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
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.

Jungle neck.

In my dreams I’m climbing mountains, but in real, true life I’m a bit of a wreck. You know when a good chest cold comes, looks around, and decides to get comfortable in your lungs? Stretches, yawns, scratches its bum, and settles in? That’s my chest cold, just a mooch, unwelcome but persistent. So I’m not climbing mountains in my real, true life. I did go on a hike last Friday, a breathtaking, soul inspiring, humid, jungly hike. Our little homeschool co-op went together, after my friend Alisa and I were lamenting the fact that we don’t hike enough, despite the fact that we are surrounded by mountains. The jungle is a little intimidating with its poisonous plants, spiky caterpillars and ants that will eat your leg right off, or if not, at least bite you a lot. But we were determined, and off we went, into the most beautiful landscape, with giant, unidentified trees that lifted their branches out of the reach of the vines that wanted to entangle everything. Sometimes the trees didn't lift their branches out of reach and became completely enveloped in vines, like me with this chest cold, only much more beautiful.

I did make one minor miscalculation, which I am still paying for. The hike was on a trail I had taken before with the kids, and Isaac did fine, so I brought him along for the co-op hike, not realizing that the waterfall we were aiming for (Elephant’s Head Waterfall) was so much, much farther along. There was a point, as I was carrying Isaac further and further into the jungle, when it occurred to me that I had gotten myself into a bit of a predicament. Because I don’t carry Isaac, as a rule. It jacks up my old war wound of a fractured neck for weeks. And yet, there was no other way. I needed to carry him. And then I needed to carry him out. Because it took us about five hours, round trip, and no two year old who has missed his nap can walk that. He did walk a lot, mind you, walked and ran and sang and danced. And needed to be carried. 

There were two things this made me think about deeply. One was that I am forever capable of getting myself in over my head, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much experience in parenting I am racking up, I will still think, four hour hike, two-year-old? Great match! I’m the worst person to ask about whether something is doable because some stubborn part of my mind insists that everything is doable. (Examples include but are not limited to: sleeping in an Indian train station, rainbow gatherings in the mountains with an infant on my front and a toddler on my back, walking until I put myself into labor, moving to a developing country while pregnant with three children, without even a guidebook along.) The other thing, the main thing that swam around my brain as my arms and shoulders rebelled against the 17 kgs of cuddliness I carried, was that meditation has changed me. Because the meditation we practice is all about directing your thoughts to where you want them to go, being the master of your mind and your wandering brain, and waiting in the silence that ensues, for God to speak. I was determined to enjoy the day, and I did. I directed my thoughts. It was amazing, truly, with funny, smart kids, and jungle flowers, and birds that called to each other through the trees. 

(“What are they saying?” Isaac asked. 
“They’re saying, ‘Hello! Are you there? How are you?’” I answered.)

It was helpful that I have been meditating on something very specific lately. And that thing is a piece of advice that I would like to throw out there, to the world, and it is very simple, yet it is profound if you really hear it. I would have liked to understand it better before now, preferably when I was much younger, but I learn slowly. Here is the thing:

Find a way to separate your identity from your circumstances. 

Just soak that in for a while, and I’ll write more about it next time. Tell me how you think it plays out, or how you have failed or succeeded at doing it.

Meanwhile, I dream of mountain climbing, but in reality I wake up coughing myself into a fit several times a night and have to reach for my inhaler. I’m paying for lugging Isaac around; my payment being a week of muscle spasms in my neck. I dream of the snow white peaks of the Himalayas, but drift down to the dingy white of my outdoor kitchen, dishes in the sink, lovable dog asking for a treat, dark early morning, time to write, and a hot cup of coffee. Life is good.

A month of cooling.

I’m recovering from a few bad days of sickness and some nights which included the sudden start (in my life) of sickness-related asthma and a couple of middle-of-the-night trips to the hospital. Our town hospital. Argh. What can I say. I may have ended up in tears when I couldn’t breathe and the doctor was still insisting that nothing was wrong with me. I cried them into letting me use the nebulizer and then I could breathe again. I don’t know where the doctors I saw learned, or whether they want to be doctors, but they seem to have a grudge against people who are sick at 3:00 am. Which, fair enough, is a pain of a time to be diagnosing anyone. But to my credit, I don’t make a habit of dancing around village emergency rooms at 3:00 am for nothing

All is well. I now have an inhaler for my imagined inherited asthma, and I slept last night for the first night in days. 


And what I really want to talk about is the way that October has snuck up on us and given us a big bear hug from behind. October. I love October, and I don’t think it’s for the same reasons that you love October, because mine is probably different from yours. I love any new month, really, especially since I have begun making little creative goals for myself and have been mostly fulfilling them. And this is the month where it will cool down a little but it still isn’t really cold, and the rice is tall and green, and things will start picking up and getting exciting in the walking street market (by which I mean: food! Interesting food, right down the street from me!) and I will catch glimpses of our town’s Jack Sparrow, and the statue man who lets people paint on him and who Solo thought for years was a real statue. And people will take pictures of my house and I will try not to be annoyed, and the sky will be impossibly blue. 

October is rewriting, watching Skillshare videos (so exciting!), drawing and making mood boards, fall cleaning (Out, clutter! Out!), walking, running and riding my bicycle, better morning habits, living in joy, playing board games, going for hikes, cooking and cooking and cooking with no waste (my new goal), reading aloud to my kids, popcorn and tea and homeschooling. I think October will be good. 

Writing it all down.

Something unexpected has happened lately, which is that Kai has started reading my Journey Mama books. And rather than having the response that I might have imagined he would have, which is maybe a kind of teenaged embarrassment, he is riveted by stories of his life and his sibings’ lives. He loves reading about himself as a little kid. He tells me about things I wrote, daily coming up with new tidbits. “Leafy didn’t know what a milk jug was!” It’s always a surprise, because my memory is like a sieve. Starting the blog is the best thing I ever did, because all of  our moments would be gone if it wasn’t for writing it all down. 

And it makes me remember to write it all down now, even though I don’t do it from the sheer necessity of having to make sense of toddler madness, or the drive of needing my crazy to be understood. Because, as we sit around the table together, there are so many hilarious and precious things, so many things that are funny or cute or amazing, and I will forget all about them if I don’t write about them, don’t take the time to marvel over the shiny pile of stones we have been building out here in our wilderness. Like the way I was gone for a week (on a writing retreat of my own making—big sigh of happiness) and I knew on the bus coming home that Isaac would be so very happy to see me, and he might also say that he was “prying for me.” But he didn’t, and when I asked him if he was prying for me, he said, “No Mama, I wasn’t crying for you,” and I realized that his days of switching c’s out for p’s are over and the next time he sees his uncle and cousin who have the same name, he will call them Quran, instead of Poran. The thought made me sad. (I’m the opposite of Chinua, who is always teaching the kids to speak properly. “Don’t tell him popporn isn’t right,” I’m thinking violently, while Chinua is transforming our children into articulate beings. I’m wishing Kenya still said “wheats,” instead of feet.)

More things:

The way that Isaac makes little fans with his hands around his face when he’s pretending to be a baby, looking more like a star-nosed mole than a baby.

The thirteen-year-old voice breaking that is going on around here, and that I swear is more adorable than any other stage of life. Voice! Breaking! Cracking while laughing, while shrieking, while playing with a baby brother! 

Kenya making her best poker face while Kai tells me that “Kenya says that when you make a poker face, you feel dead inside.” Kenya in general, her goofiness, funny faces, silly moods.

Kai telling me that he read that I had a hallucination of the kids throwing berries over me and me dumping yogurt over store employee’s heads. 

“That wasn’t a hallucination,” I said. “That was imagination. There’s a difference.” But it prompted a discussion of my hatred of big stores, which led to us discussing how it was harder to re enter the US and Canada from India because there were no big stores where we lived at all (“We thought the purple store was big!” Kenya marveled) but here in Thailand we’ll go into a store like Tesco Lotus, a big giant store with a whole lot of the same things they sell everywhere, occasionally, if we are in Chiang Mai. 

“I still hate Tesco,” I said. “It makes me confused and sleepy.”

“You hate Tesco?” Leafy asked, incredulous. 

“You only like Tesco because they have that game on the trial tablets,” Kai said, his voice dripping with scorn.

“Well, you have to admit, Kai, that video game is awesome.” Could I ever properly communicate Leafy’s perfect delivery, his comedic timing and goofiness which cracks us up several times a day? 

Isaac dive bombing somersaults onto the mattress that serves as a seating area on our floor, forcing us to watch him again and again.

Solomon doing jumping push ups several times a day, then checking out his biceps and asking me if he can try to pick me up? (No thanks, I don’t want a broken head.) 

The way I call Chinua "Storm crow" with such delight sometimes now, because of the gray beard that he is growing out. (It's a Lord of the RIngs reference.) 

Holding onto Chinua on the scooter on the way to our Thai class, that we take together, romantically.

Isaac being a general pest in the studio while I’m working, but singing to himself so sweetly that I take a really long time to eject him, waiting until he is messing with his dad’s computer and needs to be removed from the premises. 

Before I left for my retreat, I was very, very tired. Life had caught up to me and I was dragging myself around, wishing every day was over long before it was. And my friend Tj is right, sometimes you need to think about leaving and sometimes you need to think about staying. I needed that time away. I needed the quiet. And I was a little nervous about coming back, worried that I would get tired out by all the different hats I wear. But our first dinner back together, I laughed more times than I had all week, and I sighed at drama, and I scolded when needed, and gave lots of hugs, and was alive, basically, the way challenging, incredible families make you alive.

World on fire.

This summer everywhere I look, I see fire. Fires rage in California and in my own B.C., the skies are filled with smoke and towns are evacuated. My heart hurts for the forests and people there. I pray for rain, for a year of rain that would wipe away this drought. 

And there is war, and people fleeing war, and people without homes, too many of them, overwhelming numbers. The numbers of displaced people alone cause people to say hurtful things, to tighten their borders out of fear, to determine to look out for themselves. I’m from a country formed by immigrants and refugees. Canada doesn’t really have its own identity, other than the identity that comes from collaboration of many different races. So it’s easy to forget that this is new to Europe- that each country has an identity that they fear for. Someone I was talking with recently said, “But the immigrants want to change things, threaten the way of life of the people of my country.” Of course, I thought, because countries are shaped by the people who come to them. That’s the way it works. But that’s the way Canada works. Vancouver is Indian and Chinese and Indigenous and a bunch of other cultures and all the second and third generation people of those countries and hipster of every race. This is who we are. But Europe is used to being a place of origin, not of landing, the countries there don’t have as much history with navigating multiculturalism and navigating citizen rights of many races. There is no one kind of Canadian who is more Canadian than someone else (other than an indigenous person, perhaps) but there are plenty of people who consider themselves a true German, or a true French person. It makes it complicated, but I hate the vitriol I see on the Internet. Let's extend compassion and kind words toward the people who have fled for their lives. As someone told me in West Africa, "That person is my brother. That person could be me." 

Here in Northern Thailand there are people of many origins too. Tribal people, Muslims from China, Burmese people, Thai people, foreigners. It mostly seems to work. But there are always things. “The owner is Lisu,” a Thai friend said to me when I was looking for a house for somebody else. “But that’s okay, right?” Him saying “That’s okay right?” was indicative of his open mind, and I don’t say that sarcastically. For the most part, people seem to get along, despite huge differences in lifestyle, dress and culture, but it’s messy, and people say hurtful things, and this is a result of many people living together. It's always going to be messy, like communities, like families. People are there, and where there are differences, there is mess. How we respond to differences says a lot about who we are and who we want to be.

I don’t know what the answer is for Syrians or Europe or the refugee crisis. But I know that we can’t hold back tragedy with fear and control, at least I don’t think we can. Opening our hearts changes us most of all. Refusing to give into fear for the future by clutching what we have keeps us open and human and good. But these are hard days, and I think everyone is being called on to be their best selves. I am praying. We’re having a benefit next Friday, to do our little bit of raising money for refugees. I’ll let you know where we’re sending money when I know, (our dear Naomi is researching NGOs) so that you can join in if you want to.