Monday, August 6, 2012
This post is inspired by the Great Melanie Crutchfield,
dear friend of my heart and remarkably talented writer (and all-around artist, really).
The Hope 2012 Blog Relay is her idea. If you're a blogger, check it.
The task: write about hope. I feel I've likely got 200 stories I could tell about hope, but nothing clicked for the relay until this afternoon. I was about to walk out the door and as I looked down to grab the doorknob, I went, *Gasp!* “My ring!" And then I stopped. *Gasp!* “My ring!"
And so, the story of my ring.
I was about to graduate from college and man, was I pissed. I was angry at all the dumb people running the country, the shrinking rain forests, Hummers, nuclear weapons, church building campaigns, airbrushed women, the United States, and gentrification. I ranted at my parents (who are extremely kind and good people) and I lectured my sister (aka: my captive audience). I especially detested all the lazy Christians who forgot about the poor and Jesus’ words and actually being good people.
Back in the day, my university offered a senior class trip. The class of ‘99’s was a cruise to Ensenada, México. I honestly didn’t even know about the trip, but learned about it from Grandma Betty who somehow knew about it from sneaky PLNU marketers. Gram decided to buy me the trip for my graduation gift. In response (and one of the lower moments of my life), I threw a mini-fit. I told her I couldn’t accept the gift. Right then and there, I decided that cruises were most definitely on the list of things I’m pissed at.
My stubbornness comes from my Grandma; neither of us was going to back down. She politely and firmly repeated that this was a gift, deal with it, go and enjoy myself. My tactic was to act increasingly brattier. I love my grandma more than I love pretty much anyone, so… she won. Pulling out of the San Diego harbor, on our floating paradise of luxury, indulgence, and too much neon signage, I felt guilty and shameful. It only intensified at dinner. People ordered full plates just to sample a bite. The waiters’ nametags featured their home countries, far from the US. They put on show and lit my dessert on fire.
I tried. I really did. I got dressed up and hit the dance floor. I laid out and laughed with old friends, made new friends, and ate exotic dishes. But when we were offered a chance to deboard and explore Ensenada, I raced off the ship. I wandered the streets alone, practicing Spanish and breathing in street tacos. Store windows showcased my favorite Latin-style art and fashion. Along the way, a simple ring caught my attention and suddenly I was inside, trying it on. It fit perfectly. It was just the right thickness for my long fingers. Though a mere silver band, it had been hammered enough to have a little personality. It was made of 92.5% Mexican silver. And it only cost $8. But… it cost $8. The immediate inner voice chided, “$8??!!?? On something as frivolous as jewelry?! Unacceptable.” The other, meeker voice whispered, “But it’s so prettyyyyy.” It was pure desire versus charged anti-materialism. The inner battle raged for nearly a half hour.
Then, I looked up.
One of those beautiful tile-framed Mexican mirrors held my reflection. There I was, ring in hand, pained expression on my face, and was struck by both the ridiculousness of the situation and the intensity of my conviction. Both made me cry. I held my own gaze all the way through that good cry. As the tears calmed, my face took on that tight, post-catharsis, reddish cast and the ring was now on my fourth finger. A small wallet was in my other hand, holding $50 spending money Gram had also given me. I had more than 6 times the amount of money needed to buy this dumb ring I obviously loved. It began to click. I was exchanging one preoccupation with money for another. Instead of spending it recklessly (as I had done with babysitting money in high school and judged all of the US as guilty of), I was hoarding a gift on principle. I forgot about the important place of beauty and art. In my attempt to momentarily right the economic imbalances of the world with this one purchase, I was being annoyingly ungrateful and rigid. I was blind to the sensibility and moderation of my selection. It was a long session of self-revelation and butt-kicking – and I stared into that mirror the whole time.
Still wearing the ring, I reached for the cash in my wallet. As the money moved from my hand to the cashier’s, a glint of silver flashed. In that moment, the ring transformed. It would be a symbol of my commitment to wrestle with money and to take care of my relationship with it. To recognize the lures of both greed and asceticism and not allow either to rule my life. To appreciate the big benefits and small joys that money provides and extend those to others and myself. To do a better job receiving. I would see the ring with each transaction made for the rest of my life and recall the day God and I made peace with money.
