things fall apart

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when she sits still for even a moment, her eyes are full of tears. she continues to sew because if she doesn’t, she’ll weep all the time.

i knew before she called me, her family was in the news and not on the page she’d like to be. she is worried sick, day and night. living in an extended stay suite because all of the trouble cost her much more than she ever thought she’d have to pay.

in fall, when the crab apples change colors and the leaves begin to inch by inch turn, i often wonder how it is that we have hope for winter. without our collective memory, we would all be scared silly believing the world was dying brilliantly, never realizing that life would return again months later, bolder and more beautiful.

i can’t tell her that now. she’d never understand. but i believe and hope and pray for the approaching winter to spare her soul’s hope.

serendipity

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as you walk up to the office where i work, there’s a dogwood tree that stretches out over the sidewalk. it isn’t that tall really, but there’s this branch that leans far and low out. i often bump into it on busy mornings when i am trying to make sure my toddler doesn’t dash back into the street.

yesterday morning though, i meandered up the sidewalk when my eight year old yelled, “mom look at the babies! look at the nest!”

and sure enough, there it was, a nest in the middle of the low hanging branch, a momma bird perched on the edge and three huge baby birds with their necks stretched up to the sky, mouths open, starving for the food she was trying to bring them.

there’s nothing that brightens my day faster than a bird’s nest. it’s a tiny piece of home built wherever, using anything that’s available. bird’s nests remind me that we can make whatever we like out of what we are given.

if i were given a pile of grass, bits of yarn, twigs, i would never accomplish what those robins have: an exquisite home just the perfect size for nurturing the next generation.

if we look carefully, we may find pieces of our lives seem exactly like that: bits of random that don’t make sense when handled one by one.

may we all build with what we are given. who knows what home we might provide for those among us who are vulnerable.

the pain is worth the thunder*

so i just got back from what some might call the world’s worst sabbatical.

seriously! wrong buses, lost luggage, ridiculous taxis, stolen passports, broken arms, an extra week in a city whose nickname is “the oven”?

i wept more than once. (more than twice, actually) i wondered many times what in the world i was doing trekking around with two little girls. i felt fear and panic clamoring at the door with each scenario.

but what if by some miracle, i was exactly where i was supposed to be?

what would happen if i hadn’t spent a month speaking another language, bumbling around after almost a decade of not speaking said language? what happens if there are no sleepy sunrises in paris? or random strangers who share their life story on a metro ride? or awe-struck moments in front of ancient cathedrals? or successful haggles in the souk for special treasures? or dazzling sunsets on a moroccan beach? what do we do without beauty and experiences that take us outside of ourselves?

we might miss the pain. that’s for sure. your passports won’t likely be stolen if you stay at home. but even that’s not a guarantee.

we need the thunder. we need something bigger than us to help us see just how little we in fact are. we need something that moves us, startles us, and makes us turn our heads away from what we think is real.

i wasn’t entirely sure what i was supposed to learn on this sabbatical. but now i see a little clearer than i did when i started. the message is simple:

be brave, the thunder is more than worth it.

and that makes it the world’s best sabbatical in my book.

*from here

wallowing in the lap of a stranger

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one of my most favorite things about Muslim culture is how hospitable it is.

while riding a train after picking up new passports, dear little t got so bored. her sister was asleep, and her mom was half asleep. sitting on a train for three hours was not her idea of fun.

across from me sat an elderly Muslim woman. she was visibly tired, probably from being up late at night and then up early in the morning, breaking and beginning the fast is exhausting.

as t whimpered or fussed, she looked up from her dozing and grinned, shook prayer beads, and looked for ways to entertain a restless toddler.

she told me she was a grandmother with either 4 or 14 grandchildren (in my fatigue, i wasn’t quite sure). she reached for t and bounced her on her lap. she let t crawl and swing over her legs. she even let t wrap her sacred prayer beads around her feet.

she was so gracious, so welcoming. i can’t imagine how tired and hungry she must have been, late afternoon during ramadan in 100 degree temperatures is no small thing. but for her, welcoming a child was much more important than her own personal needs.

