Unfinished Conversations

 

Recently I was reflecting on the Families in Global Transition conference held in March. As I thought about the conference, I smiled with the memories that came. So many new friendships were formed, so many substantive talks, so much laughter. And along with that came many unfinished conversations, so many “I wish I had had a chance to speak to so and so.” There were so many moments of connection, but so many more moments that I wanted.

But conferences like this come to an end, and we are left wistfully remembering, wishing for more time to finish conversations.

Three years ago after a family graduation I wrote a piece called “Unfinished Conversations.” I am reposting this piece today as I think back on the conference. Enjoy!

*****

We have family visiting this weekend. My younger brother and sister-in-law, my mom and dad, a niece, and a baby I just met – another niece.

And with these people who I love comes the wonderful problem of unfinished conversations.

I think you know what I mean. You are with people you love and the words come fast and furious. Sitting around the table eating dinner you jump from one topic to another – first we are talking about family, then a friend, then a situation, then a feeling, then more feelings, then an event that sparked deep growth in our souls – but we are talking so fast and furious we want to get so much in that the conversations remain unfinished. So we see them the next morning and it starts up again over tea and coffee. “Finish telling me about this.” “I wanted to ask you about that.” “When we get a minute remind me to tell you about the other.” It continues through the day and all the activities of the day.

Lunch – another unfinished conversation. Afternoon tea with solid, chipped mugs or fragile, china cups – unfinished conversations. Night time talk over dessert and mint tea – unfinished conversations, more to talk about, more to say and discuss. 

Unfinished conversations – when you have so much to say, but so little time to say it.

Unfinished conversations – when your world includes many people in many places and you always feel like there isn’t enough time to talk about all the things that matter; about all the things there are to talk about.

Unfinished conversations – when the goodbyes come too soon and you board the plane, tears forming in your eyes thinking “I totally forgot to tell her about that!” When you live far away from the ones you love, and you know in your hearts, there will never be enough time for everything you want to say to each other.

But there is something far worse than unfinished conversations – and that is living close to someone your whole life, be it a family member or neighbor, and never having a substantive conversation. It is being close physically without the beauty of good communication and friendship. So I will take these unfinished conversations every time – because they tell a story of relationships, real-life lived hard and well, and joy in communicating with people you love.

I better go. An unfinished conversation has just finished taking her shower and I wouldn’t want an electronic device to interfere.

And to you? I wish you the joy of unfinished conversations today and everyday! 

[Picture Credit – Statue in Old Havana, Cuba from Pixabay]

“The Only Way to Go, is To Go Back”

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We were always on our way. Rolling  up our sleeves

Ever moving forward
In the tracks where we lived our simple lives

Kept our blinders on

Eyes to the horizon
I know I’m no doctor but I know

You can’t live in the past

But the only way to go is to go back
So we hold to who we are*

*****

“I dreamt I went back … and all I could do was cry, because I loved it so much and missed it.”**

These words, penned by a friend, capture the feelings of many adult third culture kids. Though it has often been years since we have actually lived in our adopted homes, when our guard goes down and sleep comes upon us, the memories return. In our dreams we go back.

*****

To go back, or to not go back – this is a question that many adult third culture kids face beginning in their late twenties; somtimes continuing until their capacity to travel erases the question and along with that – the dream.

…sometimes going back is the only way to move forward

I think about this and the wistful longing for a life we loved, wistful longing for something that no longer exists. I remember words that I wrote five years ago:

Third culture kids often struggle to give voice to their longing. Well aware that they are not from the country or countries where they were raised, they still have all the connections and feelings that represent home. When trying to voice these, others look on with glazed eyes. Just recently, someone said to me, “But you’re not an immigrant! You’re American!” The tone was accusing. It was meant to be. What was unsaid was, “Give it a rest! We know you grew up overseas. Big deal. You’re American and you’re living in America.”

Ah, yes… but I have saudade. I have that longing for something that “does not and cannot exist.” On my good days, this longing is well hidden under the culture and costume of which I am now living. But on my more difficult days, it struggles to find voice only to find that explaining is too difficult. Finding the word gives voice to these longings.

I have often been looked at with impatience. “Third culture kids are not that different!” says the skeptic. “We all have times of longing,” but I would argue, gently, that our experience is different.

We are neither of one world nor the other, but between. Our earliest memories are shaped by sights, sounds, and smells that we now experience only in brief travels or through movies and television. All of those physical elements that shaped our early forays into this world are of another world. And so we experience saudade. And the simple discovery of a word gives meaning to those feelings, and can validate and heal. 

But even with ‘saudade’, the question remains: Do I go back? Do I return to a place that may disappoint? Do I return, only to face longing and pain all over again?

Each one of us has to decide whether it is worth it, but it is my experience that sometimes going back is the only way to move forward.

Six and a half years ago I had the opportunity to return to Pakistan. Pakistan had been ravaged by floods, and when I saw my childhood home underwater, something in me broke. In what can only be described as a God-ordained series of unexpected events, my sister-in-law and I ended up on a plane to Pakistan to work with internally displaced people. I begin my new book by going back.

In that moment my life made sense. I could see my childhood in Pakistan, years of disconnect in the United States, life as an adult back in Pakistan and then in Egypt, and finally my return to the United States as a stranger, an alien who had to learn to live, learn to belong.

Like Thornton Wilder’s Emily, I was poised above the earth looking down at myself, my life in  full. Suspended above the earth looking down at the scene, it all fit. The puzzle was complete. Like Emily, I got to go back:

I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by. Good-by, Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?*

This was my story, a story written by the master storyteller, the author of life. Suddenly it all made sense. All the pain, all the joy, all the tears, and all the laughter, all of it. It all had meaning like I had never imagined. God himself orchestrated the journey I had traveled since birth. I was in awe and wordlessly gave thanks.

Something changed for me during that trip. I returned a different person. No longer did I feel the angst, the longing for the right to return. No longer did I want to live in the past, instead, going back was the way I moved forward.

As I write this, the words and melody of the song I quoted above float through my mind:

You can’t live in the past. But the only way to go, is to go back.

