Saturday, November 21, 2009

I am from

Jaala weaving during Peace Corps Micronesia's swearing-in ceremony, 2003

Of Yesterday...

Sifting through my belongings as I move into the future, I have had the curious opportunity to revisit my past. Last night, as I dipped my hands into Peace Corps memories, I found this gem. Written on September 11, 2003, it was noted on the crumpled piece of paper that this poem occupied:

"Dedicated to Micro 70s: as we adapt to a new culture, do not forget where we came from."

I read this aloud to all of the trainees in Peace Corps Micronesia two years after the 9/11 tragedy and over a year and a half after I had moved away from the United States to become a Peace Corps volunteer. So without further adieu...

I am from

I am from...
a humble beginning and a complex past,
a deep green blanket of trees
where the rain pours non-stop
and umbrellas are a mosaic in the sky.

I am from...
skinned knees and freeze tag,
bike crashes and pickle ball;
Garbage Pail Kids and baseball with the boys,
wishing I was one of the boys
and struggling to emerge as a woman.

I am from...
late night dancing
with flowers pinned to lapels
and corsages on wrists;
fancy dresses and butterflies
lingering on and on
until that first kiss.

I am from...
millions of miles back and forth, back and forth,
frothy foam in my face,
swimming away from it all
tears filling my goggles
pain telling me I'm alive.

I am from...
The Sound of Music,
Chopin channeled through my mother into my heart,
jazz weeping from my fingertips,
rhythm and blues repeating every one's story,
Billy Holiday blaring on the record player;
her pain, ours in another time.

I am from...
a mixed family
a mixed-up family
a strong family
a strongly opinionated family
my family.

I am from...
decades of strong women,
rice and beans, sopapillas,
salsa dancing, hair braiding,
curls and koolaid.

I am from...
Lakota, Illahee, Sacajawea
Snohomish, Puyallup, Issaquah
and all of the other natives that time forgot.

I am from...
Democratic, capitalistic
corporate, religious, political
a mess of meditations, a maze of signs
and symbols being held in protest;
a beautiful traffic jam of ideas.

I am from...
nervousness and anticipation,
opportunity and experience;
a new world.

I am from...
a solitary dream
that turned out to be more

I am from America.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Without Winter

Without winter

Without winter, how would we ever know that there is a summer?

Without cool, crisp, clear starry-skied nights, how would we remember that soon enough, the night will be shorter and comfortable, that there will be campfires, sand between our toes and short shorts to be worn?

If we didn't partake in hot cocoa in November, how would we realize that in a few short months we will be pounding iced chai after a strenuous beach day?

Without snow angels, traipsing through the mountains on a long snow-shoe hike with friends, skiing at Mammoth, and cuddling by the fire, would we understand that paddling, bikinis, basking in the sun, and back country hikes were just around the corner?

If never a toe was cold, never a cheek rosy, boots weren't wet, and winter was not stubborn, would we still appreciate the sand cradling our bodies while the California sun tans our faces?

Although winter is my least favorite season, I am fortunate for its existence because, without winter, I would never know how much I love summer. Enduring winter to experience the beauty of summer and to fall in love with the season anew each year makes my stomach flip. However, lately, I have had to remind myself that winter will indeed end. Recently, as winter has slowly descended on Santa Barbara, it has also wiggled its way into my personal life.

I realized winter's oppressive presence just a few days ago while sipping my warm chai latte. Not only was I freezing, but I was also overly melancholy that morning. The night previous, I nonchalantly told a friend that my life was "hard" lately. Expecting sympathy and questions of inquiry, comforting words and advice, my friend offered me a reality check. He said, simply, "How is your life hard?"

At first I was angry. How could he not understand that my life is hard right now? Was he insensitive, clueless even? But then, as I twisted that question around in my head and began to reflect on my seemingly hard life, I realized I was not giving reality due credit. So, I took a knee (metaphorically speaking) and asked myself that same question, how is your life hard right now? I promised myself I would answer clearly and honestly. This was my response.

Asking how my life has been hard really made me think about whether it is truly hard or not. The answer to that one would be a resounding no, it isn't really hard. It is not hard for many reason that I shall, from this second forward, remember each day I wake.

I am not poor.

Unlike almost half of the world I do not struggle each day to find food; I am not starving or malnourished, I have electricity and plumbing. I have a warm home and a place to sleep and think.

I am not unemployed.

In fact, I am lucky enough to have two jobs. When 12% of Americans are unemployed, I wake up each day with the awesome responsibility of teaching language to our future citizens and leaders. At one of the most beautiful city college campuses in the United States, I interact with students from all over the world, make friends, drink chai lattes, and bask in the sunshine. Hugs abound. Smiles are common. In addition to teaching, I also get to serve food at a family-owned restaurant and meet all kinds of interesting people each night. I am humbled by the mopping of floors and the cleaning of toilets; I know that hard work will make me stronger and I am fortunate that I am able to do it.

I am not sick.

I have no chronic illnesses; I haven't had a cold or the flu for as long as I can remember. I do not need any prescription drugs or painkillers. I go to the dentist and eye doctor regularly and can afford it because I am lucky enough to have good health insurance.

I have loyal and supportive friends and I am in physically awesome shape.

The community that surrounds me lifts me up when I am low; they encourage me through hard times, feed me, educate me, and reason with me.

I eat clean food and breathe clean air.

Living in California I have access to fresh produce all year. The air is sweet and unpolluted, the food tasty and local. The farmers are friendly and generous.

I can volunteer.

Although life is busy, I volunteer with three wonderful groups. I travel the world teaching non-violent conflict resolution, build community in Santa Barbara through service with like-minded women, and design teacher-training workshops for local ESL teachers.

I have a million options as far as what I can do with my life. I am free to choose, free to live, free to move.

I realize these things each day and take the following as a grain of salt…

What my life IS right now is tiring, conflicting, WIDE OPEN and sometimes lonely. In addition to the aforementioned, I am going through a divorce. Although the end of my marriage is a choice and it is what I want, it is still difficult and a bit heart wrenching to go through the process. There is no way to quantify how difficult it is; suffice to say it is difficult. Dismantling the last five years of my existence and salvaging what remains of an integral relationship that will always be a part of me, is an exploration of rock bottom.

But without hard times, how would I ever know that good times will follow?

So I take each day as it comes with the knowledge that although winter has hit hard and strong, all at once, summer will soon be here. Loneliness will fade and the hardness will soften. One day I will wake up, a new person like all of the days before, but this time, summer will have arrived.

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