Monday Morning Resilience

 

In the United States there has been another mass shooting. As bad as it is to wake up and hear this news, it is nothing compared to those who lived through it and are even now trying to make sense of the horror.

I began the day by reading about refugees and resilience. The specific article I was reading is a fascinating study on refugee care. The authors want to move refugee work away from being completely trauma-focused and instead focus on the strength of the refugee, changing the focus of care from trauma to resilience.

I was thinking about this as I drove on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Monday mornings you will usually find me waiting for the subway at 6:30 in the morning. Today I will be in Worcester guest lecturing for a class at UMass School of Nursing, so I had the rare privilege of driving in brilliant fall sunlight by the Charles River.

As I was driving, lost in thought and thinking about resilience, I saw a young man running along the sidewalk.

Seeing a man running  on the banks of the Charles River is a usual sight in our area. No matter what the temperature, and it is definitely getting colder, you will see runners of all sizes, shapes and abilities.

But this man was different. Because he had no legs.  He was running, faster than I ever could, on two metal prostheses. In an instant, my day changed. I sat at a traffic light as the man ran past. I caught up with him, but just barely, in my car going 35 miles an hour. His strength was incredible. I wanted to stop and ask him his story. How had he lost his legs? When did he get the prostheses? What was the recovery like? How? Why? When?

I slowed down, just so I could see him in my side mirror a bit longer. It was this incredible picture of strength in the midst of adversity. This guy wasn’t sitting at home whining, angry at life and at his circumstances. He was out on a beautiful fall day, using his artificial legs on his God-given body.

I thought of the article I had read earlier, and of the man who I had observed running. It all connected. Resilience, strength, moving past your circumstances and forging ahead with what you have.

Alain de Botten says that “A good half of the art of living is resilience.” I think about this and realize that I tend to focus on the trauma, on the hard, on the seemingly impossible. But those whom I’ve recently met, they focus on the strength. They know their stories, they are not in any sort of denial, but they also recognize that they survived their stories The trauma was significant, their resilience more so.

One of my closet friends is a gifted counselor. She specializes in kids and teens – those who are the most wounded in the population of children. She has seen and heard about more horror, evil, and trauma than I can imagine.  Yet she remains calm and gifted in her work. I asked her one time how she does it, how she continues to counsel those who are so hurt. She responded “In the worst of situations, I see and am amazed at the strength and resilience of the human spirit. And that reminds me over and over that we are made in the image of God.”

It reminded me again of how much I have to learn about resilience and hope on a Monday morning.

These are the People in My Neighborhood

Our street is a short, one-way street, four blocks from the Charles River. It’s lined with three-family homes, built at the turn of the century as industrial housing for people who worked at factories and needed places to live. The street gets mostly local traffic and even long-time residents of Cambridge don’t always know where it is.

I love this street. There are families and single people, older couples and students. There are Greeks and Chinese and white Americans and more Greeks and more Chinese and then there are even more Greeks. There are those we’ve secretly adopted as grand children, and there’s an Ethiopian family around the corner with the cutest twins I’ve ever seen. We keep on trying to meet them but always end up too far away when they walk by. But one day….one day, we will accost them and find out their story. There is Maria, Carla, Peter, little Peter, Christopher, So, and the uppity couple on the corner.

My Chinese neighbor across the street will wander over to make sure I’ve picked mint in her postage stamp garden; my Greek neighbor will shout out “hello’s” and make sure that I pull close enough to other cars when I parallel park, admonishing me: “We all have to leave space for each other in the city!”

If you head down the street and make a left turn, then a right turn, you may run across Billy Davis. Billy Davis was born on that street and he’s now retired, in his late seventies or early eighties we think. He’ll tell you all about Cambridge in the old days. He’ll talk about how everyone got along: the Irish, the Italians, the Portuguese, all the immigrant families. He’ll tell you how he couldn’t misbehave because there were so many watching mamas on his street and they all had eyes on the kids in the neighborhood. He may do something wrong, but the minute he walked in his own house, his mom would say “Hey, what were you doing down at the park?” and it was all over. His stories need telling and we are eager listeners.

