Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Story Part 14... love and marriage, or the promise of it anyway...

I am finding that it's okay to revisit memories these days. It has been a very long month in some ways, and in others, it has flown by. My mom and I have discussed how it felt as if we were in a movie and we were those people who were standing in the middle of Time's Square, or Grand Central Station - the five of us just standing there, hand in hand, feeling the weight of our sixth missing - and the rest of the world passed us by in a whir as we slowly just tried to grasp what was happening around us. These days it feels more, for me anyway,like I am trying to reenter that world of rushing and whirring and I can't quite keep step with the rest who have not slowed down during my leave of absence. And I am compelled to seek solace in my memories. So I continue my story which brought me to the place I am today and revisit memories that I will forever hold dear.

Where were we?

Oh, I hadn't seen George in six months. He was to fly into St. Louis for my Thanksgiving break, and I was to drive down and meet him there. He had yet to meet my family, so the challenge of getting them together was interesting. My dad decided to pick him up at the airport with a picture in hand as a reference point. That's all he had to go on. Oh, that and his name. I was driving down with a friend so I was not at the airport to meet this boy I knew I would marry, but I can only assume it was a nerve-wracking time for both father and future son-in-law! Since I was informed that George did not look a whole lot like his picture, Dad did what he knew would work. He paged him. :) And from there, they made sure George made it safely to my grandparents' house.

My grandparents were of course thrilled to have the opportunity to host my boyfriend. They could closely inspect this prospect of mine. You see, I am the first granddaughter and they, especially grandpa, were very protective and always a great source of counsel as I grew up. Of course, I can't say that I always followed the advice when grandma would tease with things like "Well I was married with a child by your age!" Uh-huh. That was when I was 19. No thanks! ;) But protective they were. Grandpa's first "fun" in welcoming George into his home was showing him his guns. Now, for a boy who grew up in a country where artillery was only in hands of the Communists, this was for sure a little daunting. For grandpa, this was great fun. But I guess George took it all with a grain of salt, because he stuck around! ;)

My trip was no longer than planned, but finally I arrived home late into the evening and was only able to call my sweet George and wish him a good night's rest until we'd see each other in the morning. Just one more day.

When I did see him, it was as if I was coming home. I don't think I recognized it then as I do now, and even as I write, my eyes well up with tears. But there it was. The place I'd rest until death do us part. His sweet arms.

Thanksgiving Day came, and as was our tradition, we all gathered at grandma and grandpa's house. Aunts, uncles, cousins - the whole gang. I don't even know how many we were back then, but the house would always be overflowing with at least 25 people or more. It was great fun! But George must have felt a LITTLE overwhelmed. Not just meeting my parents, nope, we threw him into the whole group. And he survived. He gave me a ring that day. Not my engagement ring, but just a pretty ruby ring which symbolized for us an intention to marry. When my parents and grandparents called us to the front room for a "discussion", I don't remember feeling intimidated, but I remember feeling safe. The people who I cared most about in this world were all right there in one room, concerned for me. And though three of them are gone, I now realize that what they were doing was trying to make sure that I'd feel safe even after they were no longer here to sit in quiet living rooms of life and enjoy my conversation. And I do. I feel safe, loved and cherished. Now more than ever.

So it was that we were to be married. I was only 19 years old. Looking back, I see myself as so immature and silly even. You know that line in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Bennett calls his daughters "three of the silliest girls in all of England"? I often wonder why my dad wouldn't have said that about me, even though I'd never have admitted it back then! But we were in love and plans made way for reality and we walked each step confident in each other, if in nothing else.

After school was finally out, May of '95, George went back to his home country, and I went on a tour for the college that summer. It was a challenge like none I'd had before. And a lovely learning experience at the same time. We were apart, but George would leave me little letters and packages along my journey across the southern states, and our hearts became more and more knit together. I turned 20, completed my responsibilities, and was to fly along with my parents to see George in his homeland and meet his parents. It was my turn to be plunged into the world of meeting and being approved by not just the parents, but the whole family and more!

So, off to Europe went the three us. Mom, dad, and I had never even needed a passport before, and we were about to embark on a journey like we'd not dare dream. It seems now as if it really was a dream. We were greeted with such love and excitement. Because we were going to have our wedding in America, we were decided to have an "engagement" of sorts while there. I didn't realize what that meant until days before the party! We walked into my husband's home church and I was overwhelmed! The reception hall was gorgeous, and we would host over 100 guests, ceremony and all. Family and friends who would not be able to make the trip to see our wedding, came to an elaborate feast of fun and vows. Yes, vows. The pastor came, and during that time, in George's native county, it was a custom to exchange wedding bands on the right hand as a vow of engagement until the wedding day when they'd be switched to the left hand. So, rings we exchanged, promises we exchanged, and home alone we went! It was the weirdest feeling of being promised, and not yet married. But there were only four months to wait...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Come as you are...

It's funny how death will cause you to reexamine life.

And that's what I'm doing. Reexamining, relearning, reevaluating - call it what you will - but there's a certain unsettling feeling when you realize that this is all temporary, and you're never guaranteed another day. So this day had better count.

As I take this next step on my journey, I am confronted with my approach on humanity, on life in general... and I have found that many of us often say "come as you are" when we really mean "come as I want you to come".

I had a conversation with a friend last week which just made me speechless. Literally. All I could do was sit and take it in. When she was finished, I could say nothing but these words "Well, I tend to believe that God's grace is sufficient for that."

But do I?

