One Thing: Ocean

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We went snorkeling yesterday and it was glorious. Even Isaac got into it, floating along on the top of the water, staring down at the fish underneath. We went out on a big wooden boat with a bunch of other people and hilarious boat guides who sang "My heart will go on" at the front of the boat for laughs. It was the first time I've gone snorkeling since Chinua and I went, just after we got engaged on the Andaman Islands. And it was beautiful to take the kids, to see their delight and watch them diving down to get closer to the coral, narrowly avoiding urchins. 

On the boat, I was reminded of the sea. How it seems to stretch without limit, taking the curve of the earth. A gentle hand. I remembered fish striped or blooming like flowers, unaware, as they swim, of my grocery lists or unanswered emails. Unaware of heat, smoke, or forest fire. They swim closed in a quiet so true it is like a dream. 

This always exists here, at the bottom of the world. In full color, cool and lost to itself, light filtering down through jeweled blue. The fish swim, dreaming of food and tiny crevices in the rock, unaware of my longing.

One Thing: Nap

Something I love with the kind of longing and wistfulness a person has for very rare, perfect things, is a certain kind of nap. A kind I have only a few times a year.

The kind of nap you can have after lunch if you are not too hot, in a comfortable bed, and have no particular time that you need to be awake. You sleep, and the sleep feels draggy and deep, cool and dark and delicious. And then you rise out of sleep for a few minutes, and smile and dive back down. For a while you hover between sleep and awake, hearing little sounds around the house, choosing not to get up... quite... yet.  

And then you get up and make a cup of tea and slowly return to the land of the awake, remembering you sleep and how you dreamed strange dreams. Life feels very magical and full of possibility.

 

One Thing: Be like Isaac.

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We're on a vacation down south in Thailand for a break from the smoke in Pai. A short break. We drove for two days to get to Koh Chang, and will drive for two days to get back, and it's so worth it. We have five days of restful bliss in an Airbnb on this lovely island. There are mangroves in front of our house, and a rocky quiet beach. Birds everywhere. Lanky teenagers and big kids. And one little four-year-old guy. 

Now that I have all these big kids (which I love) I find I have all this nostalgia for the little ones. And I still have one little one, so he gets a bucketful of nostalgia mixed in with his parenting. I think four might be the perfect age. He's whimsical, perpetually delighted, bubbling over with energy, and overwhelmingly cute. On the way home yesterday, Chinua and I agreed that we should be more like Isaac.  

For example. He ate pad see ew for dinner yesterday (fried wide noodles with vegetables and soy sauce) and he looked up after his dinner came and said, "Oh! I got corn in my pad see ew! I'm getting so much corn in all my pad see ews!" (Delight, awe, a feeling of being bountifully blessed with corn.) 

Or, halfway through the meal, he discovered his plastic wrapped chopsticks. "Oh! It's so good that I have these sticks! I'm going to open them!" (Delight, discovery, a feeling of being entrusted with big kid things like chopsticks.) 

Or, also during the same dinner, when a beach dog made its way over to him as a potential dropper of food (smart dog). "I'm so lucky. I'm always so lucky because this dog came and sat by me again!" (Joy, and a feeling of being chosen.)  

Or earlier in the day, eating an apple. "Mama! Mama! Apples have apple juice in them!" (Delight, discovery, culinary bliss.) 

But my favorite moment yesterday was when we went to a waterfall, and he was mulling it over as we left to hike out. "That wasn't very fun for me," he said. "I didn't swim much, there weren't very many animals, and it wasn't very fun."  (He was afraid of the fish, so didn't get in the water.)

"Well," I said. "Some things we do because they're beautiful, not because they're fun." 

But his fun meter needed some help, so on the way back through the forest, he jumped off a big rock. "I have half a fun point," he said. Then he jumped off another rock. "Now I have a full fun point." And all the way back to the car, he jumped off rocks to fill up his fun. 

That's why we want to be more like Isaac. 

One thing: The Introduction.

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I have been writing a lot of fiction for years now. It means I'm always writing a first draft, or editing, polishing, or plotting another story. And oh, how I love writing stories. But these stories, so important to me, crowd out my other writing. I feel that I have only so much creativity for each day (and certainly only so much time), and so I have grown rusty at remembering, processing, and telling my days in writing. When I don't write, I can't think. So my thoughts are muddy and cluttered. I react, I misjudge. I see a direct link between my life-telling here and my inner state. 

What can I do? I can't stop writing fiction. I can start writing here again. But I need to lower the stakes, to allow for the one sentence posts, for photos and ideas and unprofessional ramblings. In the past, writing about One Thing has helped. Here I am again, picking up a practice I have laid down. Blogging one thing at a time as close to daily as I can. 

This is one thing today: starts and pauses, picking things up, dropping them again. It would be a good diagram for my life, a jagged line that is never completely smooth. But somehow, in the midst of it all, a life time of writing (or exercising, drawing, praying, or knitting) emerges. We can also let the worries grow, or get tugged around without noticing beauty, without learning contentment. So don't despise small beautiful things. They collect and heap up on each other, and if we notice them and honor them, they form our lives. 

The container that doesn't work.

Sometimes it's all just too much.

Sometimes it's all just too much.

