Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Night

I'm home from the beach, where I went for a retreat this weekend with the people I work with. We had a wonderful time. The ocean was beautiful and the time away was relaxing.

This morning I sat in our worship service and cried. A lot. If you've been reading my blog for long, you know that this isn't exactly an unusual thing for me to do. We had a time of sharing and I was afraid I was going to stand up and blubber a lot, because that's something else I frequently do.

I didn't stand up and blubber, but here's what I was thinking: God loves me and takes care of me. I know it's so very unsophisticated, and lacking in deep theological insight, and it sounds like I'm a child, but I don't care. It's wonderful to know this. It took me more than forty years to learn it, but I know it now. I know it.

I am more fragile since the earthquake, and less flexible. I think less and feel more. I read less and write more. I don't think all these changes are positive, necessarily; this is just the way I am, for now. But I am so glad I know, with all my heart, that God loves me.

I hesitate to hit Publish Post for this one. There's nothing smart about it, nothing deep; it's something you'd think I wouldn't have had to learn. After all, I was raised to know that God loved me. I prayed when I was four years old to ask Jesus into my heart. People told me all my life that He loved me. I told other people that He loved them. But somehow it was always about my performance. Was I good enough? Were my grades perfect? Was I trying my hardest, all the time?

This weekend our theme was from the first chapter of Joshua, where God says, "Be strong and courageous." The speaker talked about how people responded to the earthquake, how strong and courageous they were. You know what? I wasn't strong and courageous. I'm not writing this so that I'll get comments telling me I was; I know I wasn't. I did the best I could, but I wouldn't describe the results as strong and courageous, at all.

I was more illustrating a different verse, the one about Christ's strength being made perfect in my weakness. I was so very weak, and He was so very strong.

When I was a child I went to the altar all the time, every time a preacher suggested it. One time a dear old lady said to me, as I staggered to my feet after crying at the altar, "Jesus loves you very much." I think in my mind that translated to: "Jesus loves you when you come forward and weep, racked with guilt." I don't know if she meant that or not, but that's what I thought, that Jesus loved me when I repented, constantly, never feeling I had repented enough or that I could rest. Now I know that Jesus loves me when I go forward, and when I sit sulking in my seat, and when I listen and when I don't, and when I'm strong and courageous and when I'm weak and pitiful. Just the way I love my children when they do and are all those things. He loves me because I'm His.

I know, I know; there are a million qualifications I should make about how I still have to obey and how God loving me isn't a license to do whatever I want. I know all that. But I also know that God loves me, plain and simple. He does. He really does.

So that's what I was crying about in the worship service this morning.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Poetry Friday!

I really don't think I'm going to get a moment to post anything today for Poetry Friday. Just in case I don't, go here and read what everybody else posted.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: A Mother to her Waking Infant

I found a poem today that was new to me, but the ideas and feelings in it are not new at all. I love finding evidence that some things don't change much. Joanna Baillie lived from 1762 to 1851, and she wrote these lines about her baby:

A Mother to Her Waking Infant

Now in thy dazzling half-oped eye,
Thy curled nose and lip awry,
Uphoisted arms and noddling head,
And little chin with crystal spread,
Poor helpless thing! what do I see,
That I should sing of thee?

From thy poor tongue no accents come,
Which can but rub thy toothless gum:
Small understanding boasts thy face,
Thy shapeless limbs nor step nor grace:
A few short words thy feats may tell,
And yet I love thee well.

You can read the rest of the poem here. I love the way Baillie describes her baby, who can't do much yet, and ignores his mother's poem, and laughs when everyone is sad, and yet is adored.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Katie's Earthquake Memories

Katie has started sharing the notes she took the night of the earthquake and for a few subsequent days. You can read that here and here. It was painful reading for me. It brought back those days very vividly. And yet it was also fascinating, because Katie included some details about me that I don't remember at all, but that my husband confirms are right. (I knew they were right anyway, since these were notes Katie took at the time.)

It's interesting to me how the story you tell becomes the story that happened. I have told my earthquake story so many times. It's completely accurate; I started writing it down a week later. But there are details I didn't write down or speak, and so they were forgotten. For example, I didn't remember that after the woman died on the soccer field on the morning of the 13th, I went and woke up our school nurse to come and look at her and see if there as anything she could do. She ended up just confirming that the woman was dead. I remember the screaming, and the praying, and I remember another staff member sitting with the bereaved family for hours, and I remember how I cried, and felt that this was the saddest thing I had ever heard of in my life. But in my memory, I was completely passive. It's silly, but I feel a tiny bit better knowing that at least I tried to do something.

