(94) anticipating reunion

Today I called the number that’s saved in my Contacts as your “home” phone number and listened to the familiar recording: “This is the _____ Air Force Base multifunction switch. All attendants are busy. Please remain on the line until an attendant becomes available or try again later…This is the…” And then she repeats the message. Lately I haven’t had to wait very long. Once I waited maybe 7 minutes.

“Operator 34, how may I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to place a morale call to a DSN please.”

“What’s the number?”

And then I read off the number. I always read it — it’s saved in my phone — even though you would think I’d have it memorized after calling several times a week for over a year.

Today the call dropped twice, but on the third try we got to talk for a nice long time without any more problems.

I will sure be glad to be able to talk with you without going through this process. It will be nice to not have to worry about the call dropping, when I can just call around the corner or sit with you on the couch. When we live together again.

Can you believe we made it through this?

You’re probably reading this and shaking your head at me a little right now. I know, I always analyze everything to pieces.

But it’s amazing, it really is.

How do we measure the time that has passed?

Maybe in birthdays (2 of mine, 1 of yours) or anniversaries (#2) spent apart? Maybe in the personhood development of our niece, who was a squirmy infant when I moved in (3 months old) and who is now a bright and mobile toddler who knows when she’d rather eat yogurt than an egg (18 months old)? Maybe in how long my hair has gotten? Or in that I think I’ve forgotten most of your favorite foods?

Maybe nothing has changed. Maybe a lot has changed. Probably somewhere in between.

I guess I’ll find out soon what it feels like to really be on the other end of this strange journey and launching into whatever comes next.

I hope I remember how much I wanted you sleeping beside me on so many nights. I hope I remember what a gift it is to just say what is coming to mind without waiting for a time when we’re both free to talk. I hope I remember looking at the lawn and wishing you were here to edge it properly. I hope I remember to enjoy the convenience of being in the same time zone with you. I hope I remember all the times I stood in church, praying for you, and looking forward to one day being there with you.

It’s easy to take people, even the ones we really love, for granted. I hope that this time apart has cured me of that where you are concerned, at least for a little while. And when I forget, well, you can point me back to this little bit of writing.

(86) it’s a wonderful life-cycle {flashback}

When they left today, Grandma said goodbye to my niece, saying “Have a wonderful life.”

I realize suddenly that I am not ready to lose my grandparents, to bid them goodbye. I realize that I hurried through my goodbyes today. What if those were my last?

It is strange to watch as one generation prepares to depart as another enters. The world as I know it is changing. I will lose my remaining grandparents someday soon and my niece may not even remember meeting them. They will be a story to her, not real people.

As I see Grandpa fading, I realize they are almost stories to me. Who they are is not who I remember them to be, not the grandparents who took us shopping and out to lunch, who let us spend the night in their hotel room when they came to visit, then took us to breakfast at Marie Calendar’s across the parking lot, who lived in the gorgeous old house made more wonderful by the huge dollhouse, the muddy creek along the spacious back yard, the big trampoline, and the tire swing, who let me carry away 50 pounds of apples off their trees and delighted in stories of my newfound interest in canning, who came to piano and dance recitals, school presentations and end-of-the-year parties, college graduations, and weddings.

Today my niece, just 5 or so months old, sat with Grandpa and gnawed on his big thumb and fingers. He looked at her with this sort of softness and muffled delight. Maybe he was remembering her mama, his granddaughter, sitting on his lap a couple decades ago. Or maybe even his daughter, her grandma sitting there once.

***

I wrote the above on April 10, 2013. I saw Grandpa again in August and he passed away in September. This April visit was the last time my niece spent with Grandpa. The life cycle continues and the challenge is to live in the moment.

He would want us to have a wonderful life, to play a lot of music, to work hard, to travel well and often, to love our families, to take care of each other and of people less fortunate than us.

I think of him often, but I anticipate I will especially when I vaccinate my future children and remember his fight against polio, when I drive by the Clackamas shopping center and remember how he almost-single-handedly tackled the project of convincing homeowners to sell their land so they could build a grand new shopping center, when I pass by Marie Calendar’s or Shari’s (although I probably won’t stop!), when I come across lemon meringue pie (his favorite), or happen to have donuts and coffee for breakfast.

This life is strange, thrilling, terrifying, so full of love, so full of relationships, so full of sorrow. This reflection is all the more poignant in the wake of Zack’s grandpa’s sudden passing on Friday. I actually wrote a draft of this post on Thursday night and then on Friday night I was helpless on the other end of the phone, unable to reach out to comfort my grieving husband.