The only way for me to move forward, and still hold on to who I am, was to go back.

You can purchase Passages Through Pakistan here. 

*Go Back by Darlingside – my favorite new band!

**Cecily Paterson

Dear Dorothy – A Letter to my Mother-in-Law

Tomorrow I will board a plane and travel to Florida for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Since we found out last week, I have been thinking about death – how final it is, how permanent it seems, and how unreal it is until you are actually back in a place where the person lived.

I read these words in an article on grief:

“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do.”*

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

Memories have resurfaced – some that make me laugh out loud. My mother-in-law was a force of nature. It’s impossible to compress a life into a blog post, and I won’t try, but I want to share some memories of this force who was Dorothy. Thank you for reading.

*****

Dear Dorothy,

On a hot July Saturday in 1983, I received my first phone call from you. I had begun dating your son in February, but he headed off to the Middle East on a study trip in May. It would be a long summer for me; an exciting one for him.

So on that July day, your phone call was welcome. You introduced yourself to me as “Clifford’s mom” and I remember voicing surprise at your southern accent.

“Well, what did you expect” you retorted! “That I would talk like a Yankee.” And that was my introduction to your quick wit and comebacks, something you passed on in no small way to your sons.

In late summer, after Cliff returned from the Middle East, we took a trip to Florida to meet the family. We arrived on a gorgeous day and went straight to dinner at a restaurant.

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

“The service has been terrible at this restaurant the last 12 times we’ve come.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?” I said. It was the perfect opener to help me relax.

Later that week, as I came into the kitchen ready to head out for a trip to Disney World, your eyes took in my outfit from head to toe, and you said “Well Cliff’s safe with you. No truck driver is ever going to pick you up in those pants!” Cliff looked at me and confirmed your opinion. No one had ever told me how bad I looked in them. Thank God I found out sooner rather than later.

Through the years, you amazed me with your artistic and creative ability. Whether it was China painting or sewing, you knew how to do it. My children wore sweatsuits with embossed designs, drank tea out of tiny china cups that you had exquisitely painted, even admired china cremation urns that you were making for a funeral home.

There are two memories that still come to mind after all these years. The first was a time when your youngest son, Greg, and your husband, Richard were sitting in the family room discussing the weight of football players. I could hear them from the kitchen.

“Did you see the weight on that guy? Wow! 240 pounds! How about that other player? He’s 300 pounds!” And on went the discussion by two men who didn’t have one extra pound on their bodies.

Suddenly I heard you come up behind me. You were laughing so hard you could barely speak. You finally stopped long enough to whisper in my ear “Did you hear them talking about weight? Thank God they don’t know what I weigh!”  I joined you in laughing. Both of us had a struggle with weight that wasn’t easily managed, and having two thin men discuss body weight just added insult to what was already difficult. But laughter was something you did well, even when it was at your own expense.

The second memory makes me smile hard. Again, I was in the kitchen and Cliff and the kids were resting somewhere in the house. It was early afternoon, and you had gone out to do some errands. I heard the living room door open, and then heard a “Psst.” You repeated it. I went to the opening between the kitchen and living room area, and there you were with two beautiful boxes.  You slowly opened them. In each box was the most delectable fruit tart that I have ever seen. The perfectly fluted crust was piled high with cream, then fruit, then more cream. They were magnificent.

As I surveyed them with shining eyes, I realized that there were only two of them.

“Shall I call Cliff?” I asked, thinking that you had bought one for him.

“NO!” you retorted! “This is for you and me! I didn’t even buy one for my son!”

We sat at the kitchen table, like two naughty little girls, savoring a stolen treat. We laughed and whispered, eating every single mouthful and then wiping the cream off of our upper lips. It was heaven.

Something about that moment has stayed with me all these years. Any mother and daughter-in-law combination has its challenges, and ours was no exception. There were times when I fought hard and you fought back. But the shared treat of that moment was a communion of understanding — understanding that sometimes moms need to forget the needs of the rest of the family and eat rich and creamy fruit pastries.  Perhaps also, understanding that sometimes the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship needs those occasional moments away from the rest of the family to forge a bond.

Your life was not all easy, and there were times when I saw glimpses of that.  By the time you were in your early twenties, you had four active boys and were raising them all over the country followed by the world. You knew what it was to pack up and move multiple times, say a million goodbyes, and leave places you would never see again. Yet you made sure that those kids were able to see every sight possible during those four years in Europe. I imagine these last few years with increasing health problems, a husband who is struggling with his own health, and a scattered family were some of the hardest. But every day, you got up, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

And now you’re gone. It’s not real to me yet – it won’t be until I see Richard alone at the funeral. Your quick answers won’t be a part of this weekend’s gathering. You won’t be chiming in with opinions and laughter. But you will be there, because we will be celebrating you and your life. We will be celebrating the creativity, laughter, quick quips, tenacity, and personality that were uniquely yours.

I hope I will get to eat a creamy, fruit tart and as I do, lift my eyes to Heaven and thank you.  I love you and I look forward to the day when I see you again in another time and another place. Perhaps you are already saving a fruit tart for me.

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

Memories of Home – A Guest Post


Murree Christian School
P.O. Jhika Gali,

Murree Hills,

Pakistan

I can picture the scene as if it was yesterday.  I am lying on the top bunk in my dormitory. The louvered windows allow a mountain breeze to come through and the sun shines brightly through pine trees.  It is springtime in Murree and I am seven years old.  In the distance I hear the sound of musical scales in major and minor keys being played on old pianos, slightly tinny and out of tune. The players are disciplined, but clearly young with limited skills. Pungent smells waft through windows from the large kitchen two floors below alerting me that today our lunch will be curry and rice. The sounds of Urdu, Punjabi, and English meld together, a kaleidoscope of diversity unrealized until I am older. As the memory returns, I close my eyes and I am completely content.

Two distinct places come to mind when I think of the place and concept of ‘home.’ The first is that of several different cities where my parents lived in Pakistan during my childhood. The second place is the more constant: My boarding school near the town of Jhika Gali, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan range of mountains in the country of Pakistan.