I also don't remember Katie being there when we started picking up our books and righting our bookcase. That is somehow comforting, knowing that we immediately started cleaning up. I thought we had waited longer, because I remember thinking that everything was just going to fall down again. And it is also wonderful to know, or be reminded, that we had people around us, going through it all.

One thing that made me cringe a little was Katie's remark "Ruth and the kids going." I thought I had gotten over feeling badly about leaving Haiti, but those feelings came back when I read that, even though Katie didn't comment on how it made her feel. She didn't write, "Ruth, that coward and abandoner of duty," but that's how I saw myself.

It's such a waste of energy to keep brooding over that all these months later. We did what we thought was best at the time, and my husband was able to be useful in ways he wouldn't have if we had been there, and good things came out of our months in the States. I know all those arguments, but still, when I think about leaving on the Saturday after the quake, I feel guilty. When I hear people talking about the time after the quake, as I did on Thursday when a group of us got together to pray and sing, I think, I should have been there.

I remember it so clearly. My husband said to me, "You're going."

I said, "Shouldn't we talk about it some more?"

He said, "No, you're going."

I could tell it was very important to him, because he doesn't usually make decisions like that and tell me how it's going to be. I knew it wasn't a time to dilly-dally and argue. It was a time to pack my bag and do as I was told. And then to spend six months in the US second-guessing the decision.

I am glad Katie shared this. Thank you, Katie, for being there that night and all the days since. There's just something about earthquake friends.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: Winter

Two years ago in the wake of the earthquake, I moved suddenly to the United States. I went from tropical weather to a cold, leafless January. I hadn't experienced winter in ten years and the transition wasn't an easy one. But winter is beautiful, too. I never used to miss winter weather, and I still don't want to go live in it, or anything, but I do sometimes think about how beautiful it is.

On Wednesday night my friend Matsu sent me this photo of the moon in the trees. It really looks like "a liquid moon," as the poem says.

Winter Trees

By William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I'll be honest: I've hardly read any of the links in the post I sent you to this morning. I did read the one about how Haiti can be rich again; that seemed cheerful enough that I could risk it. It's not at all like me to hide from the news. Before the earthquake I was a news junkie. In the six months I spent in the States after the quake, I read everything anyone in the world wrote about Haiti and posted on the internet. But now, I protect myself more; I don't read nearly as much news as I used to, whether about Haiti or elsewhere in the world.

I was glad Lexi wrote a post with links in it so that I could share articles with you, my readers, but I can't bring myself to go looking for them or even to read many of them when I see them. Yes, I'm grateful for my life and that my family was spared and for all the many blessings that God gave me in the aftermath of that night in 2010. But mostly all I can do in these days leading up to the anniversary is feel a deep sadness.

Here's what happened that night to us, two years ago tomorrow.

Links About the Two-Year Anniversary

Lexi has been reading about the anniversary and here's her post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back to School

"Why," sighed an exasperated middle schooler this morning, "do they always have to mess up the schedule every quarter?"

By mess up the student meant change, and I am very much in sympathy with that view. I don't like change. I want everything to stay the same forever and ever. Even when details are far from perfect, I seem to derive security from sameness and predictability. It's hard for me to picture how things could be better.

I live in a country where everything changes constantly, and obviously this causes me some problems from time to time. In a recent professional development exercise, all the teachers were sorted into groups based on personality type. I ended up in a group of others like me, people who wanted to be in control. How did we manage in Haiti, we asked each other? We figured out that we find one small area we can control: our classrooms. While we work on being flexible, we feel that in our classrooms, our kingdoms, nothing must ever go wrong. Our word must be law. Structure must reign supreme.

And...I teach middle schoolers. Again, not a real recipe for stability.

The fact is, as I'm learning more and more the older I get, I am not in control. Of anything. Any idea that I am is purely an illusion, and that illusion can be shattered in seconds, by riots, or the issues of a middle schooler, or, perhaps an earthquake.

We started back to school today, and I am back in my classroom, my kingdom. Already this morning I've dealt with two schedule changes, talked to kids who lost a much loved brother and cousin over the break, and confronted a room full of eighth graders who were happy to see each other again and not so much interested in me taking attendance. And it's only 10 AM.

Here's something C. S. Lewis wrote that I need to read often:
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.”
Indeed. This semester, I'll try again to remember it. I'm not in control; God is. Sometimes my schedule will be messed up by someone's need, or someone's joy, or Haiti's unpredictability. And that's OK. That is my schedule for that day.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Poetry Friday: Heartbreak and Such

My daughter is currently obsessed with Les Misérables, the book and the musical. The first time she watched the musical, she described it as "like someone took my heart out and stomped on it."