I am writing this to remember Grandpa, but more than that to struggle through these seasons of growing up, growing older, watching generations cycle and families shift. The transitions are sometimes slow, sometimes sudden, always laced with a intense spectrum of emotions. I don’t always understand it, but I am caught up in the unbearably beautiful swirl of it all.

(71) letter #2 to my niece

Dear little one,

I had a bit of a hard week and today, after the miracle, after the laughter and long sigh of relief, I could retrace this miniature journey and see how blessed you and I are to have such wise family and friends. Each person I spoke to had a word or phrase of wisdom that stuck with me and helped me be calm and attentive in the important conversation today.

And you helped too, sweetheart. You are teaching me that loving you means making space for you and letting you fill up that space. I suppose there are times when us grown-ups must just get things done (dishes and food preparation and cleaning and such), but is there anything else really as truly valuable and sweet as tickling your ears just to hear your laugh? Or reading (or reciting) Moo Baa La La La again with your cuddly little self in my lap? Or retrieving smashed pear from the recesses of your high chair so you can continue your tactile exploration of food?

Without even trying, you fill me with such joy and hope, just when I need it the most. And it makes me want to separate more unscheduled time just to watch you curiously explore the world. I think you are teaching me to slow down and practice embracing the moment, little one. No wonder Jesus encouraged us to become like little children.

You cannot begin to imagine how completely loved you are, just as you are. I hope you will never doubt it. And I cannot begin to explain how thankful I am for you. It’s nighttime now and I hope you sleep well, amor. I am looking forward to seeing you again in the morning.

All my love,

Auntie Ani

(47) hollow

He called me at 5 a.m. my time after he had checked in at the airport and before he went through security. He asked how our dinner went last night and how was the house blessing (the priest and his family had come to bless the house and for dinner) and I sleepily recalled how it had gone. The priest’s 3-year-old son must have asked my brother-in-law about the picture of Zack and I at our wedding that was in the living room because he padded into the kitchen in his footed pajamas to ask loudly about a man he’s never met, something like, “Where’s Zack? Why isn’t he here?” My thoughts exactly, dear one.

I wish you could meet these people, I tell him in the early morning darkness. I wish you could be here. I want them to know you, too. Maybe that’s why I have half a dozen pictures of him and I framed around this basement room that is now my home. Maybe I’m a little afraid I’ll forget the sweetness of his face. Mostly I just want anyone who comes down here to remember that I’m not just a me, that there is an “us.”

Neither of us really want to say goodbye, but he has to go through security and I kind of want to go back to sleep. So he just says he’ll call me again before he gets on the plane. I fall back to sleep, but sleep fitfully and dream.

He calls again at about 7 a.m. He’s had breakfast. He spilled his coffee before he had a chance to drink much and I feel sorry about this, although it’s a small thing. They’re about to start boarding the plane. “I’ll try to find WiFi when I get to Japan,” he says, “And send you a message somehow.” And then we really have to say goodbye. Being an hour and a handful of states away feels so much more manageable than being a day and half the world apart.

When I wake up again a little while later, I feel so empty. Hollow.

 

I know a lot of good things. That there is hope. That I’m sure I’ll hear from him soon. We have the Internet, for God’s sake. Many, many people are separated from those they love most and many of these are in far more dire circumstances than he and I. Don’t lose perspective, I tell myself. Don’t wax melodramatic and lose hold of Truth.

 

Yes.

But.

Maybe it is okay, even good, to embrace the emptiness, the grief and loss. Maybe God will honor my tears as prayers. Maybe if I live with grief for a while, I’ll grow up in compassion. And maybe we will meet God together from a world apart.

(34) grace

When your name is Grace, you’re bound to have the old tune Amazing Grace quoted and sung to you one time too often. But tonight was so truly amazing, that the over-quoted simplicity of that phrase is the only means of doing it all justice: Grace is amazing. And so is the little-g grace, which overwhelmingly spilled over through it all.

The music itself was thrilling, drawing an eager audience into Ravel’s valley of whispering, then clanging bells, alongside an anxious Beethoven seeking solace in the outdoors, into a Venetian gondolier’s lyrical evening. My favorite is Liszt’s arrangement of the wedding song Schumann wrote for his wife. I’ve never heard her play it better and it brought tears to my eyes. And afterward, she told me she had played that sweetest part of that favorite song thinking of me.

And then it was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many others, by so much love. Her three piano teachers were there, from the one who got her started at 7 to the one who is still her teacher. Our parents also, who persisted in encouraging her to practice when she really didn’t want to. And there were many others who came to hear her music. We gather to hear more, to listen longer, because we have all already heard just enough of the music of grace to whet our appetite for more, in laughter, in stories, in care expressed, in tears shared. Look at how grace brings us together.