Walk over a block and you reach our neighborhood mechanic, Phil. He’s the best mechanic in all Cambridge and will give you fair prices and honest assessments of what’s wrong with your car. He’ll even make a house call if you really need it.

Walk the other way to Central Square and you’ll come across the Village Grill, run by Theo and Helen. It’s a small, local neighborhood restaurant with an extensive menu. Biting into a piping hot gyros or Greek Salad with grilled chicken, you will find it is worth every penny. You don’t just pay for food, you pay for conversation and it is always interesting. Theo and Helen are Greek as well, so the conversation occasionally turns theological, which means it turns Greek.

I walk out of the house on this Monday morning, and smile at my neighborhood. It’s going to be a hot humid day, and tonight will see many of us on porches, observing each other through porch railings and potted plants.

Because these are the people in our neighborhood. 

Who are the people in your neighborhood? I would love to hear!

Our Shared World

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I entered the bus with relief. It was dark from the early sunset that comes in December and raining hard. Cold wind blew raindrops that stung against faces and bodies as people tried to shield themselves as best they could.

But inside the bus was bright with light and warmth. Even though I was one of the last to get on, a seat was available at the front facing passengers on the other side.

“It’s pretty wet out there!” the bus driver looked at me and smiled. I returned the smile and nodded my dripping head in agreement. “But better than the white stuff – huh?” I laughed “yeah – way better than the white stuff.”

It was rush hour but no one was in a hurry. There was a sense of companionship and collective relief that we were all in this space – safe from the elements, warm, dry. The windows began to steam from all of us. There were nods, smiles, and shaking heads about the cold and the wet; the bus driver greeted each person with a laugh or smile.

We were a group of every color, size, and age. You couldn’t tell a nurse from a gas station attendant, a factory worker from a teacher – together in this space we were all on equal footing. City bus rides are not usually like this. There is always jostling, always someone angry, always someone taking offense. There is usually someone with serious mental illness and bus drivers are rarely patient in these parts. But this? This was different.

Like sitting in the warm sunshine, a feeling of belonging and contentment came over me. I was in the shared world of the city. I heard not a cross or angry word, instead all were just relieved to be there, safe in this space.

I thought about our world, so fractured so much of the time. Yet you don’t have to go far to find a group of people just like us – strangers all brought together by the circumstances of the weather, yet acknowledging each other as human beings, at the mercy of bad weather and difficult days.

I sat back and smiled, content for these moments, content to just be. 

Recently a short essay called “Gate A-4” that made its way around social media last year, resurfaced. The essay is a true story about a Palestinian American woman whose flight was delayed by four hours. While wandering the airport she heard an announcement asking if there was anyone who could speak Arabic and if so, would they please come to gate A-4. It was the gate where her delayed plane was to leave from, she spoke Arabic so she responded to the call. She arrived to find a woman, hysterical, who did not understand the message. She comforted her, explained the situation in Arabic, and the story ends a couple hours later with the previously hysterical woman passing around little date cookies called maamoul, common in the Middle East but not well known in the United States. The author makes this observation as she looked around at other passengers, tired but all laughing and sharing small date cookies covered in powdered sugar.

“And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” *

Here in this bus I know what the author is talking about. I know what she means. Because I look around and see the same – weary travelers on a journey, but no one apprehensive, no one worried about the other, all grateful to be there, warm, dry, away from the rain. The only things missing are the date cookies.

All too soon, it was time to push the yellow bar indicating to the driver that my stop was coming. I left the bus, entering into the cold and wet for my final walk home. But my heart was light and glad.

Daily we watch and read stories about a world that is not shared, a world that is fractured by disparities, suffering, killings, racism, and wars. But moments at airport gates and in crowded buses remind us that there is hope. Hope in humanity, hope that a stranger who is frantic and afraid can be calmed down and share date cookies, hope that people are better than they sometimes seem. It’s in these spaces that I feel belonging and hope. Hope for humanity and hope for community.

In these moments, in some inexplicable way our stories are linked together and we understand the truth:this world we live in is a shared world. It’s up to us whether we will serve date cookies or angry words. “Not everything is lost.” 

