Today.

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I am okay. I will be okay. Thanks to anyone who checked on me and thanks to those who didn’t, because I sense that you know I am okay.

I wrote and read the love letter poem because a great amount of the suffering that comes with depression is the fear and experience of judgment. I get it all the time, in little and big ways. Why can’t I just be normal? Why is someone like me, apparently accomplished in many ways, still like an injured bird? 

I also have a tribe of loving people around me who understand, either from their own experiences or just from being awesome and caring and understanding. I wish that for everyone. I wish people who suffer from mental illness to feel validated and cherished.

And today is always new and fresh. While it is called today, I will not harden my heart, but strive to enter the rest of God, as it says in the book of Hebrews. 

Rest. Ah… how I would love to have a restful mind. I don’t, so my rest looks like reading, writing, painting, riding a motorbike through jungly growth, and sitting with fireflies. 

“While it is still called today.” The day is always called today. It is another way of saying, It is never too late.

I am out from under the heaviest of this, and today I give thanks for breezes, for birds, for Isaac hugs in the morning, for Chinua my beloved, for music and fun and breath of new days ahead. For good hard work and the gentle touch of God, who loves, who loves, who loves.

The things that help us remain.

 The punniest ones.

The punniest ones.

Well, May has taken me by surprise. I forgot how busy I always am, and how much emotional space is taken up by my life in my family and community. It leaves me breathless. I am sinking in, settling and staying and remaining in it all. 

This morning the world feels full of possibility. It rained all last night, which had me wakeful because of the tin awning next to my window, where I could hear the drops amplified like large beasts dancing around in our eaves. But gray is a color that the sky can be, and sometimes large beasts spend the night trampling around and you flow in and out of sleep, waiting for oblivion.

I have found a spot for quiet moments- a large boulder where I can sit and see the whole valley beneath me, a place away from people. I love my house in town, but I can’t see very far from it; only into the friendly eyes of my neighbors. Sometimes I need a farther view. The other day I drove out to my spot after a long day of talking, and found sweet breezes in the hills as I went. The day had been hot and humid, in between rains, but the breeze on the bike cooled my hot eyes. 

The spot I love is in the midst of a litchi orchard, and since the litchis are ripe right now, there were bikes that belonged to the farmers who own the orchard. They were harvesting and also, I noticed, pruning the trees, probably preparing for next year’s harvest. Litchi season is so short. So the trees were barer and shorter than when I had last seen them, and large branches were piled at their bases. 

I wondered what the farmers would think of me sitting there, but I went and sat. I hoped they would know I wasn’t trying to steal litchis. I read a few lines from Anne of Green Gables, but was too keyed up to go very far, so I lay back on my rock and watched the light change and the trees move in the wind. 

There is truly no way to order your life to escape hard things. Sometimes you have to settle into them. But what is the reward? What is the thing that helps us remain? I guess there are many. Cloudy mornings like today. Poems. Quirky kids. 

Quirky kids: all of our teenagers (my own and others in their group of friends) are currently obsessed with puns, which is killing me. I try to discourage them by telling them I’m not impressed, but they see behind my words to the amusement and love beneath. They know I think they are amazing, so they keep pulling out their shiny puns, offering them to me grinning, and no matter how mean I am in response, they know I secretly love it. 

Yesterday Leafy was missing when we went to do read alouds, and we called for him until it was apparent that he wasn’t in the house, or around the house anywhere. It was very unlike him to be gone during a part of school that he loves, so eventually I got worried enough (kidnapping! I would kidnap Leafy, he’s a prize!) that I called his friend Taran. 

“Is Leafy with you?”

“No, but my mom saw him out running.”

“Out running. Hmm. Good to know.”

He came back shortly, dripping with sweat. Apparently he’s in a fitness contest. He lifts weights that he made out of milk jugs with water in them and pvc pipe. And he had finished most of his school and gone out for a run. 

And I had five extra boys over for a while yesterday. One of them kept walking around wearing our Power Rangers costume. I’m so glad to be in a life where I get to see people wearing Power Rangers costumes out of the corner of my eye while I’m baking bread in the kitchen. 

So yes. Quirky kids. Also, color and bread dough in your hands. Rising like a mad thing.

Deep conversations during Bible circle. Deeply smart women making incredible discoveries about the words of God. Salad. Music. Possible future travels.

And behind it all, layered behind all the layers, sheets and swathes and reams of God’s love for you. He loves you and loves you and loves you. You walk around in a spotlight of love. He thinks you are adorable. He loves your laugh and your quirky ways. So that’s a thing that helps us remain.

