right across from the Palais National, also demolished in the quake. And the hurricane season will begin in less than a month.

Amputees struggle to get used to their new lives in a country where it's challenging enough to get around if you are able-bodied and where there are no jobs for anyone, let alone the disabled.

Livelihoods are gone and business people wonder what is next. How will they feed their families, educate their children, pay their employees so that they can feed their families and educate their children?

People around the world have taken in refugee friends and family - the lucky ones who were able to leave. Parents are making decisions about next school year and whether their kids will go home to Haiti or not.

All of us want to get back to our normal lives, but we recognize that the normal that we knew is not coming back.

Haitians are "battered but buoyant," says this article.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Another Earthquake in a Children's Book



from Paddington Here and Now, by Michael Bond

Taking a deep breath, the interviewer reached for his eraser. "This Aunt Lucy of yours," he continued. "Can you tell me more about her?"

"Well," said Paddington, "she's very wise. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here at all. Besides, she taught me all I know."

"Perhaps you could let me have her address," said the man. "I'd like to take her on board and make her part of my team. She sounds like just the kind of person we're looking for."

"I don't think that would be very easy," said Paddington. "She's living in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. Besides, she doesn't play any ball games."

The interviewer gave Paddington a glassy stare as he reached for his eraser again...."I suppose," he continued, trying another tack, since your Aunt Lucy is in a home, she's ... er ... I mean, is there an uncle by any chance?"

"Oh, yes," said Paddington. "Uncle Pastuzo. But we haven't seen him since the earthquake."

"You mean you're an earthquake victim?" The man's pen fairly raced across the page. "Tell me more."

"Well," said Paddington, "there's not much to tell. I was fast asleep in a tree at the time. There was a loud rumble, and the earth began to shake. When I woke up everything looked different. Everyone else apart from Aunt Lucy had disappeared."

"Even your Uncle Pastuzo?" said the interviewer.

"Especially Uncle Pastuzo," said Paddington. "I think he must have known it was going to happen, because he went out early that day. But he left his old hat and a suitcase with a secret compartment behind, along with a note to say I could have them if anything happened to him."

"And you have never heard any more of him since?"

Paddington shook his head sadly. "That's why Aunt Lucy brought me up."



Here's an unexpected earthquake spotting in The Trumpet of the Swan.

The Story from Haiti: Index

I have spent some time over the last few days listening to the episodes of The Story having to do with the earthquake in Haiti. Below you'll find links to my posts about the different segments; in each individual post you will find a link to the MP3 of the show. I appreciate this radio program very much because it tells people's stories in their own words, and I find I get more personal perspective on stories in the news from listening. These were difficult for me to listen to, but also heartening because of the many voices of people who care and who are doing something about the situation in Haiti.

Connecting with Haiti, from January 14th
Help and Hope for Haiti, from January 15th
The Rescue Effort, from January 18th
Safe Spaces for Children in Haiti, from January 19th
Hard Hits, from January 20th
Helping the Neighbors, from January 21st
Grief and Hope in Haiti, from January 26th
Haiti Partners, from January 27th
Home Away from Haiti, from January 29th
Emergency Green Card, from February 3rd
Hundreds of Babies, from February 4th
Photographs from Home, from February 9th
Air Force to Handbags, from February 15th
Gathering Courage, from April 20th
Haiti: A View from the Streets, from June 14th
Haiti: Two Children and a Tarp, from June 23rd
Six Months Since the Quake, from July 12th
A Haitian Success Story, from August 2nd
Recuperating after the Quake, from September 27th
Conserving Haitian Culture, from October 25th

I may not have found every single segment that this program did on the earthquake, but this is a pretty good collection here. As I notice followup programs I will add them.

The Story from Haiti, part twelve

The first segment of this episode is not about Haiti, and neither is the last, but starting at about minute 31 and going through minute 43, Dick Gordon talks to Tania Richard, a Haitian-American actress who lives in Chicago. She talks about a death in her own family and how the earthquake brought that back to her mind. She tells about the power and strength of the Haitian people, even in grief.

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part eleven

In the first segment, Dick Gordon talks to Carl Juste, a Haitian-born photographer for the Miami Herald. He talks about the pictures he took on his two-week trip to Haiti, about sleeping outside, about sleeping inside and wondering how fast he would be able to get outside if necessary, and about going out with a food distribution group. He also talks about his childhood in the US after the family left Haiti as political refugees and about returning as an adult.