My memories are strong of the place that shaped me, that formed me into who I am today. I was six years old when I first went to boarding school. I could barely tie my shoelaces; much less navigate the sometimes cruel environment of an institutional setting. But it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love.

You can read the rest of the piece at Jen Pollock Michel’s blog by clicking here

Jen’s book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home will be available in May. 

Isolation or Exposure?

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Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? 

We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when our son Joel slipped and hit his head on the sharp edge of a bed.  He sustained an open cut right above his eye. With Joel screaming and bleeding profusely, we somehow made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile. A kind doctor took care of the wound, sewing it up with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I went over the scene in my mind many times. If only I had realized how sharp the edge of the bed was; if only I had made a ‘no jumping on the bed rule.’ If only I had been there. If only…..

At heart was the underlying realization that I wasn’t there to protect my son. I couldn’t protect my son from the fall.

When I look back at parenting small children, that is not the only time when I couldn’t protect. I sometimes take in a sharp breath at the memories.Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

I think about protection; about how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult,etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We let these babies out of our sight. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

Is the same principle true for life in general? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is God’s protection realized, not through isolation, but through exposure? Do we develop a healthier spirituality through struggle, not through calm? 

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.And fear is bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

Last year my oldest daughter gave me a book by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. The book comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield our kids or ourselves from all the danger, sadness, and hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

Instead, I must hold my arms opened in surrender and humility.  The year will come, just as last year did, with joy and with sorrow. It will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel completely exposed and vulnerable to all that can harm me. But despite the exposure, the potential or probable danger I encounter, I will never be without the presence of God. There is no place that will be hidden from his presence or from his love.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”*

Those many years ago, as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident while the doctor stitched up his wound, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”

I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

[Note – This post was revised from one posted one year ago.]

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

Third Culture Kid Gifts – Loyalty

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It was New Year’s Eve and I found myself freezing on a bus with no heat in a sub-degree midwestern winter. I was about to turn 20 years old. I had come to the United States from Pakistan at 18 and was in the middle of my college years.

The trip had originated in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I had never visited Altoona before, but Deb, my former dorm parent and one of my favorite people in the world was there for a home leave from Pakistan and I would have gone anywhere to visit her. In this case the anywhere was Altoona.

The visit was a taste of home to my tired TCK bones. We talked and laughed for hours and Deb’s mom and dad welcomed me into their home like I was one of their own. The visit ended too quickly and with a tearful goodbye, I caught a ride with some other college students back to Chicago. I didn’t know any of them and within five minutes of being in the car, I wished I was far away from my current circumstances.

I was cold. I was lonely. I was displaced.

I felt I would never adjust to this country where I held legal citizenship; the country whose emblem was on my passport.

In the middle of my misery and a snowstorm, the car full of college students broke down. That’s when two of us, myself and a mutual friend of Deb’s called Markie, decided to head out on our own. We took off to a local bus station and caught the next bus to Chicago.

The bus broke down in the middle of the night. Markie and I ended up inside the Greyhound bus station looking at each other. We would be rerouted to a new bus but we would be arriving in the wee hours of the morning in Chicago and had no way of getting to our respective dormitories. But I was a third culture kid and if there was one thing I knew it was that ‘my people’ would pick me up no matter where I was, who I was with, and what time it was.

So I made a phone call at the one pay phone in the bus stop. After one ring, one of my TCK friends picked up. All of my friends were together celebrating, and to my surprise, my brother was there as well. They recognized my voice immediately. I briefly relayed what was going on, that a car had broken down, that I was getting to Chicago before dawn. Could they help? Of course! Of course they would pick us up. Of course they would deliver us wherever we needed to go.

They had my back. There was no question as to whether they would help me. They would be there, they would take care of me. These were my people and my people would not leave me stranded at a bus stop. 

I hung up the phone and let Markie know. The look on her face was one of complete surprise. I didn’t think about this until years later when Deb told me that Markie couldn’t believe that people would drop everything they were doing and come help with no strings attached. She was shocked.

This was a loyalty that went way beyond blood. It was a loyalty borne out of shared circumstances and close community. It was a loyalty created from place, connection, and understanding.

Markie was the first person who helped me to understand that everyone didn’t share this same sense of community. I realized that many in the western world had grown up in nuclear families where you didn’t let people know your needs, where you struggled through trials and frustrations and no one on the outside was part of the solution. I learned that everyone didn’t share this sense of community and loyalty, that it wasn’t common to share your needs with other people.

I was beginning to learn the mantra “do by self” that two-year-olds created and adults perfected. This self- sufficiency that was a hallmark of American culture seemed to me a recipe for disaster. Because if there was one thing I knew about this new land where I found mysef it was this: I would not make it on my own. 

Third culture kid loyalty and community have served me well through the years. So well that I feel acutely the times when it’s not present. I find it easy to express my insecurities and what I need with third culture kids. I don’t have to pretend that it’s all easy, and that I have my act together. I also find that when I express those same things to non third culture kids I am sometimes seen as weak and needy. When high value is placed on self-sufficiency, the one who is honest about their needs is not admired.

I have not been stranded on a bus for many years, but I have had many other times when I needed help and my people came to the rescue. This is one of the gifts I have received as a third culture kid.

The joys and struggles of we who were raised between worlds are intertwined. For every struggle is a corresponding joy, for every tear – a memory that brings laughter. Some of our memories sit like open graves and we stare into them, unwilling to cover them just yet. “Let me fall into these memories just one more time, then I will get up and move forward.” 

So we fall and we rise up stronger. 

Announcement: From now until Christmas, if you purchase Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging all royalties will go toward refugees. Click here to buy.

Liesl Lives On

liesl

The first movie I ever saw was The Sound of Music. I was young – not more than seven years old, and our boarding school had obtained the movie from the Canadian Embassy to show to students. 

From the first notes of “The Hills are Alive” I was enthralled; at “Do Re Mi” I was smitten; and at “Sixteen going on Seventeen” I was in love. The Sound of Music would forever be one of the sounds of my childhood. 