I watched the sky from my rock and then a farmer spotted me as he turned his motorbike around, ready to head home. He smiled and called out, gesturing for me to come, and then he piled as many litchis into my hands as I could hold. I went back to my rock and sat with my lap full of litchis, and it felt like a lapful of light. 

 

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Dear Ian,

 Radiant.

Radiant.

It has been two years since you died because of stupid leukemia. And I know you are alive somewhere in some amazing existence, possibly storming through the universe, involved in shenanigans on a cosmic level. But we miss you. 

Christy and the girls came to live in Pai, did you know that? It has been the most beautiful thing, to have them near us. I wish you could see Asha reciting the first 26 numbers of Pi, rattling them off effortlessly. She is a sunny, radiant being, irresistible in smile and nature. And Fiona keeps your face fresh in all of our minds—she looks so much like you. She is deep and creative, passionate and lovely. She has a great sense of humor and loves playing tricks on people. Do you remember how it was hard for a while, when she and Isaac played together as toddlers? He was a year younger but strong and not careful with his strength, and she was a tender flower. I remember we had to keep them apart. Now Fiona says Isaac is her best friend, and they play for hours. She runs around with her long braids flying, chasing and running and leaping around him.

I think you would love the fact that Chinua plays trumpet now. You know how he likes to challenge himself, so he picked one of the hardest instruments and pushes himself every day. He could just choose to stick with instruments he has mastered, but he won’t do that. He played trumpet during a concert last month, and it was beautiful. He misses you. I know he wishes he could have those long talks. I know if you were here you would join the guys on their birding expeditions. You would probably order them all special gear. And find some far off place to plan for, a birding trip like no other. I know you would bring the enthusiasm to another level, a special Ian level. One I have only ever seen mirrored in Asha. 

When Asha visits, she sometimes sits on our steps and says hello to people passing by my house. The people she greets seem delighted to see a red-headed freckled angel talking to them. I often look at her like she is an alien creature. Why would you want to bring more attention to yourself? Now people are talking to you! But she loves it. You would be so proud of her and Fiona. They’re resilient and fierce, kind and joyful. You would be proud of Christy, too— the way she greets her life with openness every day, even on the hard days. She is always pushing for more adventure— going camping at a music festival, heading off to Nepal for visas. Sometimes it amazes me that she is not bitter, but I know she works hard to release feelings of anger and bitterness. She stays hard at that work— she is working to be enveloped in love, to stay close to the heart of Jesus. She blesses everyone she comes close to because of who she is and the generosity of her spirit.

I like to sift through memories of you. Christy and the girls look at your photos and videos, nearly every day. I remember when you came to India, how you and Chinua went on motorbike rides and took photos in banjara camps, playing with flashes and slow shutters. I remember how hard you worked for us to be able to stay in Santa Cruz for three months in 2010. I remember you and Chin going on adventures together, diving or just driving. I remember walking through the Chiang Mai Night Safari together. A staff member let you hold a kinkajou and you fell in love with it. You held Fiona when she was too tired to walk. I remember your open questions to me. “How are you doing? Let’s talk about it.” I can hear your voice asking. Sometimes I imagine what you would say in whatever situation I am in. I imagine you putting your arm around Christy or playing with your beloved girls. I imagine laughter. Lots of laughter.

You are probably having a great time, with no more pain, no more misunderstandings or any of the peculiar foibles of the world we are in here. But we still miss you. We love you, and we’re still mad that you’re gone. 

Long drives, lots of curves.

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We’re back and we just had our six year anniversary of living in Thailand. No wonder it feels so good to be home. Remember when I was searching for a home around the earth? My friend Winnie reminded me the other day, “You found it!”

I can be forgetful sometimes. It seems as though as soon as I leave my home I forget it. I start searching for it. "Where is it?" I panic. "Is it here? Is it there?" I am working lately on finding a home in my heart.

But here we are, back at our physical home. When we first got back to Thailand, we spent time with our friends who have a kids’ home here in the city. They are like family, hospitable and easy with their hospitality, and it’s a good place to land. Two large families live on the same property and when we arrive we bring the kid count up to 19! They all play together well, and I find it so soothing to be around big families and feel normal and not compare myself to single people’s time management skills. (I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone at all. I’m working on it.) 

The families flow effortlessly between English and Thai all day long and I love the music of it. I’ve borrowed a Thai story book and a Thai Bible from my friend to practice my reading. 

