Drawn to the Road

Endless by DeeAshley

Endless by DeeAshley

In my head the layout of our three-week trip to the States seemed clear-cut. Warm Florida weather and a closet to clean out in northwest Indiana were the cornerstones; everything else would revolve are them. A road-trip seemed inevitable (We would have to get from point A warmth and sun to point B cold and work somehow and a road-trip is what Americans do, isn’t it?) and enticing (Road-trips make great memories). So when Patrick asked, “Do you want to fly from Tampa to Chicago?” I was surprised.

“Why would we fly?” I said.

He looked at me with head cocked, eyebrows forming the tops of two question marks.

“I mean, we could fly, but then,” Pause. “We can’t have much luggage. And besides it would cost more,” I said, knowing cost gets him every time.

“Yeah, but do you really want to drive that whole way with Alida?” he asked.

“We did it a couple of years ago with two even younger kids. She’ll be fine,” I said, although now that he mentioned it, huh, it is sort of a long time to keep a four-year-old entertained. The seed of doubt had been planted.

A few weeks later a remark from my father watered that little seed.

“Man, do you really want to spend all that time in the car? I mean, you’re only here for a short time and then you’re going to spend two days of it just traveling.”

“Oh, it’ll be fun,” I said, hoping no one would notice I was no longer feeling as convinced about my decision to road-trip. Dad made a good point to go along with Patrick’s: not only would I be stuck entertaining my little girl for hours on end, we would lose extra days possibly spent on the beach or in a closet. The seed named “doubt” began to sprout. It’s silly to drive all that way, even if my sister is on the way to Indiana. I could just drive down later to visit her and a friend. But what about our luggage? I guess mom and dad could just bring it with them in the truck. It does cost more money to fly, but Mom and Dad could stay longer in Florida like they would like. On and on flowed the thoughts of doubt, but still the notion of this road-trip nagged at me. It was something I wanted to do, even if the voices around me – inside and out – warned otherwise.

 

Road-Trip

Road-Trip

We drove. 6:00 a.m. (for future referral it was actually two minutes before the appointed time) my parents, Alida and I were settled in the truck. The first part of our adventure – sand, beach, sun and that salty Florida smell – had sadly come to an end. But the second part looked promising – spending time with my siblings and their families, rummaging through memories in the form of old letters and notes, meeting and cuddling my friend’s babies – and we were starting it with a road-trip.

After I made the decision to drive to Indiana, I concluded there was no room for doubt. I did my best to whack that growing plant back and succeeded, as much as weeds like that allow it. Of course I still wondered how I would keep the little girl beside me entertained for so long and knew this trip wouldn’t be perfect, but I felt drawn to the road in a way that had become unfamiliar to me. I dreaded the sore back from sitting too long and the hours wasted. At some point I would be annoyed with everyone in the car and just want out, I was sure of it, but still the road that lay before seemed to promise more.

A little over an hour later I woke first from our required nap. I told Alida when we first left the entertainment part of this trip wouldn’t begin for at least another two hours, so she may as well go back to sleep. When I woke I remained quiet, not wanting to disturb the peace of that moment. I considered getting out my journal, – what a great time to write! – but thought instead, just enjoy. I wondered if I should start that new book I brought along, but no, keep quiet. Outside the day was still in its infancy, just beginning to make room for the sun’s warmth. The grazing cows made no notice of their pastures, unimpressed by the live oaks’ invitation to climb their sprawling branches. The Spanish moss hung off these branches, adding mystery and years of wisdom to the trees. Palms poked their spiky fronds towards the sun, unafraid of being baked like the underbrush had been where it hugged the sandy ground. I could almost hear the crunch it made when the cows walked over it. It was a picture of Florida, this state I had come to love and I thought:

 This is it – this is what I have come to see.