I haven't always. It's been a long road, but upon reexamination, I have found that I can believe that, and I do. Instead of seeing it that way for many years, I focused on the religious aspect. Boy, are we good at that! From the coffers of religious rituals we have unearthed our own alters of sacrificial penance, and we step back and look at what "good" we've done. We come not as we are, but with a mask to show what we think we should be, and what we actually are is plunged into a sarcophagus that should have held the dead - for we are meant to be alive and free!

I used to tremble at what people might say, or lose sleep over not being accepted for doing this-or-that, fearfully approaching those who say "come as you are" as if what I am just might not be enough.

Ah, Enough...

But I breathe softly today. Calm and unmoved, not with a spirit of fear, but with a sound mind and truly say to my fellowman:
"Come as you are, GRACE will bring the rest."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cherish the moments

For those of you who know me personally and have asked - yes, I intend to continue my story in the next few posts, however, today I wish simply to share a few current events and thoughts.

Two weeks ago today, I lost my father. He was only 58 years old. I guess lost is a strong word since I know where he is. Faith was his life; his passion. I share that faith. No matter what I can say about my father, one fact remains: he believed in things some struggle to explain their whole lives. And he was a master at explaining the reasoning behind his faith, but it still all came down to one thing - he believed, and that belief drove him to live the way he did; spreading love wherever he went. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

As I write this draft sitting on an airplane to return to my sweet love and our three children, I can simply sit alone in this crowd and wonder how I was so lucky to have been a part of dad’s few, short days on this earth. How was it that I was chosen to be the child of such amazing parents and blessed to have felt such love from the moment I drew my first breath and even before? I cannot explain the “whys” of things like my scholar father could, but I suppose even that comes down to faith itself.
After getting the news of our father’s death, I boarded a plane as quickly as I could and together with my siblings traveled to be by my mother’s side. I suppose I’ll tell more about the funeral and more importantly my dad’s life in later posts, but the thing I want to say today is that moments matter. I only had 11 short days with my mom and siblings this time, but I soaked them up, as they flew by.

I entitled this post “Cherish the Moments” because as we were clearing out some of my dad’s lovely never-throw-anything-away-unless-you-have-to closets, my brother found an old childhood cassette tape. Complete with stories and songs we’d listen to on our family road trips. Oh the fun we had singing and playing in the car as children! On our way to the airport, what better way to make the ride more fun than to pop in our old childhood story tape? Does is get better than that? Probably not. And we figured it would distract us from the fact that we must again be separated by oceans…
We all enjoyed the crazy voices and silly songs until we pulled onto the exit toward the airport and a song entitled “Cherish the Moments” began to play. The tears were almost instant. Mom, younger brother, sister, and I wept as we thought of the moments we had -and anguish stole joy -and loss was real once again.

As I hugged my mother to say yet another heart-wrenching goodbye in the airport, she sweetly whispered, “I’ve cherished every moment I’ve ever had with you.”

I had no doubt.

But in that moment, a flood of moments came to memory and I could only ache to never say another goodbye as long as I live. But then, I’m just a hopeless dreamer, I guess, or maybe just in stage “denial” of grief today.

So now, I’m only a few hours away from seeing the love of my life and my dear children and new moments will be soon cherished. More now than ever, I think. And as reality and grief will almost certainly walk hand in hand from that Tuesday in July until the day I take my last breath, I hope to learn to cherish each and every second of each and every moment I share with the amazing people in my life.

I’ve cherished each one too, mom, and hope to share a million more.

I have a layover. Fun, I know. It’s a three-hour layover in London. Not really enough time to do anything but change terminals, go through security, and sit until they tell you which gate to go to for the next flight. So, I proofread the first art of this post, and then just sat for a little while. Watching people. I like to people watch… minus the creepy stalking type. :P Do you ever just sit in the park or airport and watch what people do? I don’t unless I’m forced to on a day like today, but it’s quite interesting to say the least.

People come.

People go.

People bond - yes, bond even in an airport over a cup of coffee.

Moments, remember those? It’s funny because there were many moments over the past week where my mom and siblings and I sat in the same room just silent. I think it would have been awkward for anyone but us, and trust me, it was irregular for my family to have long moments of quiet, but as we sat there and just existed in the same space for a little time, it was a healing balm to comfort us. Knowing that the other was there just to be there in another’s presence, and cherish a moment or two.
Or really however many passed. It’s hard to know as we walked through these last two weeks seemingly in slow motion, as everyone and everything scurried by in a whir.

But I digress… the airport people… each one important to someone. A story lies within. A person somewhere on this earth loves them. I wonder how many moments will be shared among them, and how many will whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for the ones they love. To cherish. Always.

I wonder how many have hurts, how many have triumphs to rejoice over today. I wonder how many know they are loved. Truly loved. And if not by a human being, by a God who has created them for a special purpose.

All I can hope as I watch for this next half an hour or so, is that I can walk through my life cherishing moments in a new way. And I can only pray the same for the hundreds of strangers who occupy this same space for a moment in my life, and theirs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Duplicitous Death

You vex and deceive and haunt my heart
While offering me thoughts of relief.
Toil and agonize as I might,
You promise hope.
I fly on wings of memories,
And soar to the pinnacle of love shared.
You snatch me back as I grapple for more,
Sweet, comforting resting place
You offer no rest for me.
Oh how you hold the power to stir a cyclone of emotion!
Smiles and laughter mixed with gutteral cries of pain.
Wails of grief I can not hide from nearby listeners
They can only stand and pity us who suffer.
Oh sweet death you taunt me with your promises.
Sweet, haunting, duplicitous death...