While all of the Von Trapp children felt like friends, Liesl was the beloved darling of the film. Beautiful Liesl who gracefully jumped on and off the benches of a gazebo with her love, Rolf. Liesl – with a dress that twirled and whirled as she danced and sang. 

Then there was Rolf — stupid, stupid Rolf who would betray young love and leave the embrace of one such as Liesl to join the Nazi youth. In doing so he betrayed all of us who loved Liesl. Liesl Von Trapp was a little girl’s idol. 

Yesterday, Charmian Carr – the real Liesl – died of a rare form of dementia in a facility in California. I didn’t know her real name until yesterday. In a short radio segment followed by a news article, I learned that she never had much of an acting role beyond Liesl. She grew to accept that, writing a book called Forever Liesl and hosting Sound of Music singalongs. I also learned that during the filming of the famous dance scene in “Sixteen going on Seventeen” she slid through the glass window in the gazebo and sprained her ankle. Evidently she continued dancing and singing, and the scene shows none of the pain she must have felt.   

Film is an amazing medium. We cling to stories and characters because they reflect something of who we want to be, something that we long for. Their characters first dominate the screen, larger than life, and some of them continue to affect our lives far beyond the screen. 

While raising our family, we never shied away from showing our children films. There were times overseas where we would rent pirated videos of newly released films to indulge our passion. The films were often distorted and poor quality but our kids didn’t know any better, and we were not about to tell them. Moving on to the United States, we began to hold Oscar Parties on Oscar night, putting up a life-size Oscar made of cardboard and laying down a red plastic tablecloth, a cheap simulation of ‘the red carpet’. We would dress up according to the films of the year and memories of my husband dressed as Caesar from The Gladiator, my daughter Annie dressed as Virginia Woolf from The Hours, and one of my boys a young and handsome Zorro are captured in faded color photos.

Maybe it was a need to occasionally escape reality that led us to a love of films, but I like to think it was more than that. I imagine it was our love of stories and storytelling where themes from movie plots could challenge, humor, delight and inspire. Perhaps it was also our desire to live life in living color complete with our own characters and plot. For some time I tried to defend this part of us, and then realized that I didn’t have to.  It was who we were and not something to be ashamed of. I have no doubt that each of my children have their own “Liesl” – a character that they will always remember with fond nostalgia.

So Charmian Carr has died, but she has forever left us with Liesl; a Liesl who will continue to enamour and inspire little girls and capture the imagination of teenage boys for generations to come. 

Honoring the Past; Rejoicing in the Present

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I woke up tired – tired in the best sort of way. How do you capture an event that weaves your past and present together, giving you a tapestry that includes not only memories, but also a sense of being grounded in your current reality?

This weekend brought together a group of people aged 16 to 90. Some danced with the grace of youth while others shuffled with the wisdom and reality of aging. Some came with extended families while others came alone.

Old friendships were rekindled and new friendships were formed. Conversations went deep, and laughter was around every corner.

The only thing that everyone of us had in common was a connection to, and a love for the country of Pakistan and a sense that we did not end up connected to the “Land of the Pure” by chance. And with those two things in common, the rest followed.

I have begun to see what a gift it is to honor my past. To accept the hard and the good that made me who I am today. This weekend was a chance to honor that past and not be stuck in it. It was a chance to renew friendships based on who I am today, not what I was yesterday.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples experienced an extraordinary event. They caught s glimpse of the eternal as they saw Jesus communicate with Moses and Elijah.  They desperately wanted to hold on to the glory of the event. “Let’s build shelters,”they suggest to Jesus. “Let’s capture this! We don’t want it to end!”

Can anyone blame them? 

When you have experienced something of the eternal, you want to hold tightly onto it, afraid for what might happen if you let it go.

This morning, I wanted to hold onto what I experienced this weekend. I wanted to hold onto the contentment, laughter, joy, and belonging that were in abundance. Like Peter, James, and John – I wanted to build a shelter. (Although my Peter, James, and John looked more like a Debbie, a Eunice, and a Joan, or a Leslie, a Marty, and a Suzi.) But the idea was the same.

“Let’s capture this, never let it go, make sure we protect it so we never lose it!”

But that did not happen on the Mount of Transfiguration; nor did it happen today.

Instead, Peter, James, and John gained a greater understanding of who Jesus was.

And I leave my reunion with the same. Through honoring the past, and rejoicing in the present, I get a glimpse of the eternal and it is a gift.

The Magic of a Picnic

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When our children were small, and our bank accounts smaller, we would look at each other, laugh, and say “At least we can picnic!”

And picnic we did. On lawns and in front yards, at rivers and on beaches, in play grounds and even indoors – there was always time for a picnic.

Picnics have captured a corner of my heart. Just the mention of them makes me smile. I love the packing and planning. I love deciding on a spot. I love picnics.

In my childhood, picnics took place on the banks of dusty canals on the outskirts of Ratodero, Larkana and Shikarpur. We would find spots beside the desert brush of Sindh, lay out a quilt and unpack food fit for palaces and kingdoms.

I have memories of egg salad spread between two slices of my mom’s home made bread, home canned pickles adding just the right crunch. There was often chocolate cake for dessert — a depression-era recipe called Wacky cake that takes no eggs, no butter, and no milk.  It was a never fail recipe in a place where some ingredients were difficult to find, the tastes even more difficult to replicate.

Sometimes, while traveling, my dad would buy curry and chapatis at a local truck stop. We would sit, grease dripping down our chins, our eyes watering and noses sniffling from the pungent spices. With tummies filled we would pile into the car and head off on our journey.

As an adult, picnics have taken place at the base of the Great Pyramid and on huge wooden sail boats called feluccas; in back yards and on play grounds. Wherever we have lived we have found our favorite spot for picnics.

In recent years, we have picnicked in a place called Millbrook Meadow; a beautiful park with trees stretching up to the sky, providing shade and comfort. This meadow is a hidden gem in Rockport. While others crowd into the tiny beach across the street, we prefer the meadow where there is ample space to spread out. Out come sandwiches or fried chicken, potato salad or chips, and green or red grapes that pop in our mouths.