"Maybe out of all this pain and all this suffering, there is a rebirth," Juste says.

You can listen here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day and Haiti

There is a whole crop of articles this weekend about adopted children from Haiti spending their first Mother's Day in their new homes. Like all adoption stories, these are a mix of loss and joy. Here are some of them.

A two-year-old in South Dakota.
A four-year-old and a six-year-old in Michigan.
A two-year-old in Ontario.
Twin six-month-olds and a two-year-old in Alabama.
A four-year-old and two-year-old in Colorado.

Kristen is blogging about her new arrival, who came home to California after the earthquake. She's brave enough to say how hard it has been for her family. Most of the preceding articles sound as though things are all rosy, and I hope they really are. Having read a few of the comments left on these articles, I don't at all blame the parents for keeping any struggles to themselves. People are cruel and eager to find fault. I think these families need a lot of prayer and support. (And today Kristen posted a link to this, about how to love an adopted child. Or really, any child. Worth reading!)

This one is also a Mother's Day story, but with a difference.
A daughter who brought her mom to Montreal after the earthquake.

Haitian Mother's Day won't happen for three more weeks (it's always the last Sunday in May), but there are thousands of mothers who will spend that day and today (as they spend all other days) mourning their lost children or caring for children in tent cities - and for many, doing both. One of the first things I said to my husband after the earthquake was, "I'm so glad I'm not pregnant and I don't have an infant." Motherhood is difficult after a natural disaster, and especially with tiny, extra vulnerable children.

God bless all these mothers.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Watching People You Know on CNN

I wonder what it was like to watch tonight's CNN documentary ("Rescued" with Soledad O'Brien) if you had never been to Haiti and if you didn't know the people on the screen. No doubt it was a completely different experience.

For me, it was very hard to watch. It brought back all the fear and adrenaline of those hours and days after the earthquake. I thought I was ready to watch it but now I am not so sure.

In Haiti I watched no footage except for a couple of minutes of French coverage, and when I came to the US I didn't watch TV coverage. I have read a lot - a LOT - of articles, but it is still difficult for me to watch footage. I feel I have to watch it - just like I have to listen to the Haiti segments from The Story that I have been blogging about - because I have to face it. For nearly four months I have mourned it and grieved it, talked about it and written about it, moved on from it and then back to it, obsessed over it and tried to forget it. And when I say IT I mean all of it - the earthquake itself, the situation Haiti is in now, the losses of life and property and future, the despair of every aspect of this enormous tragedy. And yet it still seems as though I haven't completely grasped or accepted what happened.

I can't express how strange it is to sit here in the US - on another planet - and watch people I know and places I know in Haiti on television. It makes my head feel as though it's going to explode. It makes me feel scattered, panicky, overwhelmed. It makes me feel like screaming.

The documentary showed clearly how impossible life was for so many before the earthquake. It brought up restaveks, and child abandonment, and poverty, and slums. Soledad O'Brien said, "This country is so full of sadness." Who could argue? I wanted to say what I always say: "There's beauty too, there's hope too, the sadness is not all there is." Susette and Bill both talked on camera about the starfish, and how you have to make a difference for the people that you can help, and try not to get sidetracked by the fact that there's so much more to do. I know they are right. And I know there are so many many people - Haitians and foreigners - making a difference. I know that Haitians are strong and resilient. I know that there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town.

But right now the sadness and despair seem bigger than the hope. I don't want all this to be happening to a country I love. I don't want to see people I know on CNN.

You can see part of the documentary here. I believe that eventually it will all be available online but you can also see it again on CNN tomorrow night at 8 PM Eastern.

The Story from Haiti, part ten

Dick Gordon talks to Roody Joseph, a Haitian who had lived in the US for a long time but at the time of the earthquake was caught in Haiti as a result of some kind of immigration mix-up (I found the explanation a bit confusing). He talks about trying to help babies in Haiti and giving up his chance to return to the US.

The second segment is about how the earthquake in China in 2008 affected children.

