Reflections on a Dark Day

Reflections on a Dark Day

 

I am dumbstruck this morning, and I am heartbroken. As I did my daughter’s hair for school, she asked why I was shaking my head, maybe thinking it was something she’d said. “I just can’t believe we did this. I don’t know how our country will survive this person.” She looked at me questioningly, and I realized I have to, at least for the moment, talk to her and her sister of normal, immediate things. I can’t have her believing her world is physically collapsing. Because it’s not.

But it does feel like the values of my country are collapsing. I can’t dismiss what’s happened. My country has just elected, to the highest office in the land, a man whose very essence is crass, disrespectful, fear-mongering, and completely blind to the privileges he’s been handed, not earned. This is a man who thinks nothing of ignoring basic civil rules, such as paying the people you’ve hired to do work for you for an agreed-upon price, just because he can get away with it. This is a man who, when given a chance to scale down some of his most incendiary rhetoric, has instead repeated it.

Some speculate that now that the election’s over, he will tone down the crazy-talk, stop the performance, and use the advice of more experienced political supporters to take his responsibility seriously. He will act like someone who is a president for all Americans. I don’t know that this is anything more than hopeful wishing. But for all our sakes, I hope they are right.

What I see is a man who has shown only that he loves–needs, even–to be in the headlines, and will do whatever he needs to to stay there. I see a man who won’t stop the crazy-talk because that talk is who he is. But the fact is, I don’t know what’s going to happen. He is one man, he will be at the head of one branch of government. In a normal world, his impact will be limited (except of course, in areas like foreign policy, where the executive branch has a lot of power). But today, I can’t assure a normal world.

I can be assured that the many good people of this country will act to keep our system of checks and balances in place, will call out fouls when they see them, and that, among the many who are dejected and disenfranchised today, there are millions who will continue to work towards a fairer, more just society within their own spheres of influence. And that I need to more actively be one of them.

Friends have joked with me that it’s time to flee and go back to Australia. But even in Australia, as there was in Britain, in France, and in pretty much every country on earth, there is the dark underbelly. This silent group are the people who are racist, misogynist, and xenophobic enough to vote for the furthest person from Obama they could conjure up and to vote against a woman based on unverified rumors and conspiracy theories.

There is also a second group: the many, many people–people I call friends and acquaintances among them–who allowed fear and ignorance to dictate their vote. Many are intelligent people who are tired of seeing promises not fulfilled by the Washington elite and who are just busy trying to succeed in their every-day lives. But they check their Facebook newsfeeds and listen to the know-it-alls (we all have at least one in our social circles), and they hear the same half-truths and false allegations said with conviction and repeatedly. And so they believe them. And they repeat whatever they heard Susie Q say. And then they vote. To these people I say two things. First, take your responsibility to be informed seriously. Facebook articles are not “the media” and they are not all good news sources. Read a lot, and read real sources. Jo Shmo who wrote some article that he posted on some internet-only site that then posted onto Facebook about [insert theory here] should not be your only source of information. Look at who is writing what you are reading, and what their sources are. Better yet, go to their sources directly. I know you are busy, but it is your responsibility. It is the price you pay for living in this great country.

Second, I say: let’s talk in a year, or two if you prefer. Let’s see which of his promises your choice has managed to fulfill. Those promises, for the record, include most notoriously:

-building a wall on our Mexico border

-repealing Obamacare AND replacing it with another system of healthcare

-overturning Roe v. Wade through the appointment of (a) Supreme Court justice(s)

-eradicating ISIS/ISIL

-protecting existing gun laws, military-grade assault rifles and all

-rewriting our tax code and lowering taxes “for everyone”

Which of these policies, by the way, are you most excited about? And what will you do and think when he doesn’t deliver? I truly want to understand, because without understanding, we will find ourselves in the exact same place in four years.

I am heartbroken today and I am angry. And I fear the damage our president-elect will do before we realize our mistake. But I am also hopeful that out of this election will rise a country who engages, who finds common ground, and who makes decisions with eyes wide open about how we should move forward. Because, despite what happened last night, we are better than this. And if we aren’t now, we have it in us to be.

 

No Bow Can Wrap This Up

No Bow Can Wrap This Up

It’s still winter in Queensland. Though we’re now back across the Pacific and across the equator, the scene that flashes across my mind is an unremarkable one. I am standing over the laundry sink, the Queensland sun streaming in the window, scrubbing my daughter’s school socks and cursing the fact that she’s once again managed to embed that singularly Aussie red dirt into the fabric.

