29 September 2010

Embrace the Cupcake

"Life is precious."  I hear that all the time.  I often think it.  It took a near-death experience for me to actually GET IT.
I used to think that traffic in La Paz, Bolivia is bad.  But if we're honest, Cairo takes the cake.  Egyptian traffic defies both description and comparison.  Here are some photos that *might* give you an idea.
Note: people crossing; the guy on a motorcycle (with no helmet); the multiple directions that vehicles are pointed; and the minimal space between everything.

Be sure to add in the horse-drawn buggies, for good measure.
There were no more than 2 inches between bumpers.
Speeding towards a traffic jam.
The hubs and I recently had a grand Egyptian adventure that took the form of a 2-week jaunt << with backpacks >>, around the land of the Pharoahs, the Nile, the shisha, and queso egipcio. 

In Cairo and Giza, we mainly traveled by taxi, minibus, metro, or by foot.  In most other cities, we would travel by tour bus or by foot.  The majority of our travel from city to city in Egypt took place by train.  However, we did travel twice by bus, once from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh, and then again from Sharm El Sheikh to Alexandria.  Going to Sharm was entirely uneventful... rather boring, in fact- it was during the daytime, on a new, very clean, comfortable bus.  
While in Sharm we bathed in the Red Sea, and we snorkeled along the Sinai Peninsula.  We slept late and walked slowly; we smoked shisha, we ate koshari, and we enjoyed one another's company.

When it came time to make our way towards our next destination, we bought our bus tickets and got to the station early.  We loaded up, gearing ourselves mentally for an overnight bus-ride on a tiny old bus.  We left Sharm at 9 pm, and at around 1 am, we were startled awake by the sound of smashing glass and the bus swerving back and forth on a 2-lane highway.  We knew we were in the middle of the Egyptian desert. It was the middle of the night.  We were the only tourists on a bus filled with locals.  That's all we knew.

By the grace of God our bus didn't flip over.  If the tires had hit the sand, I'm confident the bus would have turned.  But they didn't, so it didn't.  

Thinking back on that manner of being awakened, I've never been more horrified.  My husband was next to me, and I was thinking 3 simultaneous thoughts in that moment 1) "Please God let us survive this experience together."  2) "Please God don't take my husband from me." 3) "Please God don't take me from my husband."

I could see the fear written all over the hubs- in the whites around his eyes, in the lines of shock in his brow, the way he reached to me with one hand as if we were miles apart and he reached with the other hand for something -- anything -- stable to hold onto.  

For the record, there's nothing stable to hold onto inside of a swerving bus.  

It felt like an eternity until the bus finally stopped, and then it took another eternity to realize 1) we were still alive, and 2) the bus had stopped moving.

In complete and total shock, I turned around and managed to squeak out, "English?"  And wouldn't you know that, in the form of a tri-lingual Egyptian who spoke perfect English, an angel sat right behind us.  His name was Mohamed.  He told us what he thought might have happened <<as in, what he thought the bus might have hit>>, but it turned out to be different.  Come to find out, our bus t-boned a guy on a motorcycle.  A guy on a motorcycle who wasn't wearing a helmet.  By the time I got my wits about me enough to get off the bus, I walked to the front of the bus and saw a crumpled motorcycle <<the headlight was still on>>, and the front windshield of our bus had this perfectly shaped, round spot where the impact had occurred- the impact between the glass and an unprotected human head.  The shattered glass was strangely beautiful.

We spent the next 5 hours on the sidewalk in front of the closest police station, waiting for a new bus to come and pick us up.  It wasn't until we were on the bus, huddled together and giving thanks for our lives that it dawned on me that my strongest concern was for my life and my husband's.  It was then that I began to grieve the motorcyclist.  It took every shred of strength to maintain outward composure- everyone else on the bus went back to sleep, content to be enroute to their final destination once again.  I can't say that the locals weren't concerned with what had happened.  I was overcome by a sense of selfish self-preservation that clouded my ability to care at that moment for others around me (aside from the hubs, of course).
So I'm continuing to unpack this experience-- processing it and my reaction to it-- still wondering why it happened and what there is to learn from it.  

There are, of course, some things I've realized since then... A sink full of dishes bothers me a little less.  If my floors are dusty and company's coming, that's okay.  When my jeans fit a little tighter than I'd like, I give myself some grace.  Because eff -- I'm alive!

That guy on the motorcycle, he's not.  He was a brother, a son, a father, a husband.  And his family is left grieving.

And now I'm back in my sweet and comfy bubble making a conscious choice << instead of worrying, fussing, or obsessing >> to give thanks.  I'm grateful to have one more chance to tell my husband I love him, to listen to a hurting friend, to spend time with my parents and my sisters, to work hard at the job that I'm entrusted with. 

As my friend Becca says, instead of feeling guilty I'm choosing to embrace the cupcake.

27 September 2010

These are a few of my favorite things

There are a lot of things << not "things" in the materialistic, consumer-driven sense >> that make my heart go pitter-patter.  

