Saturday, July 28, 2012

Haiti Earthquake Survivor Lovely Avelus Finally Meets her Saviours

by Catherine Porter

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—Some mysteries are like religion. They linger, forever out of reach, promising only possibility and puzzle. Others are like calculus problems, requiring investigation and pencil scribbling before proffering concrete answers.

There are many mysteries about the story of Lovely Avelus and the earthquake that cleaved this country 21/2 years ago. How did her little 2-year-old body, so small and bird-boned, survive the weight of two stories of concrete without even a scratch? How then did she survive there, trapped for six days without food or water or someone to buoy her little spirit with songs of hope and solace?

Here's the rest of the article.

What is Saving Your Life Right Now?

I never even heard of a synchroblog before last week, and now I'm participating in my second. Sarah Bessey wrote:
"I wrote a little post, late in the afternoon yesterday, in the stolen 30 minutes between my real-work for Mercy Ministries and the time when I had to head home to make supper. Just one of those quick, say-it-hot kind of posts, everything I was feeling and thinking condensed in a few paragraphs, it took about 20 minutes, and then I walked away. The crux of the post was a question that I lifted from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book 'Leaving Church' which I had recently re-read: 'What is saving your life right now?'. . . Write your own post on your own blog, answering the question: What is saving your life right now? Write it quick, don’t overthink it, just spill it all out, it can be pictures if you want, whatever. If you’ve already written one, feel free to link that up, too."

So here goes...what's saving my life right now?

I got this piece of wisdom in my fortune cookie yesterday:

I don't like change very much. I'm about to change countries, after a summer break in the US that went lightning-fast. I'm not ready. There were so many things I was going to accomplish, books I was going to read, words I was going to write, thoughts I was going to take the time to think. I don't want to be back in the whirlwind of school again, not yet.

And then there are some other changes ahead. My teaching schedule is going to change completely this year, after about six years of a similar way of doing things, with a new setup which I'm not entirely sure about. I'm going to have new classes to teach, plus I'm going to be taking a class online, with all the time-sucking and technological frustrations that entails.

And yet it's OK. One of the good things about that I'm finally learning a thing or two. One of them is that God is with me, and we'll get through this. It doesn't do a lot of good for me to become anxious, and more and more often, these days, I just don't. I'm getting better - not perfect yet - at taking my life one day at a time. Because as Jesus put it, each day has enough troubles of its own.

It's not dramatic, but not worrying is saving my life right now.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Poetry Friday: Olympics

So I was searching for something sporty to post today, in honor of the Olympics, and I found this from December 2010, explaining about how there would be a poetry wall in the Olympic Village. I did some more research and found this site, Winning Words Poetry. It turns out there's not one but many poetry walls.

Did everyone know this but me?

Here's the archive of poems from the site. You can search by sport or themes.

Here's a poem I found in the archive. This one isn't so much in celebration of sports but of London itself, shining during the Games which begin tomorrow.

Upon Westminster Bridge

Sept. 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth

It may be still in the morning, but there's going to be plenty of activity the rest of the time! I love this picture, though, of that deep calm before the day begins.

The roundup is here today.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Edwidge Danticat on Art

This is a great interview Tavis Smiley did with Edwidge Danticat about her book Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. She explains why art is both a necessity and a luxury.

"Art is another way, besides breathing, that we let people know we are alive."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Poetry Friday

I was out all day today having fun, and I have nothing for Poetry Friday. But fortunately lots of other people posted. So go enjoy what they wrote!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reading Update

Book #21 of this year was All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, by Brennan Manning. I haven't read much of Manning's work, but I know that he has written extensively on being a ragamuffin, a sinner saved by grace and not by any of his own merit. In this book he is painfully open about the flaws and sins of his life, including his alcoholic binges during a time when God was using him enormously in ministry. My favorite part of this book was the letters from his friends included at the end, where they testified to the difference his friendship made in their lives. Here's a quote from the book:
"My life is a witness to vulgar grace - a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck towards the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief's request - 'Please, remember me' - and assures him, 'You bet!' A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father's side not for heaven's sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It's not cheap. It's free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough."

Book #22 was Unfinished Desires, by Gail Godwin. I've read all or most of Godwin's other books but hadn't seen this one, which came out in 2010, yet. It's very much like her others, filled with a deep spiritual sensibility and an awareness of the imperfections of human beings. I appreciated the character development and the focus on the inward drama of seeking God.