After we spent some time with the families—Chinua teaching some of the kids how to make a trumpet make a sound (you’re welcome, parents) and Leafy and Solo effortlessly absorbed into a group of eleven-year-old boys—we drove home. We dropped Kenya and Leafy off at camp first. (More on that later.)

We arrived home in Pai to rediscover the furniture that our dear friend gave us after she downsized from a family home to a condo. (All of her own kids grew up.) It was delivered on the day we left for India, so we had just put everything in the house and locked the door behind it. Arriving home to find it was like a very grown up Christmas. I’m most excited about the bigger dining room table and the dresser in my room. (No more pile of clothes to tear through when I’m looking for something to wear.)

In going through new stuff, Chinua and I thougt we should use our fresh eyes to do a whole spring cleaning and rearranging. So we moved the school stuff from the front room to the back, and made a table space outside under the tree. (Finally! I have been wanting a table under the tree forever. When we first moved in, there were a couple of falling-apart tables that I used to sit at till they truly fell apart. Now I have one again and we’ve been eating every meal out there. So happy.) 

After two days, I had to leave home again (what?) to pick up some Kenya and Leafy from camp and drop off Kai and our friend Vrinda for Senior High Camp. I left Solo and Isaac with their Superstar Dad and keep looking around to see if my kid is yelling, only to remember I left the yelling ones at home. The camp didn’t quite live up to Maple Springs fame, (nothing does) but it was fun and they had a great time. Leafy missed me, and today he seems a little like he needs to go home. To be fair, it was weird to land in the airport and then be dropped off at camp without even getting back to Pai. Yesterday we roamed the mall like a bunch of teenagers (well, they are teenagers and I'm sort of like one sometimes) and wandered through the art store and book store. We’re in a SPENDNOTHING month, so I restrained myself to buying two pens and an eraser, and a pour-over coffee filter. Which isn’t nothing, granted, but I’m out of pens and our coffee filter broke in the travels. 

My friend Prang and I went for a long walk around the neighborhood last night, and talked and talked and watched starlings darting around in the dusk. Leafy played Settlers of Catan with three of the girls, and Kai, Kenya, Leafy and I played Taboo with my friend Cindy and the other kids. We did away with points and competition and just yelled out guesses.

This morning I woke up to the sound of spotted doves, bulbuls, and koels, and soon kids were playing in the yard and I heard those sounds too. We may or may not be able to drive home after Kenya’s dentist appointment this evening (I’m not so great at making myself drive at night, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to, but this time I may do it, just because I want to be home so badly) and I can’t wait until Thursday, because it's art day and Kai and Kenya and I have plans. Right now four little girls in this house are preparing for a birthday party with scissors and tape and lots of paper folding, while listening to Zombie by the Cranberries. They're not so little anymore, these girls, but they are the same ones who told me they loved eating fish eyes, back when they were adorable five-year-olds in princess dresses. And I realized, I am in another country. And I realize I am now again, and all the little details of life—the shopping and chopping vegetables and cleaning out the old stuff— they all feel new and beautiful. Traveling does that, I guess, helps you to see your home through new eyes. Helps you to fall in love again.

The Trains

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Our last days in Arambol were a flurry of visits, community events, and shopping— buying incense, spices and bedsheets, going to a beautiful movement meditation, guiding art meditations and devotion circles, and sitting with friends trying to get the goodness from every moment. There were also many visits to the toilet as we all got hit with some kind of belly sickness. We drank coconut water and bottles of water mixed with rehydration packets, and slowly felt better.

I drove down all the roads I could, finding villages I had never seen before. Through cashew forests, surrounded by the heavy fragrance of fermenting cashew fruit. I said goodbye to the neighbors and shopkeepers who have been so kind over the years. We spent as much time as possible with Miriam; the kids played games with her on the porch and they swam together in the sea. We ate a last breakfast with Sarah and Miriam and Laura, and waved goodbye to everyone when our taxi came for us. 

Then it was time to board a train. We went to the tiny train station and waited with our luggage, but the train was late. When I asked about it, the man said that we could jump on the general class of the next train in five minutes. 

“Right here,” he said, pointing out in front of the ticket office. 

So we waited there and the train came quickly, but the general class car stopped well ahead of where we were standing so we ran for it, with all our bags. These trains stop for only one minute, so getting on and off can be a bit of a fluster with five children and all our luggage. Thankfully our kids are bigger now and can jump on and off themselves.