It was only weeks ago that I was standing there, but it could have been months. It is summer here in Ohio, everything is lush and green and hot and humid, and my sense of place is still suspended. People ask how it is to be back, and my answer is usually a patchy attempt to explain that, while our plane landed weeks ago, I’m still waiting for my feet to hit the ground. We have flipped seasons and calendars (we left mid academic year and are arriving in time to start a new academic year next month). We have moved back into our home only to find that, though it’s unchanged, our habitation of it has. We’ve reconnected with so many family and friends, and it has been overwhelming to hear and see everything that has changed in the past 18 months. And we’ve only just begun to catch up.

Before we’d left, a year–or year and a half–didn’t seem like long. And it’s not, in fact. It flew by. But you know that expression about not stepping in the same river twice? Well, it’s true. I knew things would change while we were gone (including our own views and experiences), even if I didn’t know how. Neither did I know know how the transition back would go.

While in Australia, I had started half a dozen lists in my head of things I didn’t want to forget. They went something like this:

Things I’ll Miss Hearing:
The Aussie accent. Being called “dahl.” Even, dare I say, the screech and song every morning of magpies, cockatiels, lorikeets, rosellas, and cockatoos.

Things I’ll Miss Seeing:
Our friends and neighbours. Gum trees. The ocean. The one-of-a-kind colors of a Queensland sunset sky.

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Foods and Drinks I’ll Miss:
Pies. Lemon Lime & Bitters. A really good flat white or mocha being easily available. (I have yet to have a Starbucks coffee since being back, and am in no hurry to reintroduce that brew into my life.) Date scones. The cornucopia of flavour-packed seasonal fruits and veggies, which would require a dedicated blog if I were to name them all.

Our Time in Queensland, Tallied:
Our oldest daughter learned to braid hair. We washed easily over 150 loads of laundry. Our younger daughter saw her first movie in a movie theater. The kids went to their first (and second) circus performance. My husband learned about half a dozen new classes of venomous snake bites to treat. We drove thousands of kilometers…on the left side of the road. I read probably 40 books. Our oldest daughter was introduced to the game of Monopoly. Both older kids fell in love with the game of Trouble. I wrote one book, and a first draft of a second. Our younger daughter’s speech went from the toddler speak that only those closest to her could understand to the very precocious–and intelligible–speech of a preschooler. Our oldest daughter fell in love with soccer. We went, most significantly, from a family of four to a family of five.

 

That was there. This is here. Here, when I haven’t been trying to return our home to some kind of physical order or to catch up with family and friends, I’ve been swept up in the political discourse currently consuming the societal psyche. It has, in fact, generated a lot of material for a future blog post. But I’m not ready to go there yet. Not until I can more firmly answer the simple question of how I am doing, how we are doing. Not until I can wake up in the morning and plant my feet on the ground with a solid sense of where I am and what I am meant to do that day.

There is a pair of my daughter’s shoes, shed mid-stride, in our entry way. Along the sides and bottom is a coat of that red dirt, picked up on our last trip, in Uluru. I think about wiping the shoes clean, but I am not yet ready to let the red disappear.

Joy Finds You

Joy Finds You

 

It is the first night of the junior school musical at our kids’ school.
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While the children prepare with their teachers nearby, parents take the chance to catch up and chat amongst each other. Slowly, we find seats in the covered court that has been transformed into an outdoor theatre of sorts. My neighbour points out the kookaburra singing their song as dusk starts to settle.

 

20160318_182615I look down at the baby, sleeping beside us. The musical, incidentally, is about the story of Daniel (in the Lion’s Den). I look up and see the nightly path of the flying foxes over the car park beyond the court’s wall. Dusk has deepened.

 

Our kids parade onto the stage. Along with all the other parents, we snap our photos, beaming.

As the play ends, I am standing several rows back and off to the left rocking the baby, watching the joy on the faces of the kids, parents, and grandparents around us. I am thankful for this perfect evening, when the kids are beaming with pride at their hard work, and we are full of joy. We are all together and healthy, and life is good.

Fast forward to a few days later. It is Orthodox Easter weekend, one of the highlights of our year. This year, we have a newborn who is still nursing and crying often. Getting into the spirit of the services will be hard, a fact we are reconciled to; we know it is just temporary.

We celebrate what parts of the weekend we can with a small and loving congregation in Bundaberg, almost all of us expats, almost all of us far from the family and traditions of home, though those living permanently in Australia are more rooted in a new home and new traditions. A prayer comes to mind from the liturgy: a prayer for the “strangers, travelers, and visitors.” A prayer for us.