The sky looks as though it is anticipating a storm, but no storm comes. It’s only haze, and we have to get used to a weak, filtered sun again, one that can burn us, but can’t quite turn the world to color. Yesterday I was watering at the garden and two things happened. One, I was trying to fix the pump without unplugging it, and I got quite a big shock. (Always unplug the pump before trying to fix it.) And two, a flock of bulbuls startled out of the bamboo, all rising up together as I walked past. I have never seen so many bulbuls together, and I felt like they were saying hello.

And the sky was like a giant melon colored bath. It pinched my throat.

I saw a boy, too, with his toy truck tied behind his bike. He rattled along joyfully, the truck trying to keep up as he peddled along the road. Kicking up the dust behind him.

***

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the things I have:

A family in Thailand who love me.

A family in Canada who love me.

A family in the US who love me. 

A large, heavy bag of grief.

A fear of things turning back to the way they were before. Before I felt freer of expectations.

A chariot and a motorbike.

Another year’s curriculum. Boxes of books and a frog in formaldehyde. 

Four boys and a girl.

A blog. Seven books.

Some paintings.

A house that I rent.

A devotional community and garden. 

A lot of questions.

A jar of stones. A jar of pine cones. A Russian doll. Several bottles of essential oil. Paints and books and a clarinet.

 

I am rich, in other words.

***

Everywhere I look on the web, I see people planning their ideal work days. The hours they would work, sleep, make a second cup of coffee, work out, sit at a lovely setting and dream. I’m sure many of these people don’t actually get these ideal days. Their work days may become railroaded by underwear that itches, an angry man with a parking space issue, or a doctor’s visit that causes anxiety. And sometimes maybe they really do go to the gym, eat some muesli, and then have four hours of uninterrupted painting time.

But the very concept of writing out my ideal day escapes me, makes my palms sweat. Because as soon as you reach for something, that means you want it, right? And that means it can disappoint you. Does that sound fatalistic? I don’t mean it to. I just mean that as a homeschooling mom of five and someone who lives the way I do, (overseas, doing life in community, with a musician husband) it makes more sense to write the day down after it has already happened. Only then can you know its true shape.

Today, for instance, I sat down to write, only to remember that I needed to pick up 30 liters of raw milk- 20 for my friend and 10 for me. So I put the baskets on the motorbike and picked up the milk. Then I sat down again and remembered that I have to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow for Kenya. So I did that, then I came back. And there were no more things, so I started to write, but then Isaac was there, in his four-year-old glory, and he wanted me to know that Solo was asleep, and Solo wanted me to come and see that he was asleep.

“I’m working,” I said. “I can’t come to see Solo fake-sleeping right now. Show Daddy.” I could hear Chinua playing the piano, I knew he was there. Two minutes later, Isaac was back. “He really, really needs you to come and see that he’s sleeping.” 

So I went and watched him fake sleeping and congratulated him on how realistic it looked. But this was my day to work and be creative. So I went back to work. Then I accidentally read the news and had a minor emotional crisis and went for a scooter ride, driving through forests so dry I might be able to push them over if I tried. Leaves as large as small animals flew around me, crackling in the air. That wasn’t in the plan, either. 

If it is a school day, I might start the day full of verve and pep, only to find that I am the only creature left in the world who has verve and pep, and that everyone else in the family has decided to throw in the towel on life. Perhaps there is teenaged sibling stuff. Or big questions about God before coffee. Perhaps I am trying to draw a line on when the kitchen is closed to snacks and breakfast, but I can’t quite bring myself to enforce the rule. Maybe Leafy has decided that baking tiny loaves of bread is the goal of the day, when I had thought it was math. (For Kenya it might be drawing one thousand dragons.) Maybe I want to read to Isaac, but he wants to fall apart because Solo told him that Hulkbuster Sword can’t tell God what to do. (“He can! He can! He CAN!”) Maybe I have all the intention in the world to be excellent, gracious, and undramatic, but at some point Chinua gives me an irritated look, so I decide he hates me and the year is ruined and the only thing that will help is burning the house down. Maybe I think I’m going to water the garden in peace, but people come and take a series of photos of me watering the garden, standing beside me and posing. Or the pump doesn’t work. 

In other words, when life is full, when I am the richest I can be, it seems that I can’t keep everything in its container, or decide what will happen and when. And so the only thing to do is decide to embrace it all, to flow with it, to get in the middle of the argument about Hulkbuster Sword telling God what to do, and engage the question of whether God connects more with people who aren’t skeptics, and smile for the picture, and fix the pump, and greet the visitor, and cry when I want to cry and go chat with the raw milk man. We make plans, and the plans don’t always work. I know that in this season of my life, I have only marginal control over my days. But I guess it’s always that way, isn’t it?

My dad just got very sick and wound up in the hospital, (my dad! I can barely write that without wanting to cry) and I know he and my mom are scratching their heads over what it means for their plans. It happens to all of us, in every stage of our lives, but in all these interruptions, the emotional outbursts, the broken pens and flat tires and burnt chocolate, there are gifts, if we are willing to receive them. The gifts are from God, things that say, “Hello, I love you, you’re small and human and I love you.” 

This is part of what it means to be a monk in the world, I think. It’s part of the reason people think monastic motherhood is not possible. But the lack of control, if we can accept it, sink into it, and allow it to lead us to God, can be equal to all the ways people try to impose deprivation on themselves. Solitude, fasting, simplicity, or not being able to foretell one single thing about how the day will go,  all of it brings us to our own nakedness, our lack of power, our need to abide in God. Life, in all its chaos, its twists and turns, can offer this truth to us. We only have to allow it.