 

By now hours passed like the landscape outside our windows; if we didn’t make the effort to notice, they became blurs. Alida discovered the joys of Grandma’s IPad and couldn’t get enough of the games she didn’t yet grasp. I ploughed my way through my book, determined to finish, although it was horrible. (I don’t put down books I’ve begun, no matter how bad.) Road signs announced “Sweet Georgia Peaches – exit now!”, “Welcome! We’re Glad Georgia’s On Your Mind!” and “Adcock Pecans – next exit! We exited, not to buy peaches or pecans, but to fill up on gas. As any road-tripper knows, gas-filling is always associated with potty breaks, so I dug Alida out of the comfortable hole of pillows she had made for herself and ran with her through the pouring rain to the bathroom.

Inside, trying to touch as little as possible, I explained to Alida that we were no longer in Florida, but in a state named Georgia. She pressed her eyebrows together. “Huh?”

“This country is divided into different parts called states. Where we were with Grandma and Grandpa, with the beaches and sunshine, was Florida. We’ll visit Aunt Rona in the state where she lives, called Kentucky and then drive to Indiana where Grandma and Grandpa’s house is. And right now, we’re in-between in a state called Georgia.”

Alida looked at me with big eyes, “Georg-gee-ya!” And grinned.

 This is it – this is what I have come to experience.

 

Later I awoke disorientated. We were pulling off again, apparently time for another round of gas. I wondered what state we were in – still Georgia or had we reached Tennessee? – but then remembered before I fell asleep I had reached the stage of being annoyed with everyone in the car. I refused to ask any question I had, wanting to hang on to my frustration. Again I dug Alida out and headed for the bathroom. The ache in my back prompted me to first walk a couple laps around the building. As we walked I searched for clues as to what state we might be in. I found nothing.

On our little walk we met a mom trying to coax her screaming boy into the car. I smiled, hopefully in a sympathetic way. I knew what that was like. The second time around the building, the boy had calmed enough to shoot us a curious look. I could hear him thinking what are these people doing?! I smiled again, hopefully in a mischievous way. Maybe I could get him to forget his worry, if only for a moment.

Inside we did the bathroom thing and then I went to the register to pay for the gas station cappuccino I used to love. (This too belonged to road-trips, and I needed to see if I still loved them. I don’t.) I paid, and the woman behind the counter smiled at me and said, “Ya’ll have a good day now.”

I realized it didn’t matter where we were or that these were perfect strangers. I felt connected to them, although oblivious to their stories and they to mine. They didn’t know (or care) that I felt a stranger in our country. What connected us was this brief rest from the road we were on.

 This is it – this is what I have come to hear.

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The Adventure Ahead

sarasota As I dreamed of the adventure ahead of me, I saw a white beach with me on it, absorbing the heat of the sun. The sun’s rays burned out the last of the infection following me these last weeks, taking the cough and ear pain with it. My Alida, the only kid able to join me, played in the sticky sand. As I lazily looked over at her, she grinned as she caught my eye, basking in the sun and knowledge she has mama all to herself.

A dream like that is feasible, especially when flying to Florida.

Last Friday our three-week adventure to the States began, unfortunately a day later than planned because of the German union’s strike. Our flight on Thursday was cancelled, putting off my dream another day.

 

Flying to the States is always exciting, but has become a bit strange for me. Years ago on a trip “home” to the States, I went to lunch with the women in my family. It was a typical luncheon place with options for various combinations of sandwiches and soups and salads. No big deal. But for this American girl who had spent already several years outside the country, it was. I stood overwhelmed in front of all those choices with no idea where to begin. Do I choose a sandwich first – but which one? How could I possibly choose among all those possibilities? Should I order a soup to go along with it? What size beverage should I get? Everyone is walking away with empty cups. Where do they get their drinks?

Luckily my sister-in-law recognized my distress (before the lump in my throat developed into something more) and gently pulled me in the right direction. Without making a show of it, she quietly told me what she was getting and made a suggestion of what I might enjoy. She then pointed down a hallway and said, “Drinks are there.”

I’m not sure she knows how much she helped me that day, but she saved me from making a fool of myself and having a breakdown right then and there. The breakdown came later, when I was alone with my German husband in the room that used to be mine. It came, but not just because I was overwhelmed in that particular situation, but because I knew in that moment I no longer belonged. I had come home to a place that no longer brought comfort and ease like a home should.