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part nine

This episode is about another aspect of the Haitian earthquake: the way it affected undocumented Haitians living in the United States. Dick Gordon, in the first segment, talks to a young man who is living illegally in Miami. He talks about moving to the United States as a young boy, adjusting to living in a new country, and finding out about his immigration status when he was in high school and what it was like for him to live in that knowledge. He describes the way his mother worked two jobs to take care of him and to send money back to Haiti. He is hoping to be granted Temporary Protected Status, as many Haitians were in the aftermath of the disaster in their birth country.

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part eight

The first segment here is about Darline Blanchard Williams, a fifteen-year-old who came to Florida to join her adoptive family after the earthquake. Darline had gone to Leogane that day for her cousin's funeral instead of going to school. She describes what she saw after the quake. She got back to find that her school had collapsed. Darline says that she thought this was happening around the world. I remember one of the students at school asking me the same question the evening of January 12th. She also says she thought the world was ending. Dick Gordon also talks to her adoptive mother about the struggle to bring her to the US. Darline describes how she felt upon arriving in the United States, still wearing the men's clothes she had been able to get after changing out of the white outfit she was wearing at the funeral; she says she was happy, but still full of sadness for her country. She talks about flashbacks and about her adjustment and how she is dealing with being out of Haiti and getting news from her friends who are still there.

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part seven

In the first segment of this episode, Dick Gordon talks to Kent Annan, co-director of the organization Haiti Partners, who interviews friends of his in Haiti. It is almost too painful for me to hear the little snippets of Kreyol (which Annan interprets), as I can see faces of people I know who have gone through similar experiences. "The whole thing," says Annan, "is just too much to take in."

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part six

Dick Gordon talks to Yolette Etienne, who works for Oxfam in Haiti, about how she manages to continue working to help others while dealing with terrible personal losses (including her own mother). She tells about going to the funeral of a dear friend whom she lost and even sings a little bit in Kreyol. What a beautiful woman, and how very Haitian she is. "I cannot take time to take care of myself," she says, "when there are so many suffering....We need to show our dignity....We need to be great."

The middle segment is not about Haiti, but in the last three minutes, Gordon also talks to Claude Jeudy, who works for Habitat for Humanity, about changes that need to happen in the way houses are built in Haiti.

You can listen here.

Of Apostrophes and Motherhood

Every year I fret about the apostrophe in Mother's Day. Is it the day for one mother or for all? If for all, it should be Mothers' Day, yes?

This year, I was looking for information on the history of the holiday (at my son's request) and found this:

In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases "second Sunday in May" and "Mother's Day", and created the Mother's Day International Association.

"She was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world."

This is also the spelling used by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in the law making official the holiday in the U.S., by the U.S. Congress on bills, and by other U.S. presidents on their declarations.

Common usage in English language also dictates that the ostensibly singular possessive "Mother's Day" is the preferred spelling, although "Mothers' Day" (plural possessive) is not unheard of.


Source: this Wikipedia page.

So, Happy Mother's Day to you. I know US Mother's Day isn't until tomorrow, but my son already gave me his gifts, since he couldn't wait.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Story from Haiti, part five

In this podcast, Dick Gordon talks to Christian Surena, a member of the Diaspora who went back to Haiti to help his parents and the people in their neighborhood. Then he talks to Laura Wagner, an American graduate student who was caught under rubble at the home where she lived. (I posted a link to Laura's article from Salon.com, one of the most moving things I have read about the earthquake, here.) She talks a lot about the false ideas of Haitians and how violent, dangerous, and scary they are. She is completely right; Haitians are kind, hospitable, and wonderful people.

This episode also includes an old story from Haiti from 2007.

You can listen here.

The Story from Haiti, part four

On this episode, Dick Gordon talks to Margarett Lubin, who works for Save the Children in Port-au-Prince. She talks about the days immediately after the earthquake. One of the things she talks about is sending her kids to the States, and how many of her friends contacted her asking for help with getting their kids out. As I've posted here before, I have struggled with feelings of guilt about leaving with my kids, and it helps to hear stories from others who made the same decision, to get their kids at least out of the country.

The second segment is not about Haiti, but this podcast ends with an update on some of the people the program spoke to right after the earthquake, people who hadn't yet been able to get hold of their loved ones in Haiti. One says, when talking about the news he got, "I didn't know how to feel." How many times through this whole experience could I have echoed those words?

You can listen here.