I’ve heard grace defined as “undeserved favor.” Maybe that’s why these sweetest, most precious moments feel so overwhelming, as if the joy and love and amazing-ness want to spill out and make a mess everywhere, like it is all too much to contain. Hearing the music is a gift. So is playing it. And all in the presence of so much community, so much love. All so undeserved. All so much grace.

Congratulations my dear sister. You are an undeserved gift in my life and I am inestimably proud of your victory tonight.

This post was written 11/29 following my sister’s senior recital for her undergrad degree.

(26) letter to my niece

Image

Hello there baby girl,

You are nice and cozy in your mama’s (my sister’s) belly, aren’t you? We were all expecting you to emerge yesterday, but you preferred a November birthday, it seems. Which is actually completely okay with us. You’ll find that your family prefers November to October anyway.

It’s amazing all of the commotion over one tiny person. But then you’re not just any tiny person, are you, sweet one? You’re the first child of my generation in this family, making my sisters and I aunties (and parents), making our parents Grammy and Pops, names chosen (partly) in honor of some very special adopted grandparents you will hopefully know and love also.

This world is a bit of a crazy place. I could understand if you felt apprehensive to join us here. Big storms stir up chaos in our big cities and lots of people are hurt. Around the world, people like us are suffering hunger, thirst, poverty, war, sickness. Some mommies aren’t even able to feed their babies. Many people who follow Jesus also suffer. One of our faith-brothers was killed in Syria just last week and you were there on Sunday when your church celebrated his memory. Perhaps you will even bear a version of his name in honor of his sacrifice and faith. We have to say goodbye a lot here, amor. And we feel some unhappy feelings at times.

But Jesus still decided to bring you here to be with us, which I take to mean he is still hopeful about us, his people. You are being born into a safe and loving family. We aren’t all pulled together all the time, we do get angry and make mistakes, but we already love you so deeply even though we hardly know you yet. I get the special privilege of being a live-in sister and your live-in auntie next year. I can hardly wait to hold you, little one. Your mere existence gives me such joy and hope.

So come on out anytime, little love. Your Grammy and Pops are there waiting with your mama and daddy. Grammy even brought you the quilt she’s been working on for months, just for you. And your aunties are spread through 3 different states, eagerly awaiting that text message, that first picture. It’s going to be amazing. Don’t be afraid. You will still be well taken-care-of on the outside.

With all my love,

Auntie Anna

(24) still a newlywed

“Oh, so you’re still a newlywed!” my new acquaintance, Bonnie, exclaims.

I guess so, although I haven’t thought of myself that way in a while. Since about August of last year. I’ve moved beyond those early stages, I think. I’ve made progress, right?

Bonnie tells me she got married for the first time at 46, her husband was 50, and they’ve been married 12 years. “I kissed a lot of frogs along the way,” she tells me when I ask her for any tips. What I want to know is, how do you make it work for 12 years? Do you know the secret to happy marriage, as a 50-something woman and wife of 12 years?

She’s checking her email at the hotel lobby’s computer after dropping her husband off somewhere. It’s a drizzly day, one of the first of many to come. She responds directly, thoughtfully, without hardly glancing away from the screen as if a steady focal point helps her articulate her thoughts. “The first thing that comes to mind,” she tells me, “is accepting the other person for who he is. You’re probably not going to change him. And then listen. And also patience.”

Funny, I’ve heard this advice before. From friends who have been married 3, 4, 10 years. From my parents, who have been married 31 years. From mentors and friends who are single, but have learned from deep friendships. I bet my grandparents (married 64 years!) would also agree, although they might phrase it slightly differently. I’ve thought it myself before.

Bonnie’s right, I am still a newlywed, having nurtured marriage with my husband to the grand old age of 17 months (as of tomorrow). It’s crazy then, isn’t it, that she and I are working on some of the same things? We both need to accept our husbands for who they are, to listen to them, to be patient with them (and with ourselves). And how many members of other marriages have testified they are working on similar projects after 3, 4, 10, 15, 31, 64 years and ongoing? I find myself recognizing (yet again!) that, like so many other parts of life, marriage will be a work in progress, for better or worse, in sickness and health, til death do us part?

I understand now one of the reasons my choice of a marriage partner mattered so much. It is not so much about picking the person who will perfectly complete me or who will make my life “happy ever after,” but more about choosing a partner who is just as invested in building marriage and working on it for the rest of his life as I am. Because that is exactly what we will get to do together.