Friday, January 29, 2016

Poetry Friday: Bougainvillea and Razor Wire

I took this photo in the courtyard of my house, and then I started thinking about the mixed messages sent by the flowers and the barbed wire.

Bougainvillea and Razor wire

The pink flowers say, “Welcome.”
The razor wire says, “Not so fast.”

The razor wire says, “It’s protected here.”
The flowers say, “It’s friendly here.”

The flowers say, “We’re beautiful.”
The razor wire says, “Come close and you’ll regret it.”

The razor wire says, “You might as well just go away.”
The bougainvillea adds, “I have thorns.”

The flowers say, “You belong here.”
The razor wire says, “No you don’t.”

Ruth, from

The roundup is here today. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On This Day Six Years Ago

I recently read this article about Facebook's relatively new "On This Day" feature that reminds us of what we were doing on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago, seven years ago.  "We generally think of social media as a tool to make grand announcements and to document important times, but just as often – if not more – it’s just a tin can phone, an avenue by which to toss banal witterings into an uncaring universe. Rather, it’s a form of thinking out loud, of asserting a moment for ourselves on to the noisy face of the world," writes Leigh Alexander.

I get that.  Most of my updates are pretty predictable.  In January, lots of them are smug commentaries on how cozy and warm I am on my tropical island while Stateside friends freeze.  But this year, I've been paying special attention to the updates I wrote six years ago, the year of the earthquake.  Pardon me if I call it "the earthquake," as though there's only one.  For us in Haiti there's only one that is etched in our brains.

Etched in our brains, yes, but it's amazing how many of the little daily details I had forgotten.  This year is the first year that the anniversary falls on a Tuesday, just like the original quake.  Weirdly, it has felt as though this year is an echo of that one.  And the updates on "On This Day" have reinforced that sensation.

Our internet went out when the quake hit, and it wasn't until Thursday the 14th that we were back online.  I had idly checked, not expecting a connection, and when I logged into Facebook I saw that many of our friends had written to us as soon as they heard the news.  Were we OK?  Then when they heard we were alive, through a phone message we were able to get out that night (the phones didn't work either, but someone with us had a US cellphone), people wrote that they were praying for us, that they were with us, that they were waiting to hear from us.  I remember reading those messages on that Thursday.  I remember typing back as fast as I could, sure that the link to the outside world would flicker out, fueled by adrenaline and hardly any sleep.  (The lack of punctuation in my writing testifies to how I was feeling.)  I described sitting in my room and hearing voices outside tell their story again and again, and the words "kraze net," destroyed completely, being repeated.  I wrote about praying outside with our friends who were sleeping there, still too afraid of collapsing concrete to venture back inside.  (I was too afraid too, but I was attempting to sleep inside anyway.)  I wrote about our family decision that the children and I would go to the States for a while, and how torn and guilty and conflicted I felt.  My friends wrote kind messages back.  I know I read them all at the time, but as I read my wall from those days again, it feels as though they are new.  You're doing the right thing, they reassure me.  Were we?  I still don't know.  Telling my counselor about it this year still brought floods of tears.

After we got to the States, six years ago last week, my updates are about putting my children in public school, talking to fellow earthquake refugees on the phone while watching my son play in the snow, and today, translating adoption documents for friends whose tenuous situation with their Haitian children was looking hopeful - perhaps something good was about to come out of the earthquake (it did - many adoptions were sped up in those days).

It's difficult to read "On This Day," because it transports me right back to those terrible moments.  Leigh Alexander's article mentions others feeling the same: "At best there’s some comedy in the idea that you’d appreciate a tender, wistful reflection on the time you took a picture of a snack. At worst, announcements of job loss, photos of happy days with your now-ex, a pet that has died, or a family illness are suddenly unearthed without warning, served into your day along with Facebook’s chirpy, intimate good-day wishes."

But at the same time, I'm glad those memories are there, because in addition to the pain and fear and sadness (and always, the survivor's guilt), there are memories of new friendships, support, God's care and protection of me.  This morning I read a student's post on my wall.  "Hey miss," she had written on this day six years ago, "hope you guys are doing okay."  We weren't, and yet, strangely, we were.  I wrote back to her in the laconic Haitian way: "Nou la."  We're here.  "How about you?"  She didn't answer, then, but I've talked to her many times since, and I'll drop her a note today.  Nou la.  We're still here.  Just like we were On This Day Six Years Ago.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reading Update

Book #1 of 2016 was Gary D. Schmidt's book Straw into Gold.  I didn't love it like his newer books, but it wasn't bad. 

Late last year I figured out how to borrow library books from the States on my Kindle.  Books #2, #4 and #5 were acquired that way.  I really love having this option.  The books were The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango; Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper; and Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg.

Book #3 was Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Edward T. Welch.  This was a useful read.

Book #6 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  My daughter's reading this in her Adolescent Lit class, so I decided to read it, too.  It's sad but also entertaining, and my first read by Alexie.

Book #7 was another YA title, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han.  My students are going to like this one a lot, and it didn't end the way I thought it would.