Babies with mohawks might just top the list.
While I love waking up to rain on a Saturday morning, it often undermines my motivation to get to the gym.  However I maintain a deep appreciation for said rain, and on those Saturday mornings when I'm staying in, coffee is my consolation.  Now if you top that coffee with some warm, frothy milk, I'll be dancing around inside (while outside sitting very still, probably gazing into the back yard).

Another favorite on the list is the therapeutic value inherent in puppies.  Example: A friend of mine lost her job unfairly and unexpectedly, and that night she came over for dinner.  In hindsight I think she actually came for the drinks.  The Rolo puppy was still a pup, and he settled right into her lap to love all over her.  By the time she left, the tension in her face had dissolved.  I'm not suggesting she was done healing from the trauma of her day.  And unfortunately puppies don't, in fact, solve all our problems.  But they sure don't judge us for our problems.  They just keep right on loving us.  So puppies.  You can add puppies to my list.
Speaking of puppies, since I became a dog owner, I also became a fan of the tv show The Dog Whisperer.  My favorite part of each episode is when Cesar << the host >> impersonates a dog's behavior.  He has this funny way of looking like he is-- at least in part-- canine. He'll kind of sniff the air and bulge out his eyes.  Or he'll show you the difference between a dog that is curiously sniffing you and a dog that is interested in playing with you... the way he does it makes you wonder if he has a tail tucked into those Levi's.

And then Cesar will observe the family, and the dog, and begin to analyze and systematically break down the pack dynamic.  He'll identify hidden rules being followed, opening everyone's eyes to the problems inherently occurring. I really love this.  I think we don't ever spend enough time identifying the roots of problems in our lives.  Sometimes we need an outsider << not always in the form of a goofy, handsome Mexican-American with canine in him >> to come in, study us a little, and then offer suggestions and feedback in the form of best practices.

"It’s not about the dog. It’s always about us. It’s always about the owner. It’s up to us to create an environment and circumstances in which the dog can thrive and be itself.”

Can you re-read that Cesar quote changing the word "dog" for "child"?  How about if it read like this?

"It's not about the child.  It's always about the parents.  It's always about the adults.  It's up to us to create an environment and circumstances in which the child can thrive and be him/ herself."  Or what if we change the word to "friend"... Could we go so far as to change it to "homeless neighbor"?  Perhaps I'm digressing.

The last “thing” I want to mention in this collection is old couples.  I love seeing elderly, wrinkled, slow-moving, married couples.  As I watch them, I like to imagine the lives they might have lived together, the children they raised, the meals they shared.  I sometimes wonder if they watched movies or preferred to play cards or read before bed.  I like to imagine the mundane lives that they’ve lived, interlaced with joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures.

Other times when I see an old couple, I think that maybe they found each other recently -- that they haven’t, in fact, spent a lifetime together.  Perhaps instead they spent their lifetimes being prepared to find one another. 
If I’m deep-in-my-gut-honest, there’s not a lot that I think I know that would be considered Absolute Truth. 

But there is this one thing.  Relationship.  As humans we’re meant to be in community, surrounded by meaningful relationship.  It doesn’t have to be a ton of relationships -- just one or two is enough.  << And no, I don’t mean multiple love relationships.  I’m not a fan of polygamy or adultery.  I mean a love, and then one or two close friends that you can love and care about, walking together and sharing life with. >>

If I’m completely honest, I don’t want to grow old alone.  My husband and I share a fear of loneliness that we talk about regularly.  So back to the point.  When I see an old married couple, I see two people with a shared story.  I may not know a single detail of their story.  But when I have the chance to see their eyes lock onto each other’s, I catch myself wondering how many thousands of “eyes locking” moments have happened in the past. 

We went to an open-air concert in Dandridge, TN with our neighbors recently.  Dandridge.  Who goes to Dandridge for some live outdoor music?  Evidently we do.  So we’re there, and it’s a beautiful fall evening—very few bugs, comfortable temperature, and lots of people spread out on lawn chairs.  There were even some kids sliding down a nearby hill on pieces of cardboard.  We watched the full moon rise over the Dike that saved Dandridge.  It was a very picturesque scene.

So the last band gets on stage, sound checks, and starts their entertainment.  During the sound check, we decided to move our chairs closer to the front since we are acquaintances of the lead singer.  As we’re scoping out the scene to best locate our new seats, I overhear an elderly woman say to the man next to her, “You know, every woman loves a man who will dance with her.”  It was extraordinarily cute.

So the band goes on, and the next thing I know, this same, sweet elderly couple is making their way to a spot of parking lot just in front of the stage that will serve as a dance floor. 

I burst into tears.  Literally.  Right there, in my chair.

I was blubbering, actually.  I was completely overcome with -- and caught off guard by -- my emotional response to seeing such a cute, flirtatious elderly couple get up and bust a move.  They swayed to the rhythm, and he gently guided her and would even gingerly spin her.  She wore a knee-length white skirt that flowed around her, and all the while (in her elderly-woman-flat-shoes) she danced on her tiptoes. I imagined her 40 years younger in high heels wearing a deep blue cocktail dress, swaying across a shiny floor with onlookers thinking to themselves how lucky was her beau. 