My ring is easily my favorite possession. It’s the thing I’d make sure to grab if my house was ever burning down. It flew off in Lake Kivu and I came undone until Julianna found it. 13 years later, it actually is the powerful reminder of social and financial responsibility I imagined it would be. As I grow older, though, its message deepens. It has become a small, tangible sign that people can change. Three-foot-high soapboxes can be lowered. Crusty old mindsets can soften. Tired arguments can find common ground. And self-righteous college students can learn a thing or two from their grandmothers. With all the nastiness and hatred running around making a mess of things and hurting people, I keep going because transformation exists. And that is the most comforting, most hopeful thing to me in the whole world.
Here's a photo of my ring
(with Doug's fuzzy Mary in the background, of course.)
Fabulous blogger friends of mine... you interested? If you want to join the Hope Relay, let me know!
Aly Lewis: Memoirs of Algeisha
Marte Samuelstuen: Season by Season
Tracy Le: http://cargocollective.com/tracyleeeee
Monday, January 2, 2012
You may recall that the last time I posted (a very, very long time ago), I left you, all 9 of my followers, with a p.s. promising you my next story would be the best/worst blind date I've been on. If you've known me longer than a week, I guarantee you know this story, but she deserves a firm place here. Top 5, for sure. I think this story puts me at 5 posts exactly. And it only took me like 2 years to get here.
Since it's 2 days into 2012, I'm guessing you're thinking that writing more consistently on my blog is one of my new year's resolutions. Nope. My resolutions are the exact same ones I had last year: read the news, ride my bike, & discipline myself into some silence for goodness' sake. (Let's be real - these were the same as two years ago too.) I'd like to add "actually use my blog", but my track record, frankly, sucks. I'm gonna try though. It helps (I promise) when people like Courtney and Charlie and Melanie and Aly tell me to get on here. Every time you lovingly get on my case, "write out my stories" gets one more tic mark next to it on the invisible to-do list of my life. That thing stretches back through time, but I'm fiercely devoted to eventually crossing everything off.
I just spent an hour catching up to the most current posts on Melanie and Todd's blogs. Daaaaaaannnng, these friends of mine can write. Click on the links now - so you have fresh little tabs ready for you. Their insight and wit will make you feel more human, I promise.
My bloggy friends inspired me to write on my own. No work tomorrow (yay!) means writing a story at 11:47pm is the perfect way to spend my time. So... on to dating. Specifically blind-dating. Which I think is the very best kind.
Ok, so not really. Dating when you're madly in love with someone is the VERY best kind. But blind dating is the best in its own way. Like anything, we do it for the stories. Does it require every ounce of self-will I can muster to actually walk up to the designated/dreaded meet-up spot? Yes! Do I have awesome stories? Yes! No contest.
Years ago, when I was just a presh 25 year old, a friend asked if she could set me up. I will admit this to the whole wide web: at 25, I had yet to have a boyfriend, much less go on a blind date. I was kind of terrified and intrigued by the idea all at the same time. He was from northern Cal, but would be visiting SD over Christmas. She thought we'd hit it off. Her reasoning was, "you both love the poor". Well, then. Able to check "good and decent person" on the ideal-traits-list, I agreed.
We met in Ocean Beach at Hodad's, which was ridiculously busy (and quite meaty), so we opted instead for my favorite restaurant in all the land: Rancho's. Our initial conversation focused on his loud incredulity that I'd never been to Italy before and admonition to see the value in travel. Ayyyy.
Once seated at Rancho's, he oddly declined a menu when offered to him. That's right, he'd already eaten. Not. Cool. Long ago, I dismissed the notion that the man needs to pay - except when he's being lame. I'll have the enchilada combo with black beans and fried rice, por favor. Yes, I know it costs $2 extra - thank you. Oh, and let's add a lemonade, too.
As we waited for my meal, he started talking about his work in the inner city. And that real Christians live in the inner city. And that I should live in the inner city. He was really bad at eye contact, so that made it hard to get his attention to tell him:
a) I live in the inner city.
b) I disagree with you.