Poetry Friday: Poetry Speaks Who I Am

In last week's Poetry Friday entry, I told about blogging about a book I was putting on my wish list. A few days later, the book arrived in the mail, bought for me by one of my reader-friends. That's the second time someone has bought me a book after reading on my blog that I wanted it. I should post more often about the books I want. Believe me, there is a long list.

What could be better than getting a book in the mail? There are a few things, but not many. I was very excited, as was my middle school daughter, who falls right in the target age group for the book, Poetry Speaks Who I Am. She grabbed the book before I had a chance to look through it at all, and it got a positive review from her.

It gets a positive review from me, too. This is definitely going on my shelf when I get my classroom back. I probably will use some of them in class (and the included CD will help with that), but this book is intended to be read by middle schoolers themselves. "This is not a poetry anthology for adults, for children, for classroom study, for required memorization and recitation," says the Introduction. "It's made just for you."

There are poems about love, loneliness, complicated relationships, emotions, putting on mascara, mowing the lawn, and many other experiences of adolescence. The poets are mostly contemporary, but not all - there's some well-chosen Emily Dickinson, Keats, even Shakespeare, among other staples of the literature curriculum. One of the best things about poetry - about literature in general - is the way it makes you feel you aren't alone. Others have been through, and survived, what you are living now. This anthology will do that for some of my students, I think.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

By the way, while I was looking for the location of today's roundup, I found this post from the Poetry Friday after the earthquake. I hadn't seen it before. This week I have been revisiting that terrible week by listening to the episodes of The Story from those days and blogging about them. (Here's the first of those posts. Here's the second. Here's the third. Here's the fourth. And here's the fifth. I am going to be adding the rest as I go through them.) I downloaded them a long time ago but only now am I feeling I can bear to listen to them. It means a lot to me to know that people were remembering those of us mourning in Haiti all those weeks ago. Don't forget Haiti. The mourning continues even as rebuilding begins.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Reading Update

I'm definitely back as a reader. It feels so wonderful to devour books again.

Book #13 of 2010 was Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment, by Joan Aiken. I've read several of the attempted Jane Austen sequels, and most aren't very successful. This one got Austen's diction better than most, but the development was too rushed, and served mostly to remind me of how brilliantly Austen does it. I was curious to see how Aiken would handle Fanny Price, widely believed to be Austen's least likable heroine. She does it by sending Fanny on a trip early in the novel. We only see her at all in a couple of reported conversations.

Book #14 was Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, by Philip Yancey. This book contains profiles of thirteen people who have served Yancey as mentors in various ways: Martin Luther King, Jr., G.K. Chesterton, Dr. Paul Brand, Dr. Robert Coles, Leo Tolstoy, Feodor Dostoevsky, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. C. Everett Koop, John Donne, Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, Shusaku Endo, and Henri Nouwen. It's a very idiosyncratic and original list. Yancey weaves his own story through their stories, and the result is compelling and readable. What I love most about Yancey is his honesty and his ability to present reality in all its confusing ambiguity. Many Christian writers aren't willing to do this, but the Bible describes people in the same way: warts and all. I liked this book very much and recommend it.

Book #15 was another Anita Shreve book (I recently read A Change in Altitude). This one was called Body Surfing. Body surfing is an apt metaphor for the way the protagonist, Sydney, lives her life, after losing two husbands, one to divorce and one to death, by the time she is 29. Now she has a job helping a young girl, Julie, to prepare for her SAT, and she is living with the girl's family. She seems to be drifting, or, rather, catching waves that rush in on the beach. Then she meets the girl's two brothers, Jeff and Ben. I don't want to give away more of the plot, but the story is deftly told and I couldn't put the book down until I was finished.

When I was eleven or twelve, I had a teacher who required us to keep a reading journal and I invented the abbreviation CPD for "Couldn't Put it Down." At that age most books got a CPD rating. Body Surfing would get the CPD, but the next, book #16, was not as gripping. It was Anita Brookner's The Rules of Engagement. Like other Brookner books I have read, this one was cerebral and well-written, but the characters felt muffled. It reminded me of reading Henry James in college, and thinking, "Huh? What just happened?" It wasn't that I couldn't understand the words, it was just that the changes in the characters' thoughts and behaviors were so subtle that I felt I had missed something. Elizabeth doesn't body surf, like Sydney; instead, she analyzes every action to death. Yet her life doesn't seem to have any more direction than Sydney's.