That whole trip was awful. It seemed in every situation I felt misunderstood or awkward or at a loss for what “normal” Americans would do. The years abroad had changed me into a different kind of American citizen, one whose home is no longer “at home” in the States.

It was a milestone, that defining moment when I became wiser and sadder simultaneously: wiser because I no longer come to the States expecting to belong and sadder because of that loss. And yet it has changed me for the good. Without the weight of that expectation to belong, I can be the oddball out and yet find joy in the times I suddenly find ease and comfort in being an American “at home”.

 

Okay, so my dream has not yet quite come into fruition. Saturday a thunderstorm brought rain in buckets. I could only laugh at the irony of the beautiful spring weather in Germany we had traded in. Sunday afternoon we spent a few hours on the beach even with the cold wind, determined like all the other spring breakers covering the beach to make our Florida time worthwhile.

We’re still at the edge of our adventure, just beginning to watch it take shape. I can’t wait to see all it brings with it – everything strange and comforting.

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Blooming into Health

Who knew that when I laid down for my Sunday nap the plans and intentions I was taking into the new week would be put to bed? On the way home from our annual church business meeting and carry-in lunch, the couch did seem to be calling for me louder than usual. But I assumed it was just the relief of being done with the meeting, even if it did turn out to be relative stress-free. I expected a nap and then a traditional German afternoon family walk. Yes, that would have been nice.

What I did NOT expect was a nap that extended into almost two days of not leaving the couch because of fever and achy-ness. By day three (Wednesday) I would have preferred to not leave my post of blankets and pillows, but was forced to when one child’s pink eye infection ran amok. Thursday, although feeling a bit better, I still would have chosen couch over car, but again was left without a choice when another child’s cough could no longer be ignored.

The highlight yesterday, of course, was driving into town in my sickly stupor, knowing full well this is probably not a good idea. When I turned the corner and found a parking spot close to the doctor’s office, I was thrilled.

“Look, Fenja, that’s our spot!” I exclaimed. The first attempt at parking did not go well – obviously I was too excited and not concentrating. I pulled out, lined up with the next car as Mr. Bauer taught me long ago and took off into my next attempt. Without checking my rearview mirror first.

The young man driving the car I ran into was kind. He calmly pulled off to the other side and waited patiently while I first gathered myself (much to the disgust of the other people behind me), then successfully, if not prettily, parked. The sweat rolled down my side and beaded my forehead, a disgusting side-effect from the fever, Patrick tells me. I must have looked as pathetic as I felt because the young man said, “Kein Problem. Das kriegen wir hin.” (No worries. We’ll figure it out.”)

“Are you crying, Mama?” Fenja asked concerned after the accident “victim” drove away.

“No, I feel like it and had that guy yelled at me, I probably would have. But no, I’m not crying. That’s sweat.”

Today (Friday) I chose to get up and get dressed – I was not forced into it – and even walked Alida to kindergarten. Outside again and well enough to actually take in my surroundings, I was astonished at the colors that suddenly demanded my attention. Here the daffodils were in full bloom, standing at attention in rows of yellow uniforms; there fresh, fragile leaves had begun to unroll on a nearby tree.

“Alida,” I said, “while we were lying on the couch trying to get better, spring came! Everything is blooming!”

I wish I could say that like the flowers the Schmidt family has bloomed into health and positiveness overnight. But it did take a whole week of warm weather to coax the blossoms out of their winter hideaway. You could say we’re peeking out of our sick corners, enjoying longer excursions off the couch and hoping tonight will not be filled with coughing fits that lead to vomiting and regular visits from a small child asking for a cough drop. Other plans like packing and getting ready for an adventure – more about that next week! – and my intentions of getting work done need to be shaken out of their week-long bed. We’re still being coaxed, but sometime soon we’ll be blooming back into health.

 

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Strange Feelings in the Season of Spring

To make it short and to release you from the question that I’m sure has been nagging at you all week – my television fast was a disaster. I failed miserably and completely.