Why do we seek that feeling in literature? Why don't we just read happy stories to escape from the sadness in our real lives? I don't know, but there's something about January that makes me want to read sad poems. Christmas is over, it's cold (OK, where I live, cold is seventy degrees, but work with me here), it's time to go back to work, weeks stretching out ahead with nothing much to look forward to. Plus there's next Thursday looming large, the two-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. In that mood, nothing's better than Japanese poetry. It's all that all that heartache, all that longing, all that awareness of transience, all that Sehnsucht. Perhaps some of that sensibility comes from living with earthquakes.

I can't read Japanese poetry in the original, but I have two books of it, One Hundred Poems from the Japanese and One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese. The translations are done by Kenneth Rexroth, who explains in his introduction to the first book,
Japanese poetry does what poetry does everywhere: it intensifies and exalts experience. ... Many...editors and translators have been embarrassed by this intensity and concentration and have labored to explain each poem until it has been explained away. Often the explanation has obtruded into the poem itself, which has been expanded with concealed commentary and interpretation.
So I'm not going to include any commentary, but here are a couple of heartbreaking and beautiful Japanese poems for this cold (OK, just not boiling hot) January day.

A strange old man
Stops me,
Looking out of my deep mirror.


May those who are born after me
Never travel such roads of love.


I go out of the darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.


The cricket cries
In the frost.
On my narrow bed,
In a folded quilt,
I sleep alone.

The Regent Fujiwara No Go-Kyogoku

The plovers cry
Over the evening waves
Of Lake Omi.
In my withering heart
I remember the past.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro

In the dusk the path
You used to come to me
Is overgrown and indistinguishable,
Except for the spider webs
That hang across it
Like threads of sorrow.

Izumi Shikibu

This world of ours,
To what shall I compare it?
To the white wake of a boat
That rows away in the early dawn.

Shami Mansei

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Monday, January 02, 2012

One Little Word for 2012

For the past few years, since 2009, I have chosen One Little Word for each year. In 2009 the word was "LOOK." In 2010 the word was "LOVED." And last year's word was "TRUST."

This year, my One Little Word is "HEAL." A friend told me after the earthquake that it takes three years to get over a major trauma like that. The first year is the year of grieving. The second is the year of remembrance. And the third is the year of healing. So far, this has been accurate. In 2010 I reeled. In 2011 I was in "a year ago today" mode. And this year, I'm ready to heal.

The thing is, you never get to heal completely before other wounds come along. I remember having constantly skinned knees as a child; no sooner would I get some fresh skin back and lose the scab than I'd fall again. I'm still just as clumsy, too; last week I fell while walking down stairs and taking pictures at the same time. Yeah, I guess I'm not as good at multitasking as I like to think. My knees are a mess and I broke my camera.

But I digress. My point was that healing has to be an ongoing process; we're constantly being bombarded with new injury.

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

We lost a recent alumnus to a car accident on New Year's Eve and I hurt so much for his family, especially his mother, whose pain I can't even bring myself to imagine. She is healing from the earthquake still, just like I am, and she has other griefs in her life too, and now this. It's not like we can heal completely and then bask in glorious wholeness for the rest of our lives. It's all a process.

God is in the business of healing, though. He restores us, brings good out of what is nasty and awful and impossible in our lives, helps us slog through the nightmares and come out on the other side better. This year I want to celebrate the healing that God has already done in my life and in Haiti. And I want to watch for the signs of the ongoing process.

On New Year's Eve I sat at a party and listened to someone's earthquake story, one of the most amazing I've heard yet. I hope the teller will write a book. Here's something she said that resonated with me: the earthquake recalibrated us. We won't ever be entirely the same as we were before. Some of us have fears we didn't have before. Certain sounds and experiences are still not easy. Those are different for everyone, and I'm learning that I don't have to feel foolish, for example, for being freaked out by the rumble of an especially loud passing truck (that's exactly how the earthquake sounded when it began), even if nobody else is affected by it.

Hardest to accept is that some relationships were broken by the aftermath of the earthquake, and they will never be exactly the same again, even if healing happens. There are beautiful new relationships that have grown up, but I still grieve the lost ones, because people aren't interchangeable.

This year, I hope more of my wounds will turn into scars. Scars are there forever. As Dumbledore pointed out, they can even be useful, though I don't have one that's the shape of a map of the London underground, like he did. But over time the scars can be "less like scars and more like character."

One Little Word for 2012: HEAL. I can't do it myself, but God can do it.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!

The first day of every month is Theme Day at the City Daily Photo blogs. On the first of January, the DP bloggers post their best photo from the year before. Here's a link to thumbnails.