Blogger’s note: Be sure to take a look at the original story. You can read it here. 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/blur-blurred-bus-city-motion-16706/

“Now We See Through a Glass Darkly”

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We have two side windows in our living room, and in the evening as I sit on our couch looking out these windows, I learn a bit more what it means to “see through a glass darkly”. 

I can make out shapes, I can see pockets of light shining through windows – but I can’t see comings and goings, I can’t see detail, I can’t see the colors.

And so it is with spiritual truths. I can see shapes and pockets of light, I can meditate on those. But I don’t see the detail. I don’t see the comings and goings. I don’t see the colors.

And this is my life of faith. I know there’s a house out there across the street, because I see the pockets of light. I know there’s a garden with flowers and buds – pink, white, coral colors. I know there are people and porches and cars. And I know in the Morning I will have full vision. I will see clearly what was missing in the dark – the detail and the color that I missed.

So I wait in faith of the Morning, when I shall see Face to Face.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  – 1Corinthians 13: 12

 

Weeping for the Kids

Just down the road from us on Memorial Drive is a big apartment complex. It’s one of the tallest buildings in that area and is flanked on one side by the Marriott and another by a gas station. It’s steps away from RiteAid Pharmacy and Whole Foods; just across from the river.

I don’t know how many families it houses but my guess is it houses a lot — a diverse group that includes immigrants, refugees, and those who have lived in the area a long time.

Last night the 11 pm News focused on the building and the Mobil gas station beside it. Another young man from my kids’ high school was arrested in connection to the Boston bombing and he lives in this building.

This kid is also 19. This kid is also an immigrant, this time coming from Ethiopia. This kid is also an American citizen. This kid is also a kid. 

He tampered with evidence and now faces jail time for up to eight years.

And I can’t get over the fact that all of those involved who are still alive are 19 years old. I can’t wrap my head around this.

Think about the ages of the victims and the folks involved in the activity: 8 year-old, 23 year-old, 29 year-old for victims;19 year-old, 27 year-old – alleged bombers. And then another three 19 year-olds arrested last night for tampering with evidence.

My heart weeps for a generation. They were too young too die – and the others are too young to lose their lives through these horrific choices.

Never has there been more money and time put into anti-violence programs in this country. Anti-bullying campaigns have sprung up across the country. People are begging for a stop to violence, whether it be bombings, shootings, or bullies. Yet never have we seen so much sustained violent activity.

And this is only Boston – a safe and wealthy city.

My mind and heart move on to Syria where war has created an environment where children grow up too soon; where young kids sit on street corners trimming vegetables to make some hard-earned pennies, where little girls stand in bread lines, lucky if they are not raped in the process.

And so I weep for a generation that feels unfairly lost, unfairly violated, unfairly portrayed.

What can I do to change that? I’m one person! I can barely handle my stuff, let alone the stuff that, in the big scheme of things, is so much more serious.

But the sun still came up today and we are seeing our fifth day of sunshine in a row. Birds are chirping and a bright red cardinal sits in the tree that is blossoming purple down the road (Whoever said red and purple can’t go together?!) The river is alive with sail boats, the walk beside the river equally alive with people. Beauty is all around us – spring has entered with as much gusto and strength as winter ever had. During those cold days of dark, spring was moving underneath the cold and dark – change was coming.

So in the midst of this I proclaim the goodness of God, a God who cares about kids, who said “Bring the kids! Let them hear!” Who told us we too should become like children, who said “Let the little children come unto me – do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”*

A God who loves kids, who weeps for a generation, who refuses to give up but continues His redemptive work even though I can’t always see it.

In the midst of my cries to God for the kids I remember a passage – from one of my most favorite books on ever earth: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Aslan

“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed,” [said Beaver].

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” 

My heart overflows with irrational joy for indeed – Aslan is on the Move.

*Matthew 19:14

My Colorful Neighborhood

This post was first published in February of 2011 – it’s one of my favorites, if only because it gives the reader a colorful picture of where we live!

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It’s a 8 am and I’m a kind of drunk and I want you!” were the words sung to me at Central Square, Cambridge.  The truth is – It was 7:30, he was drunk, and he didn’t want me!