At times, our picnics have become more sophisticated with wine, special cheeses, olives, and fruit bites. Despite the sophistication, they retain the essential ingredients of relaxation and joy.

Picnics are multicultural and ageless. I have seen families that are Pakistani, Iraqi, Egyptian, Indian, Mexican, Turkish and so many more gather in all corners of the globe to picnic. Wherever they take place, picnics bring with them a certain magic and child-like fun.

In this life journey, picnics are a chance to forget the worries of daily life and take back lost moments.

So, next time life gets complicated – go on a picnic. 

 

A Marriage and a Mirror


This past Friday, my husband and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary.

Along with our anniversary, we celebrated a milestone – we met our first grandchild. There was something deeply moving about holding this small bundle of baby, knowing that he has no idea how beloved he already is. He is born to  parents that wanted him, planned for him, and love him deeply. He has come into the world to an extended family of uncles and aunts; grandparents and great grandparents; cousins and friends. With him comes a new identity for us – we will be Pop Pop and GiGi for the next generation.

Our wedding was in Chicago, and our grandson was born in Chicago. So along with the joy of meeting him, we went back to the campus of North Park college, the site of our celebration so many years ago. The gazebo that framed our wedding party is gone, vandalized by students who obviously didn’t know the significance of its pristine white frame to so many couples. But the earth below it has not moved and the grass is as green as it was on the day of our wedding. We searched for the statue of a woman that my husband remembered and found her, guardian of many secrets and the only campus witness to our wedding vows.

The usual clichés come to mind as I think about it.

Where did the time go?

We were so young when we got married – just babies really.

How could it be that we are old enough to have a grandson? 

How did it get so late, so soon? 

But in truth, while some years zipped by like days of summer, full of grace and light, others were  slow and hard, with winter clouds hanging low. It has only been recently that I wanted to stop time, put it on pause for a while so that I can catch my breath. Moments have become precious; Saturday mornings curled up with coffee and a book are a gift from the heavens. Summer evening dinners on a porch, with warm breezes blowing are treasured times.

Marriage and faith — both are mysteries. Unexplainable, and yet — we try so hard to explain them. They both take work, they both take effort, they both bring unbelievable joy and earth-shattering doubt.  They both begin as babies, but if either are going to survive, they must grow into adulthood.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about marriage. I looked back at it today, realizing that the words I wrote are as true today as they were when I first wrote them.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Chapter 12 in the book is called “The Mirror of Erised.” The “Mirror of Erised” is an ornate, magnificent mirror hidden away in an unused classroom. It’s as tall as the ceiling and has claw feet. But this is more than a beautiful mirror — the person who looks in the mirror sees the “deepest, most desperate desire of [their] heart.” So when Harry, an orphan cared for by a dreadful aunt and uncle who hate him, looks in the mirror he sees his entire extended family waving at him, loving him, letting him know he belongs. His dead parents smile back at him from the mirror, large as life. And when his friend Ron, just one more boy in a huge family with nothing that stands out about him other than his flaming red hair, looks in the mirror he sees himself as head of the Quidditch team and head of the house.

You see that which you long for most of all.

And for most of us our wedding days are a bit like that. The Mirror or Erised is held in front of each couple and we look inside and we see untainted love that lasts through the ages. We see bodies that will never grow old and a love that will never die. We see joy and hope, we see plenty and laughter. While we may say the vows “for better, for worse, for rich, for poor, for sick, for health….” we don’t see those things in the Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror shows us that which we want more than anything – eternal love and happiness.

And then the guests go home, the cake in the top of the freezer gets freezer burn, the money from the beautiful cards given on that wedding day runs out. We want to stand in front of the mirror again, just to get a glimpse of that beauty, that glory, that hope.

But more stuff happens – kids come along and with them nightmare tantrums and learning disabilities, weight is gained and lost, houses come and go, unemployment rears its ugly head, family and friends die. Love is tested morning and night.  Sometimes there is betrayal or wounds that are so deep you think you’ll never heal; other times it’s just life – and marriage has grown oh so old. All the while we remember that mirror in the unused classroom – but it just sits there.

In the Harry Potter book as Harry goes for the third night to see the mirror, he finds Dumbledore sitting off in the shadows. Dumbledore talks to Harry about the mirror and exposes it for what it is “….this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”  Harry is sobered as he heads back to his dormitory room.

Last Friday was my 32nd wedding anniversary. 32 years of so much good and so much hard that it defies description. And on our wedding day, we like so many couples before us, looked into the Mirror of Erised. And we loved what we saw. We wanted to stay in front of that mirror forever — a cute, young couple with adventure on our hearts and fire in our souls. It would never end. It couldn’t as long as we had the Mirror with us.

But like all couples, the mirror was wisely hidden away. In its place was a real mirror – a mirror that reflected back a couple that would grow and age, that would sometimes hate what they saw looking back at them, but keep on going anyway, keep on loving, keep on living, never giving up.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that….” says Dumbledore. Some of our dreams were realized, others were lost, but we have learned to live, really live. While the Mirror of Erised reflected wishful thinking, our real mirror reflects a brave marriage forged on hope, faith, and grace that could only come from One far greater than us. 

And today I proclaim again the truth of a life of commitment. I proclaim the truth that marriage is really very little about love and very much about something bigger. Today I speak against our Hollywood Mirror of Erised notions of magic and romance; I stand against a culture of quick satisfaction and selfish sex. I speak up for an unpopular view that marriage is so much more than two people falling in love.

For in 32 years never have I embarked on anything so costly and so worthwhile as marriage. Never have I faced the awful in myself so closely and so viciously, never have I needed the grace of God more profoundly. We do not have a Mirror of Erised marriage – We have a marriage born on idealism and hope, weathered by storms, challenged by crisis, tempered by love, sealed by God above. 

And so I wish another Happy Anniversary to the man I said “I do” to. I’d do it again this side of the mirror. 