How it happened, I can’t really say. I searched through my computer files and journal and found not one single word about my failed attempt at fasting television. Obviously I was so embarrassed at my failure I didn’t even want to write about it. I think my will-power just started to slip. Patrick and I would watch the news and then instead of leaving or asking to turn the TV off, I hovered, hoping no one would notice I was still there. My skills at becoming invisible also did not improve during that fast, so Patrick would peek at me from the corner of his eye with an all-knowing smile. This would infuriate me as I knew he was right.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m going,” I’d say without getting up.

“Ich habe nichts gesagt!” (I didn’t say anything!), he would reply.

“You don’t have to.”

But instead of leaving, I waited as a small child might wait for a parent to notice she had been into the forbidden chocolate. It would have been easier had Patrick just scolded me and reminded me of the fast I had chosen and told me to get out of the room because he wanted to watch TV.  He didn’t.

At the beginning of those forty days, I still found the will-power to leave, to go do something else. But it didn’t last long. Soon I convinced myself I had only half-committed anyway, so who cares. Probably only weeks into it, I didn’t even pretend I was going to leave anymore. I had failed; the television and the power it held over me had won out. What remains is an on-going joke between Patrick and I, and the knowledge that indeed television had been the proper choice for a fast.

 

With thanks to J-Me Photography

With thanks to J-Me Photography

Perhaps it is my unsuccessful attempt from last year that influences my minimal fasting-excitement this year. I am well aware a television fast will be a necessary and inevitable consequence of last year’s failure, but not this year. Excuses are always easy to find: I’ll be away and out of our routine anyway for a good portion of that time; with cancer affecting our Dear One life seems too unpredictable right now, and I need something “easy” to fall back on in the evenings; I don’t have the necessary energy to commit.

Of course I could fast something else – there are certainly enough possibilities. Several friends are fasting chocolate or all sweets, alcohol or potato chips. All feasible choices, especially alcohol, as I do enjoy a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. Coffee could be an obvious choice, but the thought of walking around with severe headaches for weeks on end seems too dramatic. “Too dramatic”! Trust me, I am full aware of the irony in that statement. If the idea of a fast is to sharpen the lines of what holds us, severe headaches and something defined as “too dramatic” are clear indications, are they not?

I’ve been trying to identify what exactly my feelings are on the issue of fasting this year. Writing “I can’t quite put it into words” is a nice cliché that often seems to work, but this time, it doesn’t. I am unable to describe it because I have yet to name it or understand the reasons behind it. What I know is fasting seems too hard this year. As I’ve been asking myself, for over a week now, if and what I should fast, all I come up with is a vague “not this time” feeling.

Strangely enough when I consider this Lenten Season and what it typically brings with it, I think of spring. Spring is typically the time of year when I am filled to almost overflowing with joy in the promise of a new – hopefully warm – season; with hope at the life exploding out of a brown, cold earth. The knot of excitement deep inside seems to grow with the crocuses, sprouting deep laughter and the urge to spend every minute soaking up warm rays of sunshine. I tend to choose a lighter jacket instead of the sensible warmer one, taken in by the potential of the weeks to come.

We’ve had incredible weather for this time of year. Really – perfect spring weather. Purple, violet and white crocuses have popped up everywhere; armies of white snowdrops showed up in droves; daffodils preparing to make their appearance. Usually I too would be bursting with my typical spring emotions, but for some reason, this year feels different. There’s no bubbling joy; no overwhelming “overflowing moments” like I so often experience in spring. I strongly suspect my subdued spring enthusiasm has to do with the absence of a real winter this year. It was never cold enough to certify my usual winter whining about the length of the horrible season and how I just can’t get warm and how it’s like living in a dungeon for months on end. I’m sure North Americans are feeling different about spring this year. The first signs of spring (even if followed by yet another snow storm) could most likely throw most of them into a frenzy of spring dancing.

So what I’ve been trying to figure out all week is what my irregular spring feelings have to do with my non-committal feelings towards fasting this year. (If anyone has any insights here, I would love to hear them!) The only thought I keep coming back to is the ever-human truth: we can’t truly appreciate something until we’ve had it taken away. Without a cold, harsh winter, spring seems less bright. Not until a diagnosis of cancer comes does one realize what good health truly means. It is through a fast we understand what truly holds us back.