But it brought laughter to my heart and I realize how much I love my colorful neighborhood.

While Harvard Square is full of intellectuals of all ages, brain cells abounding with funky stores,coffee shops, and Out of Town News – Central Square is hardcore life. It is dirtier and grittier with a cross-section of people that defies any stereotype. Recent and older immigrants speaking everything from Amharic and Arabic to Portuguese and Punjabi; every age from infants in strollers to the elderly heading to a community center or the library around the corner; and the sassiest and saltiest homeless people you will ever meet, all converge in Central Square.

If you don’t give money, the homeless population have no problem escorting you to the nearest ATM or looking you up and down with derision and the comment “That’s ok! What goes around comes around!” and you are left feeling cursed.

Central Square T Stop
Central Square T Stop

Maybe the reason I feel so at home in this neighborhood, as opposed to Harvard Square with its sophisticated milieu, or Kendall Square filled with Geeky MIT students and biotech engineers, is that I feel like I am a cross-section of worlds and people. The suburbs stifled me as I felt the need to fit in with beautiful homes and more beautiful people, never quite measuring up to what I perceived as the unspoken expectation.

My past of both Pakistan and Egypt didn’t seem important in the suburbs, but in Central Square it feels like my background belongs. Central Square welcomes me with its imperfection and honesty. There is the ability to feel fully alive and authentic, even as I am serenaded by intoxication at 7:30 am.

With burnt orange, brick-redelectric lime, and hot magenta all mixed together in one place, Central square is like a box of crayons that are primary colors – no pastel pinks, light blues, or pale yellows in sight.

Nemo Wuz Here – Community to Cutthroat

Nemo it was called. Evidently winter storms will now be named — the ‘experts’ say this will make them easier to track. Ironically the name ‘Nemo’ comes from Latin and its literal meaning is ‘no one’. So Nemo raged for over 24 hours and by the end there were over 2 feet of snow as evidence of its force.

In the afternoon of the second day of the storm, the snow stopped. While it didn’t get sunny, clearly the storm was traveling on a predetermined trajectory and was heading quickly out to sea. That was when our neighborhood began heading out to look at the afterwards. Shovels of all sizes came out and there was an almost festive feel in the air. In an area of the country where people are not quick to acknowledge others or make friends, it was an extrovert’s dream. Neighbor shoveled beside neighbor, helping here, a side conversation there, laughter and shaking of heads at the seeming impossibility of the job.

Everyone’s goals were the same: Dig out your car, clear your porch, shovel your sidewalk. It was a community feel. I wanted to serve hot chocolate to everyone. It was great.

And then came day two and what had been community became cutthroat. People suddenly realized that if they drove away, their precious parking spot might be taken. Now if you don’t know the city, this won’t make sense to you. But parking spots are precious. More precious than money.

Plastic chairs came out of basement hibernation, put into use as parking space savers. Large, empty, grey garbage cans were placed in the middle of spaces that had been shoveled, some even found orange and white cones normally used at construction sites. People were determined to keep their hard-earned spots.

It quickly became ugly. Community was gone. It was every man for himself. Within 24 hours it had gone from community to cut throat.

Living in a city you accept some things. The good is obvious – walking to the subway, grocery store, long walks on a river that is practically on your doorstep, walking to many coffee shops, book stores, restaurants. You can live without your car.

The bad is that you give up space. You give up yards, green space, and parking space. But theoretically you accept that.

Until you’ve spent 3 hours digging out your car! And then the rules change.That space is yours, dammit!

But for me it’s sad. As much as I love the city, I wish we knew our neighbors better, I wish we had block parties, I wish no one on our street had to put chairs or cones in their parking spaces, instead accepting the annoyance of parking a block or two away.

I wish community didn’t leave so quickly, leaving space for the cutthroat “Hey that’s my space!” yelled angrily at one’s neighbor. Because Nemo wuz here and for a moment, community ruled.

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blizzard 2013, Nemo, Boston, Cambridge
Our sturdy PT Cruiser poking out of the snow!

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