On and on and on with the inner city. Meanwhile, I contemplated how I might fit that third enchilada into my stomach.
Somewhere mid-lecture, it happened. I felt something hit my head, but not hard. It felt like a wad of paper grazed me. I looked over my left shoulder. Then at the ground. Nothing. But when I turned my head back to Blind Date (BD), I realized that the sensation was still with me. With my best I'm-still-listening-face on, I reached up to my head with my left hand. What I discovered there, tangled up in my hair, was a bird. Yes, a little bird.
It was freaking out. I don't know how I didn't get scratched or pecked in the head. Or lose an eye, for that matter. My hair was even curlier and longer back then and it was half-back in a clip, so homeboy was definitely trapped in there. I kept thinking about the frizzy mess I was surely going to have to deal with once he was free. But how to free him? When BD finally clued in to what was going on with my head, he made this classic face I so wish I could replicate. Through his horrified expression, he asked, "Should I help?", which I thought was a dumb question. This is your moment! Be helpful, charming, funny, anything!! God just gave you a get out of jail free card!!!
He sat there. Not helping, charming, or laughing. He just sat there. I managed to remove my clip and shake the bird loose, to its utter delight. It went zipping and circling around the restaurant, with chirps so high-pitched it was kind of scary. Besides the crazed bird, I instantly realized the restaurant was SILENT. I addressed my audience: "I'm good! Not hurt at all!" They clapped. BD went right back to his sermonette.
I had to stop him. "What just happened to me was one of the weirdest things I've ever experienced. And you were here to see it. We have to stop and acknowledge that." Well, at least I did. I think he wanted to go home.
We parted ways, clearly knowing this was not a match for either of us. But I walked to my car smiling to myself. Until I caught my reflection in my car window. Whoa... my hair.
- - - - -
Right now, I find myself, unexpectedly, back out here in the place where dating is an option. It's mind-boggling to think that within this last year, I really thought I was leaving that place for good. It's not that dating is so awful; it's that falling for someone you can't believe is falling for you is so extremely wonderful. I don't miss it, I miss him. But you have to practice it to find another him or her. I can't say my bruised heart is ready to try again quite yet, but when it is, I'll think of my bird date. And that it's only gotten better since then. Tremendously better. Far better than I knew to hope for. And, I have stories.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I'm really, terribly grateful for my job. It suits me so well and I honestly don't think there's another position out there that combines the elements of international work, Spanish, focus on reconciliation, theological education, church interaction, spiritual formation, and being with college students. To leave would be to acknowledge I am giving up something rare.
I know to be daily grateful for my work because I used to cry or feel the dreaded knot in my stomach or both every morning pulling into the parking lots of International Christian School, Wilson Middle School, and Sojourner Truth Charter. In my former life, I was an elementary school teacher. Besides feeling too confined in the role, I believe I was also cursed with crappy leaders. The administrators over me lorded their power, moved about the campus with robotic, cold affect, and some were downright corrupt. The third school was actually shut down because the principal and VP ran off with millions of charter school money. Gross. I couldn't imagine starting over at another school, so my inclination to leave the profession solidified into my resignation.
When I reflect on my days in the classroom from my happy stance today, I thankfully recall the funniest, sweetest, more rewarding moments. So, mostly for my own enjoyment and hopefully yours too, a few memories...
* At the start of our poetry unit, my 5th graders had to create a couplet. Simple enough. I walked around the classroom reminding them to really try on this one. Just two rhyming lines wouldn't be good enough. It needed to communicate a point. This was an assignment they could tackle fairly easily, so the room worked in silence. Out loud, asking for all the class' input, Paris called out, "What rhymes with playa'?" Oh no... a couplet with Playa as the central character. Without two seconds' hesitation or removing her eyes from her paper, BreShaun remarked, "Hatah".
* Lorenzo was a small, shy Native American boy - the only non-African American in the class. He mostly only spoke about video games and had the most over-bearing, helicopter mom I'd experienced in my 3 years of teaching. Rough combo in 5th grade. Grading papers after school one day, I noticed he signed his name at the top of the paper as "Blazaken". Hmmm. I kept him behind at recess the next morning to inquire about the name change. "Lorenzo, What's up with this?" "Miss Tucker, I'd just really like to go by Blazaken from now on." Uh-oh. Social suicide. I couldn't participate in this. "Ok. You know and I know that you are Blazaken, but I think if the rest of the class finds out you have this special identity, they might be jealous. How about we keep this one just between you and me?" "Soooo, you won't call my Blazaken in front of the class, but I can turn in papers like that?" "Sure." I learned later that Blazaken was a Pokemon character. Of course. The best part of this story is how Rosco calls out "Buh-laaaaa-zaaaa-keehhhn!!!!" in this sort of creepy, booming wizard kind of voice.
* My best language teachers were my 6th graders in Costa Rica. I taught them in English, but if I ever had to use Spanish, they were mercilessly particular. I think they relished having this knowledge power over me. To practice subject-verb agreement one day, I wrote a paragraph about a dog. A simple little dumb paragraph. The first dog that came to mind was my grandparents' dog, Penny. So, I wrote the story about Pene. Midway through the assignment, kids were literally falling out of their chairs and giggling annoyingly. Subject-verb agreement is NOT this fun. What??? Turns out, "pene" in Spanish is "penis".
* Teaching sex ed to my 6th graders could be a whole post on its own. I'll share just one story. I thoroughly loved teaching sex ed. The kids gave full attention, which was lovely, and I knew I was doing them a service. I was delivering appropriate info in a confident way, and they were invited to respond with similar maturity. Remember the secret/not-so-secret question box? This was my favorite part of the whole experience because it kept me on my toes. Now, in 6th grade sex ed, you teach about anatomy, puberty, STDs and HIV/AIDS. Notice there is no education on actual sex in there. That comes in 8th grade. When kids ask about sex-sex, you have to avert the mechanical how of it all, though you can loosely refer to it. Tricky. I explained this, but still got the question: "When Snoop Dogg sings about doggie style, what is that?" Ummm, "Who has a dog in here?" Lots of hands. "Have you ever seen two dogs be connected in a strange way?" More hands. "People do that too." I didn't get fired, so I take it that was acceptable.
The great lesson of going on blind dates is - even if the date fails miserably, you'll at least have a story. It makes the whole thing less of a big thing. You laugh, recall the event better than it awkwardly was, and move on with a little more info about yourself and life to work with. I guess my outlook on life is similar. Look for the stories. You never know when Blazaken might strike.
ps: I've got it! My next post will be my best/worst blind date story so far...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I'm really tired and since tomorrow is Monday, I should be asleep by now. Instead, I'm going to write a post because a) I've been sitting here at this table writing all day, so it feels comfortable to keep doing so and b) it's been FAR too long since I last posted. (I'm already sucking at blogging - and it's only my second one.)
Just Friday, my Grandma Shirley passed away. In honor of her memory, I'll tell one of my very favorites...
So. In 2009, YouthWorks/SALT visited 3 churches waaaaaaaaay down the Baja peninsula. I feel like I've got enough travel experience at this point in my life to make some serious comparisons. Proof that his trip was, by far, the gnarliest one I've been on: we rode on a bus for 36 hours without stopping to sleep, we watched High School Musical one too many times on that bus ride, it was around 120 degrees every single day, we waited on average 7 hours between lunch and dinner every day, we changed camp location 3 times, the most showers we ever had for 120 people was 3, I killed flying cockroaches with fake stoicism, my bus driver hated me. Don't equate "gnarly" with "bad". It was seriously amazing. Just some really, really rough conditions.
At the first church we were at, some of the guys worked on replacing the toilet. This was the only toilet on site. You'd think this would be a big issue for 120 people, but since we were sweating out every drop we drank, we hardly peed. I stand by my claim that I didn't pee for a full two days.
Eventually, somebody admitted they needed to pee and about 15 others immediately rushed to tell me the same. A sweet little grandma offered to take them to her house. Perfect solution! Off they went. An hour later, my co-coordinator's wife asked me where her kids where. That's when it hit me that I had not thought about that group once since they left and, come to think of it, I hadn't seen any of them in a while. Good job, Camp Director. Oops. So, Lupita and I walked the streets, calling out for our students, both trying not to let our nerves win out.
We found the group just a couple blocks away. They exited Abuelita's house laughing and they blamed their delay on Rufio's extended time in the bathroom. I was happy to see them, though I truly was confident they were just fine in her care, and we rolled on to the rest of the week.
The last night of camp is always a highlight of my year. This particular camp we installed the talent show (now a regular fixture of camp life) and afterward I started the tearful process of trying to thank everyone. As I finished up, Bethany ran up to me with something in her hands covered by a sheet. She said some absolutely beautiful words to thank me and then unveiled the object she held. It was this seriously COOL map of the Baja peninsula. Let me describe: thick black frame surrounding the Baja map made of abilone (native to the Baja shores), script-fonty-cool lettering of the major cities, abilone representations of certain cities' symbols, an abilone whale out in the water, and a clock up in the right hand corner. It is quite a piece.
Bethany then recounted how she came to own the picture. Back at Abuelita's house, she admired the Baja map and used Spanish to compliment it. Right then, Abuelita removed it from the wall and told Bethany to take it. She said she couldn't. This went back and forth until Abuelita said, "Can I tell you what it is to be Christian? If you have something and somebody else wants or needs it more than you, you should give it to them. That's it. I have this picture, but you clearly want it more than I do. So now, it's yours."
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! So good. As if that weren't enough, on the walk back to the church, one of the teens (who, I should add, we let come on the trip even though he was recently released from Juvi) turned to Bethany and said, "I've been trying to think all week how to say thank you to Melissa. You know who would love that map even more than you?"
At least once a week, someone asks about it. My response is, "Have time for a quick story?"
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Hi Visitors! Forever and a day I've been saying I'm going to start one of these. I kicked around and rejected a bunch of angles... then decided I could just write just because... then I totally forgot I even opened this account. For quite a long time. As many of my dear friends started departing this summer for their study/living-abroad locations, the blog links started rolling in. So, adventurous ones, you've inspired me. I dedicate this, my very first blog post, to: Courtney, Kasey, Kristen, Cassie, Rachel, Jeremy, Charlie, Bethany, Laurel, Noelle, Jordan, David, & the newly married Nelsons. (I fully acknowledge that the last 5 peeps do not have blogs (that I know of). I just want you to know that I miss you.)
Travel makes me think of the Indigo Girls' song, "Get Out the Map". If you don't know them, go itunes-store them immediately. Buy this song. It's really, really so extremely good. I still don't know what story I'm going to tell you. Let's see... I can see Debbie's house from here, so... story about Debbie.
Debbie is my neighbor. She lives in the back house of the yellow house to the left of mine. She's definitely the care-giver of the man in the front house who I've never met. He never leaves his house, but his television often blares at 3am, so we assume he's pretty old. Debbie is maybe his ...niece? I think too old to be a grand-daughter? We're at that point where I should probably know this, and she probably told me a while back, so now I feel too awkward asking her to clarify. It's very much like when you feel weird for not knowing a good friend's birthday for some reason, but you're too close now to ask, but you feel like a jerk, so you fake it and attend the birthday party like you always knew it? (Or you just check facebook.)
Debbie, by all appearances, has no other job besides the care-giving. She was mostly toothless until recently when I ran into her in a parking lot and she said to me - with swollen cheeks and a numb-mouthed lisp - that she had the rest of them pulled that day. She prefers not to wear bras, asks me to consult her on which psycho-somatic medications to try, has a son with perfect emo hair and an array of death metal and My-Chemical-Romance-genre tees, and she is madly in love with her dog, Samantha.
Debbie is the kind of neighbor you love to have because a) she's home a ton, so you know if anything weird goes down she's catching it, b) she's really good-hearted, c) she gives us some great quoteables for the chalkboard. Deb's major downside is that she likes to complain rather loudly about her life. Yes, we can hear it from inside her house when she really gets going. And if she gets you in person, whether by catching a glance through the window or spotting you on a run out back to change the laundry, you're there for a good 20 minutes minimum. Well, I am at least. I can't ever exit situations like this easily.
So, a couple Saturdays ago... while enjoying my first free Saturday in a looooooong summer of being away, Kelly and I heard her calling for Samantha about 300 times in a row. We could hear her moaning a bit and (shamefully) I just stayed in checking my heinous gmail build-up. At yell 301 or so, my heart twtiched and I knew I needed to go outside. Debbie was in a straight panic. Shaky, pacing, crying, mumbling. I really felt like a r-o-t-t-e-n neighbor. Clearly, Samantha ran away. Sam (let's abbrev) is a chestnut-brown retriever and if I like her, you know she's chill. No secret that I'm not much of an animal lady, but even I sensed in that minute how much Debbie needs Samantha. It's obvious Debbie's been around the block a time or two. And we hear the low lows she megaphones from her porch. Sam provides comfort in a rough world. She's her friend.
My achiever clicked in. I ran inside to get markers and posterboard for signs. Halfway to my art cabinet, I thought to get the number for the animal shelter. I yell it out to Debbie and she gets excited then starts freaking out because Sam is not registered. "They'll turn me in!!!!! I don't have the money!!!! I can't afford taaaaaaags!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Ok, ok. Hmmmm. I only ever think of craigslist when I'm about to move, but for some reason I think to post "lost dog". I describe Sam, where we live, and leave my cell number.
Debbie is really too neurotic to make any signs. I can't get her to focus or tell me her phone number. She's too busy reporting her lost dog and begging them not to be mad at her. For the time being, I start on the posters and keep deleting huge chunks of emails at a time from too many listserves I'm on. Debbie yells every 2 minutes or so to ask if anyone's called in from the ad. Nope. About an hour after I'd posted the missing Sam, I scroll back up to the start of my emails to discover that about 8 unknown people had emailed me. One gave a LONG description of what steps to take when you lose an animal. One told me she was praying for us. (awww, presh) Another sent me a template for lost-dog posters. The rest all directed me in some way back to craigslist. I clicked back to my posting and noticed, right above my own, a different post with "Found Dog - Redwood & 30th". That's my hood; that's our dog. We must have posted the exact same minute, because they obviously missed mine. They said they were taking her to the pound at 3pm. It was 2:20pm. I emailed them to call me asap. I ran outside, jumping a little in between steps, broke into a huge smile, and yelled to Debbie. She came to my fence and grabbed me, hugging me tight, right into that bra-less chest of hers. Over and over she repeated, "I love you! I love you, Melissa! Sweetheart, I love you!!!" Why wasn't the finder calling me back??? I started getting antsy. I don't know a thing about tagging your dogs, but what if Debbie was right, what if the pound wouldn't let her have Sam until she paid some crazy fine she had no money for? You know me, I started spinning on how I could pull off another yard sale...
Call, call, call... I willing them, staring at my phone. Meanwhile, Debbie was back to her systematic yelling/checking-in from her house to mine every 2 minutes. Finally, at 2:50pm, she'd had enough waiting. She announced on her way out the gate she was off... to go find Samantha. 5 minutes later, I heard her up the street yell-crying things like "You stupid dog!" mixed with "Don't ever leave me again!" I poked my head out the window and cheered them home. She started crying full-on and telling me I'm her best friend. She then asked me, "Do you like meatloaf?", which I thought was the best question ever. Vegetarian-me said enthusiastically yes and she ran inside. Who knew Deb was a stellar cook? I'm not lying. She brought me an appetizer of caprese salad, then a plate of meatloaf accompanied by carrots, stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Apparently, Debbie celebrates Thanksgiving in July.
I asked her how she found Sam. Easy. She went to the intersection listed and started yelling her name. Someone came outside with her. That's it. Bonus: she said the guy who found Samantha was super hot.
Later that night, roommate Kelly picture-texted me a hunk of homemade lasagna. It was my evening present. That night, around 11pm, when I was about to head into bed, I heard "Melissa!!... I love you, sweetie! Looooooooove youuuuuuuuuu!!!" nice and loud...from all the way across the yard.
ps: When I woke up, 8 more people had emailed me about the simultaneous lost and found posts. I think it's worth pointing out these people had nothing to gain by doing this, nor did our posts concern them at all. These were simply 16 kind souls, aware of how good it is to find something you've lost.