I can't believe I chose book #17, One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Here's the beginning of the blurb on the jacket:

Late afternoon in a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11.

OK, I was hooked, and added the book to my pile. Indian writer: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Diverse characters gathered in one place. Immigrants, visa office. No doubt, themes of alienation and cross-cultural communication. Sounds like my kind of book!

It wasn't until later that I read the rest of the blurb. It finished the list of the characters and then went on:

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human experience itself.

I almost didn't read the book, once I saw the word "earthquake." (What is with that? Everything I read has earthquakes in it all of a sudden!) But I am very glad I did. Uma, the graduate student, has her copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in her backpack, and this is obviously a similar idea to that, or to the Decameron. The stories pull the reader away from the dire circumstances the characters are in, and it's always a shock to be pulled back into the room where they all huddle. Of course with my own recent earthquake experience, this book brought up all kinds of emotions. The main thing it reminded me of was lying on the ground with my family the night of January 12th, listening to my husband tell my children the story of Sir Gawain and Green Knight (a G-rated version) to help them relax enough to sleep. A bittersweet memory of the power of stories in the middle of disaster.

This post is linked to the May 8th Saturday Review of Books.

The Story from Haiti, part three

In this episode, Dick Gordon talks to Chris Rolling. I haven't met Chris and Leslie but we have mutual friends. I have been reading their blog for several years and we have had email contact as well. They live outside the city but Chris was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake happened and he pulled people out from under rubble.

He also talks to a doctor (and Professor of International Emergency Medicine), Dr. Tony Redmond, who reminisces about going to other disasters. Next he interviews a woman, Leann Chong, who was trapped in the Hotel Montana. Then he returns to Dr. Redmond, who talks about the special power of help coming from around the world after a disaster. At the end there is a brief but beautiful story from Kent Annan, who works with Haiti Partners, about the aftermath of the destruction of Gonaives in 2004 and how Haitian people helped each other.

You can listen here.

I can't take any more of this. I'm taking a break. I'll listen to the rest of the episodes, and blog about them, gradually.

The Story from Haiti, part two

In this episode, Dick Gordon talks to several Haitian-Americans and Haitian-Canadians, as well as a Canadian Red Cross worker in Haiti. This is the first time I heard an excerpt from the emotional speech given right after the quake by Michaelle Jean, the Haitian-born Governor General of Canada. It made me cry.

You can listen here.

Back Online and The Story from Haiti

The internet connection where I am staying has been out since Monday night due to flooding. I was able to get on briefly in other places a couple of times between then and now, but I am happy to find the connection working again today.

I downloaded all the podcasts that The Story did about Haiti right after the earthquake, but only today have I felt ready to start listening to them. The first one was tough because a beautiful, articulate friend of mine, Maggie Boyer, is interviewed. I saw her the night of the earthquake. I remember her telling me that her daughter, who had stayed home from school sick that day, was OK, but that I should pray for her boss, who hadn't found his wife and daughters yet. (They were found alive.) I haven't talked to Maggie since that night.

Listening to people talking about how they were desperately trying to contact their family members in Haiti made me grateful - again - that we were able to get a message out to our families that first night. How terrible it was for people who spent days and weeks trying to find out what had happened to the people they loved.

You can listen here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Aftershocks

There was another aftershock this afternoon in Port-au-Prince, a 4.4. I heard about it from some Facebook friends, and then there was an email from my husband. He said that several of the students at school were very scared and he said he needs extra wisdom and asked me to pray for that for him. Once school was out, a student wrote about the aftershock on Facebook, saying that it happened during class and was "reaaallly scary."

There are now fourteen hundred tent cities in the Port-au-Prince area. Some transitional housing is being built, and that article suggests that "temporary" has a way of becoming "permanent." Education is a huge priority; I read last week that half of Haiti's schools were destroyed in the earthquake. Here's another article about the situation. And here's a piece about four children who were rescued after the quake. Lord, have mercy!

Celebrities are still going to Haiti, even though it's not much in the news any more. I think it's a little unfair for that article to include Wyclef Jean in the same category as those who have discovered Haiti since the earthquake. He has been involved in helping his homeland for a long time, and here's the latest thing he did.

Times are hard in Port-au-Prince, but music is coming back; music of more than one kind.