 

The Story of a TCK Friendship

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The first picture that was taken of me with my friend Lois was on the shores of the Dead Sea. There we are, two little girls – one blonde, the other dark-haired; one taller, the other shorter. We are holding hands with our fathers and we are oblivious to the fact that our lives are already intertwined, that we are experiencing the world in a completely different way than our peers in our countries of origin. After the picture was taken, we went back to our respective homes – me to Pakistan, her to the Kingdom of Jordan.

We would not remember or think about each other until I was 18 years old, beginning a nursing program on the edge of Chicago. At that point, we were destined to become friends.

Our friendship began in earnest that year as we dealt with classmates, Freshman nursing instructors, the cold of Chicago, and the business of being third culture kids who were trying to fit into their habitat but finding it was a bit of “square peg meets round hole.”

There was no word for us at that time. We were missionary kids and the expectation was that we settle back in and make our missions and our parents proud.

She had a year up on me in negotiating life in the West – she had already been through a year of college – but we were still fish floundering on land, trying to breathe through gills that were created for water. I remember going to a wedding together where we were supposed to do the guest book. “What’s a guest book?” I remember thinking. A few years later, my husband and I would find out we were actually both at the same wedding. “I always wondered why there was no one attending the guest book!” he said with surprise. My guilt was absolved when he said that it was not the right job for two third culture kids. We stood by the guest book for five minutes and then abandoned our posts, uncertain on how to respond to the small talk of rural Pennsylvania and clearly out of our element in both dress and responsibility.

Our conversations covered Pakistan, Middle Eastern politics, the Iranian revolution, and which restaurants in Chicago served the most authentic Pakistani or Middle Eastern food.

When we graduated from nursing school, Lois went on to work in a refugee camp in Somalia, while I moved for a short (though oh so long) year in Massachusetts. She was learning how to function in tents with limited supplies and overwhelming problems; I was learning how to survive a head nurse who took such an active dislike to me that she accused me of overdosing someone with morphine.

I was at her wedding a year later, celebrating her union with Dave – a blonde haired, blue-eyed man who had captured her heart. A few weeks later, I flew to Pakistan to work as a nurse, only to return a few months later and meet the man who became my husband.

My husband and I moved overseas, while Dave and Lois moved to the woods of Maine. Children were born. Then more children were born. All the while, Lois and I would talk by phone every time I was in the United States. She would come visit me in Massachusetts at the home we lovingly called “Eight-Acre Woods.” We visited their growing family in Maine, where we found a Pakistani restaurant and ate off of styrofoam plates, our forks sticking into the sponge as we inhaled a chicken curry. They came to Egypt, where we visited the famous Pyramids of Giza and had the most memorable visit of our seven years in the country. Between us, we had five kids and a baby and as the sky turned a grainy yellow, we knew we were caught in a sand storm. We stumbled along, trying to appreciate ancient ruins while protecting our eyes and our children’s from the blowing sand, the gritty particles getting in our mouths, our hair, and our ears. I remember muttering meanness at my husband, even as I tried to behave for the sake of our visitors.

Lois and I knew what it was to grow up Christian in Muslim countries; to struggle with the missionary kid identity, even as we burst with pride at who our parents were; to grieve goodbyes and multiple losses; to have adventures that people would never believe; to long for places and people with an indescribable ache – and yet to not regret how and where we grew up. We learned early that this third culture kid life was a life of complexity and contradiction; that faith was a struggle worth the pain. We always argued whether the sky over the ancient ruins of Petra or the sky at 7000 feet in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range had the best stars. (My husband, who has been both places, says without doubt that it’s Petra.)

Through the years, my friendship with Lois has seen me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. I can’t imagine having walked the journeys that I have without knowing Lois was there. We have never lived near each other since that time, but the friendship has survived.

Despite living miles apart since our Chicago days, Lois has walked me through distorted theology, anger, and deep grief. Mingled throughout have been times of laughter, eye-rolling, head-shaking, and pure joy. Because anger and grief go down easier when you know joy is around the corner.

We still have our “diaspora blues” — times when we know  we don’t fit in here or there, when we realize we will always be “too foreign for here, too foreign for there.”* Despite this, we have both found our niches in our passport countries.

The thing with Lois is that I’ve never really had to say goodbye, because I know she’s always there. Maybe that’s what makes her so special.

*Diaspora Blues by

On Making Recent History

I leave my Cambridge apartment mid-morning on a Friday. Usually I would be walking, but I am going to a store that is too far so I pull out of my driveway in our small, city car.

The first person I see is our neighbor, Christopher. I wave and he waves back, a smile on his face. Just steps away, So is walking toward her apartment that sits across from ours. She too smiles and waves. I stop and roll down the window. “Can I steal your mint again this summer?” She laughs. “Come anytime! You not stealing.”

On my right, John is watching as little Peter draws in chalk on the sidewalk. We have seen him grow from newborn baby to a seven year old. This week is school vacation and the weather is fully cooperating, enabling this city kid to enjoy the outdoors.

I drive slowly, marveling that I know my neighbors. But I need to move on – in the afternoon we will host a rehearsal dinner for a friend who will be married on Saturday, a dear friend I met when we moved to the area seven years ago.

I realize something. Our history is no longer just with people from “there,” no longer just with people from our past homes and lives. We have made history with people here.

Cecily Paterson’s excellent post Seven Stages of Reentry Grief takes the reader through the stages that Cecily has identified in order to survive and thrive in our passport countries.

Stage Four of Cecily’s post is called “Making Recent History.” She says this: “….I found that memories from 10 years ago appear more faded than memories from say, two years ago. ….” 

It is liberating and wonderful to realize that we’ve made recent history; that we can now look at people who we regularly see and say “Remember that time? Remember that Christmas Eve? Remember that holiday? Remember that small group?”  Photographs and stories have not only captured the old memories, but they are capturing the new. The album of our life story continues to fill, new pages added, recent history recorded.

My thoughts echo Cecily’s words: “Just by continuing to breathe and eat and live, I’d been able to make my own ‘recent history’.”