My husband and I have a few moments to pray and reflect on the significance of what we are celebrating. That’s something. But it is not the profound experience that comes from the culmination of a whole week of services and reflections. I don’t realize until it doesn’t come that I was still hoping for that penetrating joy.

Absent is the usual gathering of family, and with it, the chatter of my sisters, cousins, and in-laws as we congregate at home after a long Good Friday service. Absent is the pre-dawn awakening on Saturday and the most poignant liturgy of the year. Absent are my mother’s inimitable stuffed grape leaves, and the other delightful dishes that mark this feast. Absent is my father’s invitation to each of us to have a bit of wine with our dinner, telling us a little about the bottle he has selected.

This Easter weekend, our home isn’t pervaded with the smells of roasted, stewed, and breaded meats. I think to try and replicate some of the dishes that might make it feel more like a feast, but I don’t know how to make any but the simplest of them. Besides, even if I did, I lack the energy to prepare such a meal.

We call and FaceTime our family back home, the pace of the weekend out of sync with theirs. We call on Saturday, when they are still celebrating Good Friday. We talk on Monday, when they are still celebrating the feast.

What should have been one of the most joyous points in our year was understated this year, and what might have been a mundane weekday night attending a school event wasn’t. It was perfect.

I am glad I was in the state of mind to see that perfection and to feel such joy. I could easily have been distracted and wishing that Daniel was past this phase, or stressed about how to feed him and keep him quiet while the musical was on. But I wasn’t.

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A cappuccino from Paradise Pie & Pastries, one of my favourite HB spots.

It is perhaps one of my greatest lessons from our time here: allow yourself to experience joy. Be open to it always. Sometimes it will be in the most mundane moments of the day. A pure and joyous smile from one of the kids. An unspoiled landscape. A conversation with my husband over a cup of coffee, perfectly prepared.

Be open to joy, for it won’t always come in the ways you expect.

 

 

 

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Standing on the Edge

Standing on the Edge

Recently, I came across an unfamiliar word: koselig. It is the Norwegian word for coziness, and it resonated with me. I’m not sure why. It’s certainly not because I have any desire to be anywhere near anything wool, fleece, or fuzzy. Indeed not: it’s currently 28C/81F.

But this post isn’t about the weather. It’s about koselig, and the fact that as a couple and as a family, we are currently at this odd juncture of waiting for a pretty significant change to come into our lives (in the form of baby #3) and at the same time anticipating a settling in. A settling in, or a “koselig:” a finality, a completeness that brings a psychological coziness.

This time around, parenthood is surrender. I know there is little we can control about this child: how good a sleeper s/he will be, or how loud a crier. Later, what and who will this little person of ours love? Who will s/he become? (There is, of course, a lot we can and will influence, teach, discipline, etc., but from where I stand now, the unknowns overwhelm that which is within our  control.) How will our older kids adjust to the change in our family dynamics? How, exactly, will our day-to-day lives change? I’m a lot more at peace with not knowing the answer to this last question especially than I would have been even one year ago. That has everything to do with trusting that God will see us through whatever this new chapter brings.

“Koselig” is also reminiscent, for me, of rest, and comfort, and a sense of being sheltered. These are sensations that are too often lacking in the do-something, be-somewhere nature of our lives. We–and I’m not sure whether by “we” I mean Americans, most humans, or simply people like me–seem to always be seeking the extraordinary and exciting. But I would posit that the richest moments of our lives, and the ones which we look back on when we need comfort or the memory of happiness, are moments that are ordinary, homey even.

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Cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving. Note the stylish cereal necklace, compliments of a certain 4-year-old.

Simple pleasures: swimsuits drying on a clothes line after a day at the beach, a mighty hug and good night kiss from a child, the smell of a home-cooked meal when you walk in the door.

What if we learned to savour these things, instead of always seeking the next sensational thrill? That thrill, depending on one’s personality and preferences, can be the latest purchase from a favourite store, or that newest, rancor-filled political article, or the next meal or vacation on a recent “best-of” list, or any number of other thrills. At some point, I think excitement and novelty became overrated, and small, ordinary joys became under-rated.

As we stand at the edge of this new chapter in our lives, my hope is that we–I–will learn to right that balance and embrace the koselig that is waiting right in front of us.

 

 

Kia Ora

Kia Ora

 

New Zealand, where we’ve just spent a two-week holiday, is also known by its Maori name, Aotearoa, meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

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Lake Manapouri, which we crossed to reach the even more stunning Doubtful Sound.