Book #23 was Anne Lamott's latest book, Some Assembly Required. I enjoyed Lamott's memoir of her son's first year, Operating Instructions. In that book, Lamott chronicles her life as a single mom to baby Sam. In Some Assembly Required, Sam is all grown up and now a father himself, at 19. Lamott is learning to be a grandmother, and trying not to interfere too much in the life of baby Jax, whom she adores, but whose parent she is not. Lamott bugs me (and herself) sometimes, but I like her authenticity. A couple of observations: first, in Lamott's writing, seventh grade is always the objective correlative for misery. Here she is on her baby grandson:
"For Jax, at nearly a month, nothing is wrecked. His skin is so ethereal and smooth, and he is not required to do anything or make decisions, so he doesn't have a history of screwing up yet, and all of his needs and desires are fulfilled, almost immediately : wet to dry, empty to full, edgy to relaxed, rocked asleep and then awake. You'd almost want to be Jax, if you didn't know what he was in store for - namely, a fully flawed human life. Stubbed toes, seventh grade, acne, broken hearts."
And later she writes, "I said to Karen that you're instantly in a bind once you arrive here on earth, of need, of self-will, a body and a separate personality, even before the crippling self-consciousness kicks in, even before seventh grade." Second, it was a strange experience to read about Lamott's reaction to the earthquake in Haiti, since that passage threw me into my own memory and sent me to the exact day she was talking about. I had just arrived in the US on January 18th, 2010, having just been evacuated from Haiti. Lamott, on the other hand, was getting ready for a trip to India.
"January 18. I got cold feet at the airport. It was only days after the earthquake in Haiti. I was reeling with the global unimaginable tragedy of that one, and I knew I was about to fly into the heart of another. So I called Bonnie. 'Where is God in Haiti? Where will God be in the slums of Delhi?'

She said that in Haiti, as a result of the devastation, we've seen the care with which people treat people in trouble, with which we attend to our families and others, in chaos or sorrow. And I would get to see that in India."
I have to admit that I don't know what to think about "our earthquake" being co-opted to teach a lesson, even though the lesson she learned is one that I learned too. Of course I don't expect her "reeling" to be as extensive as my own, and certainly her reflections are just the sort of thing I often do myself in response to something I'm following in the news. It was just strange to read. I'll leave it at that.

Book #24 was The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman. I enjoyed the characters and relationships (and the bookstore and cookbook details) in this book and would read more by Goodman. The September 11th connection, which I saw coming from the very beginning of the book, had a similar effect to the Haiti earthquake connection in Lamott's book. An event like September 11th, which everyone remembers clearly, is tricky to handle in a novel. It's still so close to us.

Book #25 was recommended to me by my daughter, who sobbed her way through it. I read it in the car on our most recent roadtrip, and sobbed a lot too. The book, The Fault in Our Stars, is written by John Green, one of my daughter's favorite people. He and his brother are The Vlog Brothers, founders of the Nerdfighters. (That is, not fighting against nerds, but an army of nerds fighting "worldsuck" and increasing awesomeness.) Given how goofy all of this sounds (and believe me, I have heard a lot about this whole Nerdfighter thing from my Nerdfighter daughter), this book was not at all what I expected. It's about kids with cancer, and Hazel and Augustus are incredibly real, incredibly affecting characters. There's not a single ounce of sentimentality in the book. These kids are tough, brilliant, and compassionate, and there's a lot more to them than that they have cancer. The blurb on the cover says, "John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love." I can't do better than that.

Books #26 and #27 were Brian Selznick titles. I recently saw the movie Hugo, which I loved. I hadn't yet read the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which the movie is based. The book is told in words and pictures, so although it is 550 pages long, it's a quick read. The pictures are amazing, full of loving details which the movie replicates. Selznick got the Caldecott medal for this in 2008. I'm glad I finally read it. After I put it down I immediately picked up Selznick's next book, Wonderstruck. I didn't love that one quite as much as Hugo's story, but it was another amazing book. Again, the pictures are very important, but in this book, there are two separate stories, one told in words and one in pictures. The two collide by the end.

Somewhere in the middle of all these, I started reading Middlemarch, by George Eliot. This is a chunk of a book, but I'm not sure how long it is, since I'm reading it on my Kindle (the lack of pagination is one of the things I don't like about e-reading). All I know is that I read and read and read and the percentage at the bottom of my screen doesn't change! The only Eliot I've read before is Silas Marner, and I'm enjoying this one so far. It may take me a while to finish it, though, since I keep reading other things between chapters.

I wanted to read at least 52 books this year, and I don't know if I'm going to make it. But I have been enjoying my summer reading!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Love Letter to my Body

This letter is part of the SheLoves magazine synchroblog here.

Dear Body,

So, the assignment is to write you a love letter. I'm not sure I can do it. Perhaps the best I can manage is a grudging acceptance letter. But here goes.

For a long time now, probably since my teens, I've dealt with insecurities about how you look by thinking of you in purely functional terms. You're healthy and strong, you can eat anything, you get me where I need to go, you can do a 5K (walking, not running, but still). So I have a "not appealing to look at, but useful" paradigm. My hands may not look like the perfectly manicured visions of loveliness my students' moms (or my students themselves) carry around, but mine can use chopsticks and type extremely fast and make a perfect cup of tea. You can extrapolate from that hands example to how I see some of my less public body parts.