Once we were on we found seats and looked around at our companions on the train. There were many of them! One came and took a few selfies with Chinua. The train moved through jungle and over bodies of water, inlets and river deltas, over mangroves and past many water birds. Kenya was feeling terrible, and she lay on the top berth while the big boys stood at the doorway with Chinua, looking out. The poor Kenya girl ended up vomiting in one of the most disgusting toilets I have ever seen, while I rubbed her back. She curled up on my lap, trying to feel better.

We reached a station somewhat near our destination and wound up outside the sleepy hot station, looking for a nonexistent taxi. Someone called one for us and as we waited, Kenya lay on the big duffel bed on the ground. The boys and Chinua took photos of a dog with a perpetually smiling face. When the taxi arrived, we piled in like a bunch of puppies, and went through some complicated car changes because of police stops and car authorization (ours was not authorized as a tourist vehicle. Kenya napped in the taxi and woke up feeling much better, thankfully, since most of the work was still ahead of us.

When we got to the hot, lovely little village, we were scruffy, sweaty, and tired. We found a little restaurant, known for its cheap clean food and homemade ice cream, and ate dosas. Then we found a rickshaw who told us he would take us to Kudle Beach, the next beach over. Two rickshaws drove us along lovely bumpy roads, and dropped us off at a point that was high on a hill, like the top of a cliff. 

“There are stairs,” they said, cryptically, and so we hefted our bags onto our backs and started walking down the giant stone steps. The only thing is that we have started traveling with one rolling suitcase (egads, scorn of backpackers!) which contains all the books I thought we might work on for homeschool (why do I do this every time? Every. Time.) and a year’s worth of incense that I bought in Goa, as well as several bedsheets, some shoes, and other odds and ends which were heavy. Kai bumped, lugged, and carried it down the stairs, down and down and down, until the stairs were more like boulders to climb over, and then we were at the beach, confronted by a beautiful expanse of sand. And a rolling suitcase. Ha!

Anyway, after looking through many different huts, we settled on three that were far across the beach, because they were cheap, pretty clean, and had a view of the sea. And there we stayed for three nights, swimming and walking and eating and playing cards. It was lovely and restful. The first night, Chinua joined a music circle of travelers who were delighted with the sound of the mandolin. “What is that?” one man asked. “It is the most magical instrument!”  But Chinua got sick again (he’s been fighting bronchitis) so the kids and I walked back and forth across the beach. I swam with my slippery fish children and we sat in restaurants, sketching, reading, and writing. 

Then it was time to get on our next train, and we chose an easier way back to the village, knowing that it would take us hours to get back up the mountain with all our stuff. We hired a boat, and it was the best investment of the month. When we got back to the main beach, I hiked into the town to get a couple rickshaws and then we drove back out to the point in the road where Chinua and the kids waited for us with the bags. The rickshaws drove us to the restaurant where we had lunch, and then we split up- the boys going to the most dystopic playground ever, and Kenya and I going into the town to explore. Lately Kenya and I like to dream about more travels together. She is such a great travel companion. I took some photos, bought a magnet for my fridge, and some snacks for the train. Then more rickshaws out to the train station. A bit of a wait, and we boarded a train that was much much better than the last one, with 3 tier AC seats. Isaac has been panicking a bit because we have to get on the train very fast- they often only stop for one minute- and he is worried that someone will get left behind. But everyone has made it on and off every train.

I got my very, very favorite seat on any train. It’s the lower side seat, out of the berth. You can sit or lay down, and you have a beautiful big window. With the AC and the comfy seat, I sat and dreamed and wrote notes of things to write. A few women came and sat on my seat and chatted with me for a while. One woman told me her husband worked at a nuclear energy plant, she played badminton for fun and stitched clothes in her spare time, and she loved traveling in India and practicing her English. She sat close to me, leaning on my bag on my knees. I loved every second of our long talk. 

The kids spread out and happily read or talked or played on devices. We ate samosas and biscuits and had beautiful train travels that day. The next day’s train was not quite as nice as we were split up a bit, but we have arrived at a homestay in Fort Kochi, South India.

I chose this place because Chinua is away for a couple of nights at a pottery workshop. It has been his dream to build a pottery workshop at Shekina Garden, as a form of meditation and a teaching tool for local kids. So he is there, and we are here. Fort Kochi is a soft and easy spot to be with the kids by myself. We are walking, and eating, and chatting with people we meet. It’s good to be here after a busy month in the community in Goa. 

I am planning to take a writing retreat to catch up on my writing at the end of April. Knowing this is helping me not to fret about the writing I’m missing, or my horrible word count, but just to be here, soaking it all in. Dreaming of Isika and Benayeem and Jabari. Watching the people walk by. Listening to my kids and all the funny things they say. It is good.

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