I smile and I drive on. Staying in one place for eight years has had its challenges. There are times when I have climbed the walls, and then rearranged the furniture; times when I couldn’t wait to head to Terminal E. But this day? This day I delight in recent history and in knowing the names of my neighbors. This is what it is to live in the present and I am grateful.

When Faith Roots Go Deep

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I sit in church, watching as children file slowly up to the front of the sanctuary. It is Easter Sunday in my parents church and the children are playing in a bell choir.

The strains of “Just as I am, without one plea” begin coming from the speakers and on cue yellow, red, and blue bells begin to chime. I am transported back in time and I shake my head at the mystery of memory.

I am back in Pakistan at my boarding school, listening to a Danish evangelist speak during weekly chapel. He would come at least once a term and present the gospel message in compelling words. The service always ended with an altar call and the hymn “Just as I am.” And we would all go up, repentant, teary, the impact of the words and song hitting our souls with just the right amount of emotion to compel action.

During those altar calls, when all present were singing “Just as I am,” I was acutely aware of my sinfulness and the beauty of God’s forgiveness. For some reason, no one explained to any of us that we needn’t go up to the front over and over again. So every time the evangelist came, up we got and down the aisle we went.

A wave of emotion hits me as I remember that time and my faith, a child’s faith, so easily shaped and molded.The memory is not negative. Rather, it is a part of childhood that I now better understand, a faith journey that has matured and grown.

My faith roots go deep. They go back to boarding school and early childhood. They twist and turn, much like the roots of a Banyan tree. There is something deeply comforting about my roots. The soil where they grew was rich with love and grace. There were mistakes – no life grows free of mistakes. There was sadness. There was misunderstanding. But that doesn’t take away from the deep roots. Adversity made them stronger.

So I sit and I watch small children, the same age as I was in boarding school, play “Just as I am.” They can’t know what it fully means, but that doesn’t negate the importance of what they hear.

We are told to come to God as children, expectant, joyful, and innocent. As I sit and listen to bells chime a song of my childhood, I feel like a child, wrapped up in God’s abundant love and grace.

And I thank God for the mystery of memory and deep roots of faith. 

A Tribute to a High School Principal

Mr. Roub was principal of my elementary, middle, and high school from the time I was six until the time I graduated. There may have been a year or two in there where he was on a well-deserved furlough and Mr. Nygren took over, but overall it was Mr. Roub.

He was a big man with a booming voice, strong presence, and a heart that embraced his staff and students. Mr. Roub was a leader in every sense of the word.

He was a man entrusted with the overall leadership of a small school in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range in Pakistan. A man whose primary job was to serve the mission community by using his leadership skills in an educational setting. And he was a man who did his job with integrity and grace.

Through the years, our small school, primarily made up of missionary kids, experienced almost everything that a large high school in the United States would. Although home churches and mission agencies may have wanted to deny it, there were drugs, smoking, revolts and rebellions, staff/student tension, suicide attempts, deaths, eating disorders, and more. All these took place in a complicated context – a small, Christian sub-culture in the middle of a Muslim country. It took incredible wisdom and sometimes just pure grit and determination to work at the school and believe in its mission. Mr. Roub had all of that and more.

Because he was in our mission agency, I often called him Uncle Chuck. We were like extended family and the auntie and uncle labels were used all the time. In the absence of blood family, we didn’t need a Mister or a Missus. We needed something more and the auntie and uncle title put more responsibility onto us, and onto those given the title.

I grew up knowing Uncle Chuck as principal of our school and as friend to my dad. At one point in my dad’s work in Pakistan, he was deeply discouraged. In the absence of telephones, email, and other instant communication, Uncle Chuck took an overnight train that took 18 hours to visit my dad- just to encourage him. When my parents would come to Murree, they always visited, and often stayed, with the Roubs.

This became more complicated when I reached my teen years and I had all sorts of reasons to spend time in the Principal’s office. I remember showing up at his house one night with a guilty conscience, confessing that I had smoked cigarettes. Smoking was absolutely forbidden, as it is in most high schools, and I had bought K-2 cigarettes and had a go with them on the grounds outside of the school. K-2 cigarettes were named after the famous K-2 mountain and boasted a pristine picture of the mountain on the outside, with unfiltered ghastly cigarettes on the inside.

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My conscience was strong, and I found myself in the Roub’s living room making up a story about “a friend who I knew was smoking.What on earth should I do?” Being a man of wisdom, he asked the right questions and quickly knew that “the friend” was me. He gave me a punishment, but he did more. He absolved me, like a priest would, prayed with and for me, and sent me on my way. I never smoked again, more importantly – this was the last time I was ever in the “principal’s office.” 

To my knowledge, he never allowed my bad behavior to affect his relationship with my parents, nor his overall view of me.

Uncle Chuck was also my American History teacher during my senior year of high school. I should probably not admit that, because my understanding and knowledge of American History is appalling. I simply saw no need to learn it, but I do remember that it was an incredibly fun class.

A year after I graduated from high school I saw Uncle Chuck in Wheaton, Illinois at a gathering of missionary kids. He wanted to know how I was, how nursing school was going for me. I asked him about the school, a place I had ached for every day since I left. “You know,” he said “the last couple of years, including your year, were years of great spiritual growth and impact. Staff and students are getting along better than they ever have. Morale is high. It was a good year.” He smiled and his eyes were misty as he talked.

That brief conversation invited me to see the school not as a student, but through his eyes, the man at the helm. I was given the gift of perspective and saw what the most important thing was for this man. He longed to see hearts change and grow; more than anything he longed for students and staff to love God.  That’s what he prayed for, that’s what he lived for. The magnitude of this hit me in a way it couldn’t have when I was a student.

Chuck Roub died on New Year’s Day. The posted announcement was followed by many comments speaking to the man that he was, thanking him for his life, for his faithfulness, for his example of grace, and for his leadership.

As one commenter said, Uncle Chuck was a “Giant of a man.” His family will grieve their loss, even as they know he is finally home.

As for Uncle Chuck, he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.* Is there anything better? 