Sometimes I wonder why God chose to put these beautiful souls of ours into bodies. They (you, all of you bodies) complicate matters so much. No offense, Body, but it's true. You get tired. You have hormones, which affect behavior more than I'd like. And there's all that business about how to clothe and adorn you, finding the impossible balance between being attractive enough and drawing too much attention to oneself, thus becoming a source of temptation. I remember a friend sharing with me that her husband had told her that some women caused temptation not only by how they dressed, but even by the way they did their hair. That's a lot of responsibility for a body, isn't it? And different Christian communities I've been a part of in my life hold different views of what is and is not acceptable. We have to think about what to feed you, too, so you don't get too fat or too thin or too unhealthy. And no matter how well we maintain you, you get sick. You get old. You die. You, Body of mine, will die some day.

But then I remember that Jesus took on flesh. He had a body. He didn't have a woman's body, but He was born of one; He had a placenta and a belly button and He nursed at His mother's breasts. He wasn't some ethereal spirit alone, not just a beautiful soul, but fully human, with a respiratory system and a blood type and hair and fingernails that grew and had to be cut. He had appetites.

But I'm avoiding the topic here, Body, because it's easier to talk in general terms and philosophize than it is to talk about us, you and me, the particularities of our love/hate relationship. I have to admit that when I think about you, there are many negative images that come to mind, times you've let me down, embarrassed me, shamed me. Years of P.E. classes, when I was awkward and uncoordinated and couldn't do any of the things that it seemed everyone else did effortlessly. Puberty. Acne. Dressing to hide you. Bathing suits. Your clumsiness that caused me accidents and injuries. And, I hate to bring this up, because I know it technically isn't your fault, but I guess I do blame you for the loss of my second child, who died at eight weeks gestation. You failed me. You didn't hold on to that tiny daughter (even though I don't even know she was a daughter), whom I already loved.

There are positives too, though, Body. It helps that I have a husband who's been appreciating you a lot for almost 23 years now. He doesn't care that you're getting older and saggier, either; He seems to like you more now than when I was 21.

And oh, Body, here's where I can use the word Love, capitalized, with hearts and flowers: you carried my babies, my beautiful children. Even though you were sick and miserable through those pregnancies, you carried them, and you birthed them without drugs, and you were amazing. Truly amazing. That husband I just mentioned was completely in awe of you, of us, and what we did, body and soul. And then you nourished those babies, you made them fat on your milk and nurtured them for - well, let's just say for longer than the average American baby breastfeeds. You were a miracle.

For those kids, Body, I'll forgive you a multitude of sins. The parts that are too big, too jiggly, too stretch-marked, the galumphing, the fall down the stairs that broke my leg (and by the way, that leg still hurts quite often, thank you, more than fifteen years later). Your whiteness - yes, I've always used the image of a creature who's been living under a rock to describe how pale you seem to me, compared with the beautiful dark skin of those I grew up with and those I now live among, as a child in Africa and now as an adult in Haiti. I've always wanted to be black, like them.

Body, you're the one I've got, for better or worse. I know what size you are, give or take. I know what styles you can't ever wear. I know how careful you have to be to wear the right shoes, to avoid pain. I know your patterns and cycles. I know you can't see without glasses, and even though the optometrist got my hopes up years ago about how you might get to stop wearing glasses in your forties as you got more far-sighted, I know now that's not ever going to happen. I know you'll react to a TB skin test, because you had that BCG vaccination in England as a teenager, and I know how health care providers in the US freak out at that. You've had dengue fever and you've been anemic and you've downed years worth of antimalarials. You've done a long bike trip and you've hiked many miles and you've survived an earthquake, although you still react independently of me to noises and movement, and you still catch me off guard every time.

And let's face it, Body, now's the time. If I don't appreciate you now, as I didn't when I was younger, what am I going to do when you age even more? We've passed forty, you know; it's all probably downhill from here.

Can I say that I love you? It feels a little embarrassing, doesn't it? And yet, I'm at home with you now, more than I used to be. I enjoy good food, and sunshine on my shoulders (yep, it makes me happy), and the feel of people I love in my arms. I couldn't experience any of those things without you. And I have a daughter now who looks just like me, and she's beautiful, so I can't insult you the way I used to.

OK then, I'll say it. I love you. I do. Thanks for everything. Hope we have many, many more years together.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: How Would You Live Then?

A little Mary Oliver. Click on the photo to read a larger version.

How would you live then? I wish I could live all of life the way I live these summer days...

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Poetry Friday: Glow-Worms

The Mower to the Glow-Worms
by Andrew Marvell

Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the summer night,
Her matchless songs does meditate;

Ye country comets, that portend
No war nor prince’s funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Than to presage the grass’s fall;

Ye glow-worms, whose officious flame
To wand’ring mowers shows the way,
That in the night have lost their aim,
And after foolish fires do stray;

Your courteous lights in vain you waste,
Since Juliana here is come,
For she my mind hath so displac’d
That I shall never find my home.

I love this sleepy summer poem, and the "country comets" that feel no need for a high purpose: it's enough for them to shine while they can, since summer will soon be over. The mower isn't paying any attention anyway; Juliana has "displac'd" his brain and he's wandering literally and metaphorically.

It's going to be a hot day where I am, even hotter than in Haiti. Maybe it will cool off enough this evening to chase some glow-worms.

Here's today's roundup.

Photo Credit: