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. 

Five Things

The world has been a bit disappointing all around lately. But the birds are still praising God, and so are many people, and many people give their lives to help people who are oppressed in the world, people who are different from them. And the people who are oppressed forgive and forgive, and much love can overcome anything. I believe this. I believe it and I try not to despair. But I feel quiet. I don’t know how to speak into the maelstrom. So here are five things. 

1. I sent World Whisperer Two off to my editor the other day, and I'm working on plotting the third. I'm doing it! I'm writing a series, and the characters have me completely captivated. I really love Isika, Ben, Jabari and Gavi. And the others. And now there are even more. Gosh it's fun to write about pretend people.

2. I’m making the change from being a morning person to being a night person. You might be tempted to tell me about studies that show that this is not possible. But I’m determined, because for all of our marriage, my Superstar Husband and I have been living on nearly opposite schedules and enough is enough. Normally I wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 so I can write before the kids get up. Now I’m trying to write after they’re in bed, and even though I’m often working, Chinny and I are in the same room, and sometimes we distract each other with funny videos or kisses. But it’s still hard to get my mind around “work” happening after “kids in bed” time. I’m tricking myself with all sorts of tricky tricks. Like calling it “creative alone time.” Also, I’ve started lighting a candle and some incense as a sort of signal that it’s time to start. And I’m trying out reading to the boys downstairs to I don’t go upstairs to where the bedrooms and the beds are, all beautiful and smooth and inviting and sleepy-making. We’ll see. I’m giving it another week or two while I try to adjust.

3. I went to Chiang Mai a couple weeks ago, and on the way home I rode in the front seat next to a bus driver who was a little intense. He was nearly riding on the top of other people’s bumpers. Also, he had a police siren installed as his horn, and whenever someone was taking too long to let him pass, out came the siren. Like a pull over siren. The police don’t use sirens very often over here, and I guess it’s not illegal to imitate American-sounding sirens. It made me smile every time, even as I clutched at the door handle.

4. Isaac is taking a turn for the delightful and sometimes sings a song that has lyrics something like: “I love my mama, because she is so beautiful…” and then I attack him with kisses. We had a lice day the other day (it’s been a while, a record for us) and his head is shaved and gorgeous. I kiss it and lead him around by the handle on the back, the way I used to do with Solomon.

 

5. I took Leafy to the local tailor the other day. He gave her a sketch he had made of a superhero costume he designed. It’s going to be made with navy blue spandex. He’s the navy knight. I’m so thankful we live here right at this moment, because as his project got more and more complicated, and then we bought spandex and I realized I have no idea how to sew spandex, and much of it was going to be me making the costume, I got a little panicky. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to withstand the thread tension issues I was sure I would come up against. And then it hit me! The tailor! She can do anything. She gave Leafy an apple to eat, which he was inordinately happy about. He’s making a superhero team. They’re going to do nice things for people in the neighborhood, like pick up litter and clean things. And this is why I love being a mother.

The clearest things.

We’re well into fire season in Northern Thailand. The smoke is thick, now, like a filter over the whole world. My throat hurts in the morning. Everything is muted into grays, browns, and washed out greens and yellows. I feel filtered too, missing my husband and waiting for someone to come and invite me into a world of plenty. But there are so many beautiful things, even in this smoky season. The doves in the mornings and all the birds that call while we meditate at the garden. My jasmine tree is blooming. When I sit on the stairs in the evening I can breathe jasmine, think jasmine. I go to bed dreaming of it. It makes me think of my friend Leaf, the way she bought us jasmine on our retreat. It reminds me of my first, difficult moments in Goa, when I was pregnant with Solo, the longing I had for home, and the jasmine my husband bought me, wrapped in a banana leaf. It made me feel like perhaps I could stay.

Yesterday I drove to the pool with the kids. We still fit in the chariot, but just barely, and sometimes I can’t believe we are still driving everywhere in it. We passed dried, burned forests, the earth black at the feet of teak trees that have lost all their leaves. The hills were hidden behind the smoke. Tiny lizards sat in the road with heads and tails up and I prayed they would scurry away every time. They did. Our little motorbike with its sidecar bravely navigated the hills in first gear, rattling all the way. 

The morning had gone well, with school and books and tea all around. I have successfully stopped adding sugar to my coffee and I don’t know if you can ever know just how huge an accomplishment it is for me, but I feel amazing. The heat grew and grew until it was nearly 40 degrees and time to drive to the pool.

We met for homeschool co-op and talked about the eclipse, which we missed by seven minutes, because the moon was still hiding behind the hills. Isaac taught himself to swim, wriggling back and forth between Kenya and I. When he swims he holds his hands to his sides and bobs up and down like a dolphin. He is slippery and cool in the water, a delight on a hot day. In the hotspring pool, I talked with an older French woman. “Your husband?” she asked, after we talked about all my children. “He’s away right now, in Hungary?” Her face changed. “He’s hangry with you?” She asked, horrified. “No, no!” I said. “The opposite. He’s very, very pleased with us. He’s in Hun-gah-ry.” 

Sometimes people here ask me if I’m not afraid to have my husband far from me, that he will have another girlfriend. (Yes, people ask this and yes people talk about absolutely everything in Thailand. No subject is too difficult, except, perhaps, the royals.) And then I think of our trust, and the fact that marriage and the promises we have made make us more free than anything could. We can fly around the world, apart for a short while, knowing that we will always come back together, a true home to one another. Trust is the water, the life, the clearing away of smoke until everything shines like diamonds; the love Chinua holds for me, no matter where he is, the truth of it, the stark, effervescent joy. He is not angry. He is very pleased to think of us, his wife and children. We are his home. He comes back to us singing. 

We drove home in the dark, rattling along in the thick air. The full moon shone red through the smoke and everyone watched it except for me, because I was watching the road, slowing down for the broken places, making sure the lizards got out of the way, admiring the way that life conquers even the driest places.

 

Many Years

Aahhh, I have so many things I want to write to you, thoughts and happenings and dreams. 

For now, here is a poem in progress. I read it at our town's spoken word evening and I'm still working on it, but here it is right now. 

Many Years

It has taken many years, my love,
Inhalation of spring, exhalation of bright
Leaves that scatter over mountains and dust along
Streets.
Or, a different sort of year:
One that starts with cold,
Then blankets the hills with smoke and heat and yellowing leaves
Fire necklaces on the mountains
Dragons winding their way up to find the hidden stars again,
And then rain
Water streaming from the sky, plunging, falling, washing, crying
over death until life comes again and everything is new
And steam rises from rice fields and we walk through wet air
Wiping it from our foreheads and chins, wading through a wet sky.

Anyway, you know what a year is, I don’t have to tell you.
At the time of this reading we have seen fourteen of them together,
All different sorts of them, leaping, falling, limping, tumbling.
The kind where cars break down and you can’t pay for it so you
sit on the side of the road for hours with your head in your hands
Or people yell. Or children go to the hospital, or the kind of year when there is
fire in the grasses, angry hedgehogs, furious cattle with bruises and scrapes.
And there are the beautiful years where the days fly so fast that you barely touch them
Before they’ve slipped away.

Years. It has taken many years, my love,
For me to know that love is not for perfection, 
Human perfection, anyway,
Because perfection is tight, smooth, too slippery to hold,
Too airy to caress, too overwhelming to approach. 
Love cannot permeate perfection’s marble surfaces.

No, love is for waiting, and dying, and crumbling.
Love is for reaching and breathing, and being out of breath.
Love is for genteel poverty, or true poverty, for picnics on train station floors.
For stumbling and running to catch up. Love is for clothes with holes,
For birthday presents that aren’t quite right.
Love is for bitten nails.
For forgotten anniversaries, pods of orcas, and the tiniest of geckos running along the ceiling

Love reveals, and love protects,
Love grows bigger and bigger, filling all the holes, 
Reaching the unlovable places, and expanding them,
Possessing them,
Lifting them.
Love is for old broken days in the hospital, 
And mornings when the sky is so blue you could tap it and it would ring like a bell

Love is for your eyes
And your hands.
And your mouth kissing mine.
For when you play the piano and the world is filled with golden light
For when the kids are getting along. 
Marriage is a greenhouse for love.
I remember a year that was so bad I wasn’t sure that I would get through it
And even then, with the world on fire,
And houses that bent and broke, loss, and the birds all quiet in their trees,

I knew that I would follow you anywhere.

Because our love is for
Your sleepless nights, my early mornings
The egg shape of my round belly, 
The five births you walked me through, the pools of milk,
The day we lost the tiniest of souls
It was for our youth and it is for gray hair, and it will be for our old and fragile bones,
When we will sail anywhere we want and live in our boat.
It is for asthma and high blood pressure
and that one time I got a dog when you were away and then you
Never let me forget it and pretended that you hated her when you
Actually secretly love her.
We swell with our love, each year we rise a little higher
Like lanterns in a river of light

And we might float away completely
If it wasn’t for sliding back to earth together to
find rivers and creek beds where the love can soak in.
And we find each other here, stunningly imperfect,
Sun-warm, arms and legs and faces touching,
Our greenhouse holding us, nurturing us, and stretching the greenest,
Lightest of limbs,
Into a sky so blue, you could tap it and it would ring like a bell.

A letter might work. Maybe.

I was messaging with Leaf last night, and I wrote, "The poo soup was not even the worst part of my day." 

I haven't written about poo for a while. Nearly thirteen years into my mothering career, I have mastered poo. Poo doesn't get to me anymore. Potty-training-outtakes-poo on the floor, the dog eating poo, poo explosions. Until, that is, the poo soup. And it wasn't even the worst part of my day. 

It begins with toddlers who love to put things in toilets. It continues with two blocked toilets that I have been plunging for weeks. We have a third toilet, all the poo is supposed to go in there, but we are forgetful people at times. Yesterday, with two blocked toilets, I woke determined to fix it all. I bought a plumbing snake, some hardcore toilet clearer, and a new plunger. The downstairs toilet was really and truly blocked. Do I even need to tell you what happened? I added the chemical to the water, it cooked the poo, the vapor rose to fill the house, and then I died. Or I decided to move. Or burn the house down. 

The septic guy came out and blah blah blah, something with a hose and stuff. I don't think it's actually completely fixed yet. 

The point is, it was horrible. But there are things more horrible than poo soup, like yelling at your dear husband. That was the worst part of my day. Because a slight criticism on his part (had nothing to do with the plumbing problem, and more with my tendency to fret) led to me getting VERY defensive and striking back, guns blazing. After all these years, I'm still not the best at taking criticism. And yes, it was the first day of my period, and yes, I started that day, not on some cushions with dark chocolate and a favorite book, but in the poo soup. And yes, I tend to worry about money. 

Fighting with my husband didn't make me feel better about any of this. Demanding to be understood never works. Bad days happen. But here's a letter to my future self:

Dear Rae,

On days like these, take a walk, lovely. Make a cup of tea. Go to your room and turn the lights off and put music in your ears and imagine forests. Go for a drive. Soothe yourself. Then open your hands, give your husband (your loving, kind-hearted, human, well-meaning husband) a big hug. Accept that he won't always say the thing that makes you feel the best. Move into the day with grace. Know that grace is there for you. Stand under the waterfall of grace for a while. Accept that he might be right about his critique of you, but that doesn't mean you aren't lovable. Remember that you are a monk, your spiritual work is taking care of kids and plants and making food and reading aloud. 

Only love and grace can heal. Hold it in abundance for all those around you, and especially for you, because when you want to return fire, guns blazing, you need to pour a little extra love in your cup and keep your heart and your mouth quiet. 

*

This letter might work for you, too. Or maybe you can write your own letter, for those days that start with poo soup. Put it somewhere safe, and pull it out and read it when you need to. I'm going to try it.

And my husband is kind and forgiving, and all is right with the world again. (Sort of, except that I think we're still stuck only using one toilet.)