More than one person mentioned this mythical cloud before our visit. I’ll leave it to those of you interested in learning more to look up how the islands got this name. We had clear days and cloudy days, but somehow, even the gray skies looked lovely against the deep green and grey of the mountains in the landscape. I’ve always been an ocean lover—I’d choose the beach over mountains pretty much any day, but my admiration of New Zealand’s beaches will have to wait until our next visit. It was the mountains I fell in love with this time around.

 

We were also advised, repeatedly, to pack for all weather. Again, I’m glad we listened. We saw temperatures that, even in summer, ranged from 3C (or about 38F) all the way to 25C (about 77F).

We were fortunate to be able to spend a whole two weeks in New Zealand, but it was only two weeks. I won’t pretend to have a deep or thorough understanding of the country or the dynamics of its white New Zealander-Maori relations, but I will say that, on first impression, I’m struck by the degree to which Maori language and culture have been integrated with modern New Zealand. Examples: road and other public signs are bilingual, there are a couple public Maori TV stations, and plenty of merchandise, etc. lists the Maori name along with or instead of the English name.

We spent several nights in the southwestern area of the South Island: the Southern Alps. In addition to the breath-taking beauty of the mountains, the area includes one of about ten dark sky reserves in the world: areas where artificial light sources are so strictly controlled that the stars can still be seen with unreal clarity. Orion, which has become a familiar constellation to us in Australia, was actually a little harder to spot because we could, for the first time, see so many other stars crowded in and around it. It’s rather astonishing that lit nights, which we regard as generally beneficial, actually diminish something so beautiful.

This natural beauty was on the South Island. Before that, though, we began our trip with a few days on the North Island. For all you Lord of the Rings fans out there, you might enjoy these pictures from Hobbiton, where all the [outdoor] scenes of the Shire were filmed.

We would drive a hired car around to the various destinations, as New Zealand is small enough to be quite drive-able (especially compared to Australia or the United States). On the advice of our Kiwi neighbours, we decided to stay in holiday homes, or “bachs,” along the way. This was advice that we heeded and are so happy we did. I mean, what hotel would give you a view like this?

 

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All this beauty came at a price: internet access was very hard to come by. It was a revealing insight for me on a personal level to realize how much I relied on having my friends Google, email, WhatsApp, etc. at the tip of my fingers. I didn’t like how uncomfortable–initially, anyway–their absence made me, and it has given me something to think about.

Deep thoughts aside, here are some more moments from the trip:

Anyway, in the end, it was a special and memorable trip, ending with some quality time in Christchurch with old friends from Columbus.

People have asked and will ask about it. As we have done since photos were invented, I will show pictures, like this,

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Lupins along the side of the roads we drove.

and this.

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The milky blue colour of this water is the sun’s reflection of the glacial flour that floats near the top of the lake.

But in the end, pictures don’t capture what it’s like to be here. To feel the magnificence of this place, you’ll just have to visit New Zealand yourself.

Kia ora, everyone.

Cold Noses/ Shiny Brows

Cold Noses/ Shiny Brows

Fall in Ohio (or in Michigan, where I lived before) is a time of chilling weather and shortening days. I don’t appreciate these changes, because they herald even colder and darker days in the months ahead.

But fall is also traditionally a season of rituals and captured moments of time passing: attending football games, apple picking,

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Apple-picking with friends, Fall 2014

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and preparing for Thanksgiving.

My sisters and I at the Chicago Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving, 2014)

And these are things I deeply cherish.

But this year, it is neither fall, nor are there the usual rituals. The weather is not getting cooler; it’s getting warmer. The days are not getting shorter; they’re getting longer. Buckeye football is literally a world away (but not totally, thanks to the wonders of modern technology). I had to make a special request to the butcher to order a turkey for Thanksgiving.

It is spring in Queensland, you see, and the months ahead will bring heat and beach time and all things summer (n.b: I love summer).DSC_0192

Oh, and Christmas. Christmas will be in summer, a fact I have a hard time wrapping my snow-conditioned brain around.

Time is passing without the familiar markers. Every time I’m asked, I have to think twice about what month we are in, and where we are. It’s doing strange things to my sense of place.

Time is a strange construct indeed, friends. Never has that been as clear to me as it is right now. So if you see me pulling out the ear muffs and lighting a fire, please, someone, remind me that it’s almost summer in Queensland. And yes, that it’s November too.