On the outside you may not recognize the degree of my enthusiasm. You’ll still finding me exclaiming about the gorgeous weather to neighbors, napping like a cat in the warm rays of sun and pointing out the bright array of spring flowers to my children (and there are a LOT of flowers…), but inside there are strange feelings in this season of spring.

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An Exercise in Fasting

What follows were my thoughts and experiences about fasting last year. I’ll write next week about how my television fast from last year turned out and how I’m fasting this year. Be sure to tune in!

The season of Lent is again upon us. I personally am glad when the ridiculousness of Fasching – the climax of which is celebrated in parts of Germany the last four days before Ash Wednesday – is over and we can again turn our attentions to other things besides jelly-filled donuts and costumes. Lent provides a specific amount of days to turn inwards, when we can be examining and questioning our preparedness to follow Jesus’ call to discipleship. That sounds easy enough, but in reality we should be continually asking ourselves if we are able to accept the cost of discipleship: being cast-out and alone, being denied, death. It is traditionally a quiet time, which is often immediately equated with seriousness. Yes, Lent can be a serious time, but I am of the opinion is does not have to be, although that is a discussion for another time.

For me fasting during Lent is a chance to be released from some thing that has a hold on me. That thing can be anything from sugar to wine to television. And I think it is possible to miss the essence of fasting when every year the same vice is chosen, without even considering what all binds me in my day to day.

When Patrick asked if I was going to fast this year, I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “I haven’t really thought about it yet.” This was, of course, on Tuesday, the very last day before Lent was to begin. Patrick has decided to again fast this year from extra snacking, especially sweet things and potato chips in the evening. I briefly considered fasting those things again with him this year, but then I don’t really feel sugar has a hold on me. I might eat one sweet thing a day, but I don’t have to. I am not reliant upon it to keep my spirits up. So I ditched that idea with the conviction, I might as well not fast at all rather than fasting something that won’t really bring a release.

That evening as I lay in bed, I tried to get still within and then asked into that stillness, “What should I be fasting?” Almost immediately the thought came to mind, “Television.” My response? “Oh brother.” Oh brother because watching television in the evening is so comfortable. Oh brother because watching television is effortless; I just have to sit there and allow myself to be fed with images, which often seems perfect after a long day. Oh brother because I knew it would affect Patrick as well. If he chose to watch TV, I would be “forced” to leave, and not only miss out on Patrick’s companionship, but also the warm and cozy fire.

But despite my moaning and groaning, I was quite aware that this indeed would need to be my choice, if in fact I decided to commit. Fasting, I think, is often equated with suffering. And although “suffering” is much too strong a word for what giving up on TV for a brief period would entail, it certainly would bring inconveniences with it. However, I also believe fasting can bring opportunities with it, in this case for more study and prayer. Not only should we be using this time to become aware of something that retrains us and working at breaking free from it, but also using the extra time to dig deeper into the examination process I first talked about. And let’s be real honest: my intentions are not all pure. I too am excited at the thought of finally getting some reading done, diving into all of those gorgeous books lined up, which daily call my name.

The whole next day I continued asking myself if I really wanted (and could) commit to this fasting. And after every question the answer came back as a non-committal shoulder shrugging, eye-rolling “meh.” I knew what was going on without wanting to admit it: I didn’t want to go through with this, even if I should. But I also knew I would most likely do it, even while dragging my feet the whole way.

That evening Patrick asked again if I had thought more about fasting. Begrudgingly I admitted I had and said with a knowing smile, “television”. I properly guessed Patrick’s response of surprise and added to it by saying, “But I’m not really sure I want to do it.”

“Why not?” he asked with eyebrows still raised.

“Oh, I just don’t know. And it will affect you too, you know? I’ll have to leave if you decide to watch. It’s almost like you’ll have to fast television too.” Perhaps I was secretly hoping he would release me, convince me it wouldn’t be worth the effort (as if that would have been hard!), and he didn’t want to join me.

“Huh, okay,” he said instead.