I know it's blurry, but you get the idea.
By the end of the song, I had re-gained some of my composure.  The song they were dancing to was wildly appropriate...

... it's so easy to fall apart
And we still break each other's heart sometimes
Spent some nights on the jagged side
Somehow we wake up in each other's arms
(Must've been)

Wild Angels, Wild Angels
Watching over you and me

17 September 2010

To Myself on my 28th Birthday

I woke up a few times from bad dreams... scary dreams... and each time I'd pray that God wouldn't allow those dreams to come true.  That's the way that God assures me I'm doing God's will <<I might have written "his will" or "her will", but I'll be honest.  I'm not certain the Nature of God is, in fact, gender specific.  I tend to think that both of our genders have strengths and weaknesses, and that God in God's infinite wisdom would surely cherry pick the best of both natures and apply the most appropriate characteristic in the context in which God finds Godself. >>.  I'll have a moment in reality that I can most easily liken to deja vous, where God whispers, "See love, I showed you before and now you're here, and I'm pleased.  It it My Will."  I'll expand on this in a separate post (because it's pretty cool).

Back to my 10,220th morning of drawing breath.  So I woke up to a few bad dreams... I also woke up to the coffee grinder going off << Thank you Cuisinart! >>... The last time I woke up, i.e. when I dragged my sleepy self out of bed, it was to the news of Hillary hanging out in Sharm in the middle of peace talks between Israel and Palestine.  They must think Egypt is a neutral ground.  Kind of cool that the hubs and I were in the same town just a couple weeks ago.

Hey Hil, go see Adam in his perfume shop- tell him we sent ya.  And be sure to try the apple shisha at the bar out front of Adam's shop- the dude who works there is cool (but I think he sells drugs).

The Rolo Puppy kept me company while I got ready for work, and from the moment I was coherent upon waking up until the end of the day, my phone, email, and Facebook were blowing up.  Talk about feeling the love. Upon arriving to the office, it was off to the races: meetings from 11 a to 7 p, with exactly one chance to swing back by the office to check email/ voicemail for precisely 20 minutes.  All of said meetings were low-key and quite lovely, actually.

The night before my birthday I wanted to read a poem before going to bed.  My stepmother, Stellasue Lee (Hansen), just so happens to have a book of poetry that was just published, Firecracker Red.  So I picked it up, flipped it open, and next thing I knew it was 1:30 am. I had just finished reading all of the contents of her latest body of work.  Wow!

Poetry takes on a whole new dimension when the poet is family, you know. And to boot, the cover artist is also family... imagine that.
Some of the poems articulated stories that I'd heard before while others were ones being shared with me in a both tender and intimate way for the first time.  What an amazing gift.

Speaking of gifts, Stellasue Lee writes about a spontaneous gift that her husband gave her.  In her poem "Daily Special," she says...

... Today's sweetness
came over the phone, my husband's voice

from 2200 miles away. He sang
a few notes from a song in French

that reminded me all manner of gifts
can bring warmth to an open heart.

So back to my birthday.  I found myself resonating with and reflecting on this particular part of the poem throughout the day.  And then I actually received 2 of these gifts she talks about- the kind that warm your heart when you leave it open.  The first one came at 6:18 pm in the courtyard of Guy B. Love Towers. I was there with a film student who needed to get a little bit of footage for the video he's compiling to explain just exactly what is Compassion Coalition (where I work).

While Stephen was filming the group having a picnic, I was able to spend a few minutes with our mentors Gramps and Nan, and our neighbors G & D...  I was overwhelmed by the tenderness shared among them, coupled with a sweet, gentle spirit abounding.  They've been matched for about 2 months. It's extremely rare that I am able to observe mentors and neighbors interacting like they do on a regular basis << I'll explain the inner-workings of my job in a later post >>, so the chance to see them together on such a beautiful almost-fall evening was a gift  that warmed my heart in a deep, deep way.  The laughter and quick smiles made my heart just fill to over-flowing.  

The other time this similar sensation came to me was when I was finishing up dinner with 23 of my most favorite Knoxville people. We were filled with all manner of chip, salsa, quesadilla, fajita, burrito, chimichanga, nachos, and cake.  Lots of delicious lemon cake.
My friend Alex and his son- let's be honest, my nephew- Dino came over to sing Happy Birthday to me.  Dino is 3, and he is a handsome cat.  He's got big, beautiful brown eyes, long eyelashes, a mischievous grin, and this perfect little-boy mouth.  So he sings me the whole song in his precious little boy voice, and then he turns to his daddy and says, "Can we sing it again?"  Of course they sang it again.  The first round my heart melted.  The second round was warm chocolate being poured in.  Okay, so maybe that simile is a little awkward- but if we're honest, could it get any better than that?

So here's to remembering always that... all manner of gifts
can bring warmth to an open heart.