Names

I read A Bear Called Paddington to my son last week. I hadn't read it in years, and had forgotten many of the details. The Browns find a bear at Paddington Station, where they have gone to pick up their daughter Judy, who is coming home from school. Things happen quickly, and before long the Browns are taking their new bear (quickly part of the family) home in a taxi. Hilarity ensues.

The part that interests me most, though, is how Paddington gets his name. The Browns ask him his name, and he responds that he doesn't have one. Or, well, he amends, only a South American one that nobody would be able to pronounce. (Paddington, if you recall, is from "Darkest Peru.") The Browns (who, of course, have a very pronounceable and unobjectionable English name) decide to call him after the train station where they discovered him.

In April a Texas lawmaker, also named Brown, suggested that Asian immigrants might want to think about doing what Paddington did, since they, too, have names nobody can pronounce, or "deal with."

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”


I grew up with my name being mispronounced (r and th both being difficult sounds for the people among whom I lived) and perhaps because of that, I am sensitive about getting people's names right. I may not always achieve it perfectly but I pride myself on making a good effort. I hate it when I slip and call one of my students the name of a sibling.

I thought as I read this article about those students of mine, now spread around the United States (and some in other parts of the world), going to schools where Haitian names may be considered "difficult." Many of the kids are already used to having their names anglicized at our school. Some of them have given up by the time they get to my class, and I've had kids tell me I can pronounce (and even spell) their names however I want to. I resist that, though: your name is important. It's not "just for identification purposes" - it's much deeper than that, a very important part of your identity. People should get it right. Or, at least, they should try to.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Screaming



The night of January 12th, I slept maybe thirty minutes. I tried to sleep - I was exhausted - but every time I would lie down on the ground, it would move again. I spent a lot of time walking around on the soccer field, talking to people who were likewise sleepless.

At some point I talked to a friend who said that she knew she looked on the outside as though she was all right, but that inside she was screaming and screaming and screaming. She felt that if she started to scream aloud she wouldn't be able to stop.

I felt that way for a long time after the earthquake. I was staying calm for my kids but inside I was screaming. It didn't help that I wasn't sleeping. It didn't help that every day there were more terrible stories and more decisions to make.

I thought about that conversation today because there were thunderstorms much of the day, and the rumble of thunder sounds an awful lot like the way the earthquake sounded when it was just beginning. I didn't panic but I was very alert every time I heard that sound, and I looked around to see how others were reacting, and when they weren't reacting at all, I tried not to react either. I didn't say anything to anyone about what I was thinking. And I didn't have that same interior screaming feeling. I think I have come a long way in the last fifteen weeks.

My Faith Looks Up to Thee

This morning in church an older lady sat next to me. I offered to share the hymn book with her, but every time she shook her head and mouthed, "I know the words to this one."

I know a little bit about this woman's life and some of what she has been through. Yeah, I thought. I bet you do. And not just the words, but the reality behind them.

Here are the words to one of those songs:

My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
be wholly thine!

May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire!
As thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire!

While life's dark maze I tread,
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow's tears away,
nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.

When ends life's transient dream,
when death's cold, sullen stream
shall o'er me roll;
blest Savior, then in love,
fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul!


Here's a link to the lyrics and music.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Always Someone to Miss

My son asked me to order him a yearbook from his school here. He said he wanted to show me his friends, and that he would miss them.

For the children and me, this time in the States has often seemed separate from our regular life, which is now on hold. I haven't learned to use any of the features of the cellphone I have here because it's not my real cellphone. The kids keep talking about their "real school." They have both mentioned not wanting to leave things at school in case they have to leave suddenly. All three of us lost things that mattered to us in our hasty departure from Haiti. But things aren't what really matter. A counselor told me I needed to get involved in service somehow, and I didn't want to because it would mean getting attached to more people I'd just have to leave.

And yet life does go on. We have become attached here, in spite of ourselves, and there are people we will miss. It turns out that this parenthetical time is part of our real life, too.

I heard a series of sermons a few years ago about Christian virtues, and one of them focused on detachment. Christians, we were told, needed to be detached from the things of this world, ready to let go of them in a moment. And, the preacher added, from people.

I understand the idea of holding possessions loosely. No possession is worth anything in the face of the survival of my family. I hug them and feel that everything is all right because I didn't lose them.