“I still get to watch the news,” I added, as if sitting at a business meeting, trying to squeeze the best out of a bad deal. “Really, you want to do this television fasting?”

“We’ll manage,” Patrick answered with a grin.

I’m still not completely committed. After being away over the weekend, exhausted from two very late nights, I couldn’t imagine doing anything that evening except lying on the couch while watching Tatort.

“I’ve heard that Sundays can be a break from fasting,” Patrick said nonchalantly after hearing my lament.

“Really?” I immediately brightened up a bit. “That would be cool.” I paused. “But wouldn’t that be cheating?”

Although I despise cheating, I wasn’t really worried about myself since I had only sort of half-committed to my fast. I was more worried about what Patrick would think. But he offered me this peace offering, and I willingly accepted.

As it turns out, Patrick was correct about Sundays not being included during the fasting season. On the website Catholicism.about.com I discovered the answer, in very simplified form. Every Sunday, not just Easter Sunday, is considered a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. In the Catholic Church (from whom we have, mostly unknowingly by a large majority of the non-Catholic population, inherited SO many traditions) doing penance in any form, including fasting, was not allowed on any given Sunday, which held for the Sundays during Lent as well.

Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count. Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!

The rhythm of my week is defined by many things: getting out the door every morning at 8:00 so Fenja will be on time for school; serving lunch by an appropriate lunch time; the kids’ afternoon activities; our evening activities and TELEVISION programs. On Sundays, as we know, is Tatort; on Mondays comes nothing worth watching; on Tuesday we enjoy watching Heute Journal (the news) after choir and then either 37 Grad or Neues aus der Anstalt; Wednesdays often is a toss-up, sometimes there’s a good TV film, sometimes it’s bad; there is nothing good on Thursdays; and then comes Friday. Friday is my favorite evening (along with Sunday) because Patrick is often away playing soccer, and I can watch with a glass of red wine in hand the terrible, but enjoyable lawyer/police/investigation shows that come, my favorite being SOKO Leipzig. When Patrick comes home, I’m usually watching the news, after which we watch together Heute-Show, a satire of current events. Aspekte, a show about culture, comes after that, and although really it’s much too late, we end up watching it anyway because it’s just so interesting. Saturday evenings we usually end up watching some stupid game show.

Obviously there have been some major holes ripped into the fabric of my daily life during this fast. Allowing these necessary holes to become visible is the first step in this fasting process. Ironically enough the past weeks and the ones to come have been so full of evening activities (Monday was the only evening when I did NOT have something going on) that I’ve barely missed my usual TV programming. Mostly I just desire staying at home in front of the warm fire. I could care less if the TV is on or not.

But when I did find a bit of time near the end of last week, did I choose something which would strengthen and encourage me in my walk of faith? Of course not! I chose a book given to me by a fellow BBC (my fabulous book club) member. The book is fluff, sort of giving one a peek-in on a weekend after which most people would have plenty to gossip about. I knew the book would be like that and by the end, I was constantly reading just to finish it, so I could finally move on to other things. (No, I can’t stop in the middle of a book. Of all the bad books I have read in my life, I have put one aside maybe one or two times.)

It’s not that I have a big problem with reading fluff books – I try not to do it too often (and really, who would want to?), but in a way, I feel it’s an opportunity to keep up on current books, which I also find interesting. The point is that fasting should be a time, in my opinion, where we are moving consciously through the day, discovering where we are bound and moving through them by diving deeper into our studies. It sounds so pious, doesn’t it? Pious: an undervalued and misunderstood word, but not incorrect. I wish I could be more devout in my fasting in that I could find, for example, the energy to dive into a more difficult book to read in the evening, instead of “relaxing” with fluff. Maybe facing this dilemma and in some way coming to terms with it is part of this exercise in fasting.