Bougainvillea Carpet

How could I ever feel less than LOVED when my seventh grade son makes me a carpet of bougainvillea to follow to my breakfast? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Poetry Friday: Raymond Carver

With the OLW that I chose this year, LOVED, this Raymond Carver poem is a must:

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

I found other Raymond Carver I liked, too.  Here's his poem "Happiness," and here's "Grief."  Both describe little moments.  And here's "Another Mystery," about death and becoming the oldest generation of your family. 

I think I like that little short one the best, though.  "To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved."

The roundup is here today.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Poetry Friday: Women's Christmas, Belatedly

Yes, I know that by anybody's calendar, the Christmas season is over.  But I was reading about an Irish tradition called "Women's Christmas."  The idea is that women didn't really get to relax over the Christmas season because they did most of the work, so when Epiphany arrives on January 6th, the women take a break and celebrate together.  In my case, I do not work extra hard over Christmas, as my husband and kids decorate the tree and cook and all of that, and our celebrations were extra low-key this year anyway.  So I don't deserve the relaxing part, but I found this poem that Jan Richardson wrote for Women's Christmas this year and it fits very well with the way I am thinking these days.  Jan focused on the Magi being warned in a dream to return home by a different way, and the poem is called "The Map You Make Yourself."  You can see the whole poem, and Jan's reflections on Women's Christmas, here.

Here's the end of the poem:

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way,
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you,
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome
—Jan Richardson

"Where you are is holy and you are welcome here."  I'm holding on to those words today.

Here's today's roundup.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New Year!

Now that the earthquake anniversary is over, I feel as though the new year has really begun.  There's something about making it past that ominous date of the 12th.  I've written here before that the last thing I did that day before I left my classroom was to write "January 13th, 2010" on the board.  When I came back to my classroom in July, that date was still posted.  In the six months I had been gone, my room had been used to store medical supplies and nobody had touched my white board. 

This morning, when I wrote "January 13th, 2016" on my board, I remembered that.  I felt gratitude for this ordinary day, when I get to work in my classroom, teach my students, and feel the ground solid beneath my feet.

Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Six Years

Today marks six years since the earthquake that shook Haiti and changed my life.  I wrote about it extensively in 2010, sharing what happened that day and in the months that followed when my children and I went to the United States.  You can find those posts in my archives.

At first, I thought about the earthquake every minute, and then there were brief periods of respite.  For a long time, Tuesdays were "earthquake days" (and this year is the first anniversary to be on a Tuesday, like the original day in 2010).  For a long time, the 12th of every month was a painful reminder.  Now, I sometimes go a few weeks without consciously remembering the earthquake, but there are still moments that jolt me back into those hours; road work that shakes the house, a glimpse of an unfamiliar name on my husband's Facebook page ("Who is that?" "Oh, we met in the earthquake time."), passing some rubble when we drive through an area that we don't visit often. But in other ways, the earthquake is with me every day.  The way I see the world is fundamentally changed.  Relationships are changed.  I live with the awareness that everything can be different in an instant.

This is a sad, sad anniversary every year.  I will never understand it, never be able to wrap up the lessons in a bow.  It was a horrible tragedy.  We don't even know how many people died, but probably at least 230,000.  Everyone lost someone.

Good things came out of it too, and on other days I will think of those.  But today I grieve.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Poetry Friday - First Lesson

It has been wonderful having my daughter home over the Christmas vacation, and today's poem is in honor of her as she heads back to college tomorrow.  We send her with so much love and pride.

First Lesson
Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you.  Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls.  A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea.  Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
like gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Tabatha has today's roundup here.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Beginning with Beloved

Here is an illustration of what it is like to be LOVED, focusing on the words heard when Jesus came out of the water after His baptism, "You are my Son, the beloved." 

What if we knew we were beloved?  How would it change us?  How would it change me?

Friday, January 01, 2016

OLW 2016

In 2010, I chose the One Little Word LOVED.  I wrote here about how I chose it and what it meant to me.  In the aftermath of the earthquake on January 12th, 2010, I spent the year realizing how much I was loved, by God and by the people in my life.  I was loved without doing anything to earn love, in the midst of my terrible weakness, in the midst of my shame over leaving Haiti, in the midst of my grief and general uselessness to do anything about what was going on there.

It's time to revisit the word LOVED this year.  The circumstances are different from those in 2010, but I've struggled mightily this past year with changes in my life.  One of these changes was my eldest leaving for college.  It seemed as though, after dealing with loss and endless goodbyes pretty much constantly my whole life, and the comings and goings of an international lifestyle, I suddenly lost the ability to do it any more.  I've been going to counseling and working through many of these past and current losses.  It's been brutally hard, and then I've berated myself for calling emotional pain "brutally hard" in a world where people are tortured and persecuted and driven from their homes by war, a world where people have lives that really are brutally hard.  Oddly, this self-criticism hasn't made me feel any better.

I need to allow myself to be reminded that in spite of my weakness, in spite of my struggles, I am LOVED.  Life is about loss - how well I know it - but there's still more love out there for me, and I am not abandoned even when it feels as though I am.  I am already so loved, even when I panic and cling and fall apart.  Even when I'm broken-hearted.  Maybe especially then.