i would have been lost without her. too sleepy, too hot, too thirsty to be patient with a wiggly worm, she was a gift to me.

t was delighted by her. t giggled and grinned, thrilled to be adored by this woman who loved her instantly.

i hope for a world where we all feel so compelled to love each other with that kind of mercy.

sometimes you get on the wrong bus

our first day in paris, we made a trip to carrefour to pick up underwear and deodorant while we waited for our lost bags to arrive, and when we came out, i was just sure we were getting on the right bus.

but then . . . we were sitting on the bus, after everyone had gotten off, and the driver says “madame, c’est terminus” (end of the line, ma’am) and i embarrassedly said, in french ” uh oh, i think i may have taken the wrong bus.”

he shrugged his shoulders and said, ” c’est le terminus”

thus began the two and a half hour trek back to our petit apartment when the right bus would have done it in 15 minutes.

so we took metros and RER’s walked for a while, another bus, stopped at countless places for directions . . . but eventually made our way back.

when i began debriefing, i realized that there were so many lessons in getting on that wrong bus. so many things that are related to my life and the work i am invested in.

every bus we get on, we hope it’s the right one. but even if it isn’t, we learn something, and we eventually make our way back.

i guess in so many ways, we can persevere to find our way home. the choice is up to us.

so, imagine my surprise, when passports were stolen, long train rides to embassys, and changing flights were all on the agenda for the final days of sabbatical.

what lesson could possibly be learned from this?

even though, this bus was not one i picked, somehow, someway, i keep finding my way home again. back to the place of calm and purpose. the life ahead that is full of adventure is also full of danger. whichever bus we choose to get on, we will find more than we expected. it’s the nature of life. some of those surprises are more fun than others. but if we don’t get on a bus, we don’t go anywhere.

may we love each other well knowing that we are all just trying to get home.

the second time i went to carrefour, before getting on a bus, i asked for help. turns out the bus i needed was a block and a half away and i had to search for it.

wherever you are

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she became a citizen last week.
while i celebrated the fourth of july trekking through other countries,
she vowed her loyalty to the place i was born in.

i thought about her contagious smile,
her laugh,
the way she says, “that’s be good,”
in relieved sighs

and “what i do?”

while she weeps about her family back home,
or panics about her son,
or whispers worriedly that she needs to move again.

but i imagine on
that noble and glorious day,
no storms loom,
the tingling excitement
after months of preparation, and
her dream is born in front of her.

la prof

when i met her on the metro, she was wrangling a two year old little boy who was very unhappy about having to sit on the train. i steered the stroller up on the train next to where she was sitting.

her hijab was tied effortlessly in the back, in the maghreb way. she smiled so brightly and happily, i wasn’t entirely sure she was a muslim, because it was the first day of Ramadan and usually the first day of the fast is pretty hard. but then she told me her son’s name was ishmael and i knew.

we talked easily about kids, about traveling. she leaves on friday to visit her family in north africa. she is a nurse and has undergone so many tests to prove her skills here in france. i was thankful for her that she at least grew up speaking the language she had to prove herself in.

while we chat, the boys jump up and down, climbing seats and people. they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. she looks longingly at my girls who are too bewildered by a language they don’t understand to be doing anything crazy. she says they are wise. i tell her that they both had their meltdowns on the street outside the metro, so it’s only that they got it out of their systems before we were confined to a train.

because of how early it gets light and late it gets dark, she is fasting for 19-20 hours. she says her 9 year son wants to do ramadan this year, but she is only letting him fast until 1 in the afternoon. he is clearly proud of himself and she is too.

i am awed by her. i cannot imagine the strength it takes to live her life. though she is a stranger, i am also proud of her. proud of her perseverance, resilience, and courage.

we exchange numbers on the train before i hop off to see one of the holy places i came to visit.

once inside notre dame, i am speechless by the hugeness of it. when i last saw it at 20, i wasn’t old or wise enough to appreciate the I/Thou gaze imbedded in its design. it’s then that i realize she was like my Sunday school teacher, getting me ready for the big lesson ahead. strong women are like that, looking ahead to the future and shepherding those around them towards it.

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