Thursday, January 31, 2019

What I Learned in January

In January I learned again that January is not my favorite month. It's a month full of anniversaries, not just of the 2010 earthquake itself (nine years ago now), but of all kinds of related events. I get sad, whether I try to forget all about it or immerse myself in memories; I've tried both. This year there was little public recognition of the date (January 12th); we didn't have anything special at school, and even the government didn't do anything beyond laying a wreath at the site of the mass grave in Titayen. My husband and I held hands at 4:53, the time the quake struck, and observed a moment of silence.

Over the following days, I had several quiet conversations with friends who were going through similar feelings; one called it "a heaviness" around the day, others retold stories from 2010. Are we more prepared now, we wondered? The UN says yes. Maybe the UN is right. (I wouldn't count on it, personally.)

My son gave my husband a book for Christmas called Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. He read it over Christmas break, and then we watched the Netflix series together (with my daughter, who was home from college), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our favorite was the Salt episode, which took place mostly in Japan. So interesting. This is just the kind of in-depth nerding out over food that my husband loves best.

My daughter visited the library before she came home and checked out some DVDs for us to watch together, and one was the second season of The Hollow Crown, adaptations of Shakespeare plays about the Wars of the Roses. My English education gave me in-depth knowledge about the Tudors and something called "Social and Economic History from 1800-1914," but hardly anything about the Wars of the Roses. We were looking up details in history books as we watched. The acting was great, and it was fun watching Shakespeare plays we hadn't seen before.

My daughter went back to the States, so we had to say goodbye again. I'm better at hello.

We had started watching The Final Table while my daughter was still here, and we finished it after she left. Competitive cooking is always fun (more so if you get to eat the results, which of course we didn't). This was especially entertaining because each episode focused on a particular country, complete with renowned chefs and food experts to explain the food.

In January we experienced the joys of a fuel shortage, sending us back to many times in the past when we have learned the lessons of light and darkness. No fuel means very little city power, and it also means it's harder to run our backup generator.

Here's Barbara Brown Taylor on the spiritual lessons to be learned from a power cut:

"On day three, I decided that a power outage would make a great spiritual practice. Never mind giving up meat or booze for Lent. For a taste of real self-denial, just turn off the power for a while and see if phrases such as 'the power of God' and 'the light of Christ' sound any different to you. Better yet, ask someone to flip the switch for you and then cut the wire for good measure, thereby depriving you of the power to flip it back on again.

...Long for the light you cannot procure for yourself, and feel your heart swell with gratitude - every single morning - when the sun comes up. Value warmth. Prize shelter. Praise the miracle of flowing water.

On the afternoon of day four, just as I had finished deodorizing the empty refrigerator, there was a loud click, followed by the sound of a dozen engines coming on. I stood up. The yellow sponge fell form my hand. 'We have power!" I shouted, with tears springing from my eyes. There should be a service in the prayer book for occasions such as these.

O God of the burning bush, we praise you for the return of heat and light.

O God of streams in the wilderness, we thank you for the gift of flowing water."

(There's more wonderful stuff like this in Brown's book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.)

I thought often in January of Brown's phrase "the light you cannot procure for yourself," which applies to much more than electricity. It goes along with my word for the year, Possibility, and especially the Nouwen quote I'm meditating on about accepting whatever God sends you instead of insisting on clinging to your own wishes. My wishes include 24-hour electricity (and some other things I won't go into). Maybe that's not what I'm going to get. I'm still trying to figure out being OK with that, and maybe I will always be in that process.

As I mulled over these thoughts, I came across this post by Kay Bruner, who recently lost her beloved daughter (just typing those words brings me to tears). She's quoting Nouwen, too (not the same quote as the one I've been using but very similar in its ideas), and she says things aren't necessarily going to get better, but we'll get through it together. The title of her post sums it up: "Hope sustains when optimism fails."

I always listen to Anne Bogel's podcast "What Should I Read Next," and the one for January 15th was especially good. Anne's guest recently adopted a young son who has experienced trauma already in his life, and she set a goal to read a thousand books with him this school year. At the time of recording her conversation with Anne, she had already read more than eight hundred. She talked so encouragingly for me (as a teacher, a parent, and a reader) about how healing reading is, with its combination of predictable and unpredictable, its linear nature, and its peaceful lap-sitting (in her case - rarely for me any more, sadly). While I don't have anybody any more who routinely sits in my lap to be read to, I do still read aloud, to my students, my husband, really anybody who'll let me. My daughter and I read aloud to each other when she was visiting. Reading (whether silently or aloud) is good for sadness, trauma, confusion of all kinds - it keeps me going, and that's another thing I keep learning every month, including January. I read eleven books in January, and you can see what they were and what I thought of them in my Reading Update posts (here's the first and here's the second).

The month ended with the Polar Vortex, and all sorts of nasty photos on Facebook of what frostbite looks like. Nobody where I live will be getting frostbite, but it has been down in the 70s and 80s here, and I have been sleeping under a blanket and turning off the fan (even before the inverter batteries die, which happens most days well before morning), so we are definitely experiencing winter.  One morning in January as we got ready in the dark, with only candles, I thought of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from my childhood: "In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candle-light." (You can read the rest here.)

Goodbye to January. I'm glad to see it go, frankly. February will be better, I hope, and if it isn't, at least we'll get through it together.


Tabatha said...

Your what-I-learneds are always great reads. I saved your what-I-watched suggestions (Fat, Salt, The Hollow Crown, and The Final Table). Thanks!

Janet said...

Yes, goodbye January. You seem to have found much to savor despite how hard the month is. I admire that.

I loved An Altar in the World too.