*Paraphrased from 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

 

#InternationalTeaDay

Today is International Tea Day. In the midst of hard and sad news, this somehow made my day. Call it superficial or shallow, but I think life is always better with a cup of tea.

While coffee gives me the zip to start the day, tea helps me to finish it. Tea means friends and family. Tea means rest and calm. Tea means home and hope, and oh how we need both of those.

So I celebrate this day by reposting a piece from a year and a half ago.

Thank God for Tea

I was raised on tea. From early in life the day could be marked by two things: the call to prayer and tea time.

At home it was morning tea with breakfast, and afternoon tea with Nice or Digestive biscuits. At school it was robust desi chai that made up for the terrible boarding school food.

No matter the day everything felt better after you had tea.

And then I had my own family. And I learned that you had to create this time, you had to make time to have tea. It didn’t just happen. And so we did.

For years, beginning in early fall, when twilight comes early and the golden glow of autumn colors our world, we begin to have evening tea time. We continue tea time until the end of spring comes and with it, long days that stretch and make you think time has stopped.

Just like growing up, tea is a ritual that marks the day.

Around 9 pm, whoever is in the house at the time gathers and we drink tea out of sturdy mugs. It could be Earl Grey tea with its oil of bergamot distinctive flavor. It could be mint tea. It could be regular– which for us means a strong Irish Breakfast tea. It could be a fruity passion tea. No matter the kind, it’s tea and we are gathered together.

The day could have held sorrow or joy, tears or anger, frustration or impatience — or perhaps all of those things. We still gather for tea.

And so I love this picture, taken at our cottage in Rockport. And I love the quote on the picture as well. Because something remarkable happens when you sit down for a cup of tea.

Here are some of my favorite quotes on tea:

  1. Tea! Bless ordinary everyday afternoon tea! Agatha Christie
  2. You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. C.S. Lewis
  3. Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. Catherine Douzel
  4. Would you like an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first? Peter Pan

Thanks so much for being a part of Communicating Across Boundaries and today may you have the joy of drinking tea.

Photo courtesy of Stefanie Sevim Gardner/Word art by Marilyn Gardner

Phantom Sensations

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I’ve read that when someone loses a limb, it takes their brain a long while to adjust to the loss. For years afterwards they experience pain in the missing part. Suddenly the leg, no longer there, has an itch. It’s called phantom pain.

Although certainly not as tragic, I too experience a phantom sensation of sorts. It’s been eight years since we left South Asia, but every time I hear something scamper across the roof, I assume it’s the monkeys! Every time a branch bounces under the weight of a critter I know with an unfounded, and yet uncanny, confidence, it’s the monkeys. When I realize it’s merely a squirrel, I’m shocked every time.

I’m curious. Do you have any lingering phantom sensations? Anything that catches you off guard with a chuckle and a moment of surprise that says–that’s not a monkey?

About the picture: This photo was taken about ten or eleven years ago on our roof in Varanasi. These mischevious monkeys were playing in the run-off from our water tank when our good friend and photographer, Kris Hoffman, just happened to catch them in the act!

Memories of a Chatty Cathy Doll

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When I was eight years old, I got a Chatty Cathy doll for Christmas. Chatty Cathy was the first talking doll. When you pulled a ring on her back, she would say one of ten or eleven phrases. Sometimes it was “I love you!” Other times it was “Let’s play!” It didn’t matter, when I pulled the string, my Chatty Cathy would talk to me and I was over the moon.

Chatty Cathy was not available in Pakistan anywhere. The only reason I received the doll was that another missionary family had left Pakistan and had sold their children’s toys. The family had twin girls, Becky and Kathy. They were older than I was and, I suspect, had outgrown their dolls (although who ever outgrows dolls?) They had two of these talking dolls, and had sold one to my parents for me, and one to Bettie Addleton, mom of my best friend Nancy.

In the middle of the Sindh desert of Pakistan, because of Becky and Kathy Elkins, Nancy and I got Chatty Cathy dolls. It was a magical Christmas.

This past Friday, Becky Elkins died. I didn’t know Becky well, but I do know she died too soon, and too painfully. She died of lung cancer in Colorado. I saw Becky at our Pak Reunion just one and half years ago. My friend Janet let our community know through social media that Becky had died.

When you are part of a community that shared so much of life together in a place where we were all foreigners, you grow deeply close. Even if you didn’t know each other and were years apart in age, you know there is a connection that goes well beyond normal neighborhood relationships. We were part of a small community that lived counter-culture in both our adopted country and our passport countries. We lived apart from blood relatives, and so those around us became relatives in proxy. We inherited each others houses, cars, clothes, families, and dolls.

I can’t stop thinking about Becky and that doll. I loved that doll so much. Memories, filed away in my brain like index cards, come to mind. I remember the surprise of unwrapping the doll. I remember pulling the string so much that she stopped talking for a while. I remember Nancy and me playing with our dolls, surrounded by the innocence of childhood. The sights, shapes, sounds, and people who shaped my life are spread around the globe, and faded memories have taken their place. The index card memory box emerges as I read about Becky’s death. And I know that the sadness I feel  is combined with the ache of loss for a time that no longer exists.

In Between Worlds, I write this and I think about it today:

“For many of us, the only thing we feel we have left are our memories. We cannot go back to the place that was home. Either it does not exist, will not let us in, or danger and cost prohibit a casual trip to indulge the times of homesickness. In its place is memory. Our memories may be biased, or relayed in a way that would make our mothers say, “That’s not quite the way it happened,” but they are inalienably ours.”*

and then:

“Pieces of childhood are important foundations to building adults. Whether it be the doll, the bear, or the book, it’s part of the story of our lives. The pieces of childhood bear witness to times and places that helped shape us into who we are today.”**

The Chatty Cathy memory is inalienably mine and I find strength in remembering. I smile when I remember that doll, and the two girls in Pakistan who daily pulled the string to hear Chatty Cathy say “I love you!”

*From Kebabs in Jalalabad essay in Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging.

** From Pieces of Childhood in Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/photo-photographer-old-photos-256887/