But I don't really believe we are intended to be detached from other people. I believe God made us to be attached to one another, to care for one another deeply. Our love for God, Jesus said, should be more important to us than our love for our fellow human beings, but we are also told constantly to love one another.

It would be easier not to love other people. Loving people hurts. I don't want to leave anyone else or lose anyone else. I don't want that for my kids, either. We've all said enough goodbyes already.

But there are more to come.

Reading Update

Gradually I am returning to my pre-earthquake reading habits. Today at the library I felt (I think for the first time since getting here) a sense of urgency: I'll be leaving soon and look at all these books I still haven't read! The sensation was a very pleasant one, since I recognized my old self in it.

Incidentally, it's interesting that while my husband also had some trouble starting to read again after the earthquake (though he got back to his usual pace sooner than I did), neither of my kids missed a beat. Both of them complained the night of the earthquake about not having anything to read with them when we slept outside on the soccer field. And both of them were reading normally the next day.

Book #9 of this year was Helen of Troy, by Margaret George. I've read many versions of her story, and this one was quite good. A big issue with Trojan War retellings (though this covers more than the Trojan War; at 600+ pages there is plenty of space for Helen's whole life) is how the author chooses to handle the supernatural elements. George makes them very real to Helen, though she does doubt at times whether the experiences she has had were dreamed. She certainly blames Aphrodite for all of her choices. I kept thinking about Paris and Helen as analogous to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor: a little vapid, a little over-interested in fashion, too little interested in duty and honor. But it was all Aphrodite's fault, so there you go. Here's some information on George's research for this book.

Book #10 was Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, a wonderful novel about Bangaladeshis living London. Like the last book, this one deals with many issues of fate and destiny. Nazneen's mother responds to calls to take her sickly newborn daughter to the city for treatment by saying that nothing should be done to interfere with Fate. "Whatever happens, I accept it. And my child must not waste any energy fighting against Fate. That way, she will be stronger." While Nazneen initially lets things happen to her, and seems as trapped by her arranged marriage and later by her own desires as Helen by Aphrodite, she and her sister, Hasina, do take their lives into their own hands. Hasina's story is much less successfully told than Nazneen's (though Hasina has a very eventful life), since it is entirely narrated through letters from Bangladesh, and I found it difficult to follow all the twists and turns of this character who never seemed quite real to me. Nazneen, on the other hand, is an amazingly real person. I felt as though I knew her intimately and sympathized with all of her emotions and difficulties, even though she could hardly be more different from me. Her husband Chanu is also vividly depicted through Nazneen's eyes, and comes across as alternately maddening and lovable. Chanu imagines himself as extremely well educated and finds life in London to be a huge disappointment, never measuring up to his hopes for himself. He is always holding forth about the "Tragedy of the Immigrant," but the book shows that there is no one tragedy: each character has his or her own, and in addition each character has joys, and there is a lot of humor in the story. This was a beautiful book, free of stereotypes; I entered into a completely unfamiliar world as I read it.

Book #11 was No Time to Wave Goodbye, by Jacquelyn Mitchard. This is the sequel to The Deep End of the Ocean, which I read years ago but which I remember as being beautifully written, almost meditative, and long on character development. I avoided reading it for a long time because it was about the abduction of a three-year-old, but finally did and thought it was excellent. The sequel was not nearly as compelling. In this story, one of the Cappadora children has made a documentary about child abductions, and the book opens at its premiere. Due to the nature of what happens, though, this book is much more fast-paced and it reminded me of a Mary Higgins Clark book, just racing through to the conclusion. I didn't care nearly as much about what happened as I did in the first book. (Also I found it really annoying that the book uses, several times, the phrase Ad hoc, ergo propter hoc instead of Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Nobody at Random House knows that expression?)

Book #12 was Anita Shreve's A Change in Altitude. I picked this up because it was set in Kenya. It's the story of a couple spending a year there in the 70s. They climb Mount Kenya and witness a terrible accident. The rest of the book deals with the way they respond to it as a couple, and particularly the responses of the wife, Margaret. (All of the Shreve books I have read are on this theme of how people react to tragedy.) Margaret is a recognizable type, always agonizing over whether things she experiences represent "the real Africa." The book kept me reading and I thought Shreve handled the setting well.

Here's today's Saturday Review of Books.