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An Album: Lent to Maundy Thursday

In honor of the season of Lent (which I will be blogging about tomorrow and perhaps in the weeks to come), I want to encourage you all to check out this new album released by Page CXVI entitled Lent to Maundy Thursday. The album is part of their Church Calendar Project in which they asked themselves :

how do we with music walk through the liturgical church calendar, in essence pulling ancient themes of faith forward through music. Which we do a lot in writings and theology, but I haven’t seen as much of it happen in music. So we really wanted to have worship and music elements to offer ourselves, and our communities and the church, so they can celebrate these seasons not just with sermons but with songs. (Read the whole interview here: http://reel-gospel.com/2014/03/04/interview-page-cxvi-lent-to-maundy-thursday/)

Their music continues to impress and stretch me. Maybe it can do the same for you!

You can stream the entire record here: https://soundcloud.com/pagecxvi/sets/lent-to-maundy-thursday.

 

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Regaining Balance

Last Friday I was geared up to wish you all a happy Mother Language Day, as February 21st is International Mother Language Day, designated by UNESCO. The day has been observed since 2000 in the hopes of promoting “linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”. (You can read more about it here: http://www.un.org/en/events/motherlanguageday/) I have a gorgeous picture from J-Me Photography waiting to be called from the depths of my computer files to adorn a post I’ve been meaning to write about raising bi-lingual children. Seriously, what day could have been better for such a post?

But as you might have read in my last post, Before and After, we have entered the state of “after” and everything has changed. With the cancer diagnosis of our Dear One, we have begun a journey entailing many doctor visits in different cities and now a bit more testing before beginning therapy an hour away. I can no longer say with certainty, “If you need me Friday morning, I’ll be at the computer getting my post up for the week,” because I might instead be listening intently to a doctor, wondering exactly what questions I need to ask or waiting for our Dear One to emerge after having poison washed through his veins. This has become our new reality.

I feel I might need to give a clarification: don’t understand it as complaining. I am in the luxurious position of taking the few no-kid hours of my day and miraculously having it multiplied. Unlike Jesus the miracle does not evolve from my hands, although certainly God is involved here too. Amazing friends accomplish the miracle by gathering my children in with their own, feeding them and giving them a home for a few hours with a simple, “Of course I’ll take the kids.” We are in the midst of a community which pours out support in the way of words, prayers, car rides and child care. No, I am not complaining that in this state of “after” nothing is predictable, but rather I am thankful that because of our friends and family, I am able to lend support when necessary.

But something does bother me: I am consumed by the topic of cancer, even as I struggle against that consumption. I am confident that even this new state of “after” will become routine, so that one day there will be room in my head for other topics again, but in this moment, writing about anything else (i.e. bi-lingual children) seems unfitting and too difficult. It could not possibly be authentic, which you, my faithful readers, would detect. I have no capacity for anything else – is that part of the disease? Does cancer not only consume healthy cells, but takes over healthy thoughts and turns them into dark, ugly one-topic repetitive records? Or is it just a natural process, a time we need to digest all that has changed and might change in the future?

I am a big believer in the balance of all things, whether diet, raising children or topics of conversation. Maybe that’s why balancing poses are some of my favorite in yoga: it’s obvious if I’m in equilibrium or not. And then after one side is complete, the other side strains to complete the cycle, creating not only physical balance, but also balance in the brain, both sides equaled out.

Right now I feel completely out of balance because everything revolves around this evil cancer.

I feel I can’t spend energy writing about anything else. Everything in me is on low-burner. I’m just getting by with those things absolutely necessary, and feel incapable of going beyond. I’m hesitant to commit to anything not knowing if I might need to be available for driving or other support measures, and my brain is too full to deal with other things. We have been pushed off-balance because our regulated routines and false security in daily life which give us equilibrium have been shaken. We sway with flailing arms; we continue to gasp for air, hoping the calming waves of deep, easy breathing will soon wash over us.

One of these days, we’ll catch our balance again. I’m sure of it. And until we can hold it ourselves, we have others around us, bearing some of the weight. I’m not the one with a cancer diagnosis, watching as my body is destroyed in order for it to one day regain strength. I can’t directly jump in the fight against it. But maybe there is a way to not allow cancer to get the upper hand – by not allowing our equilibrium to be destroyed. Every day we’re gaining a bit of it back, and we will continue to work at it. That much we can do.

With thanks to Miriam and Hanna

With thanks to Miriam and Hanna

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