Monday, September 24, 2012

And Then You Smack into an Ironing Board . . .

I often suspect that many people believe if they were to cut me open, they would locate a Chinese book where a heart ought to be, a sheaf of history monographs where a brain ought to reside, and, most definitely, clumsiness in place of all the other essentials . . . and I bristle about it.  Perhaps I ought to switch to decaf.

After 28 years of it, I'm used to my clumsiness and the oafish way in which I walk/stumble about . . . but lately, it has really irritated me.  I'm tired of being that person, the court jester of bruises.  Ordinarily I laugh or shrug those stumblings and bangings and tumblings away . . . but lately, I've gotten annoyed instead.  I don't want to see those antsy looks on Chinese friends' faces each time I approach a staircase, or a crack in the sidewalk.  I don't want students to hold their breath every time I walk past an extension cord.  I don't want to approach the steps getting off the bus with trepidation each day, wondering whether or not I am about to plummet to the ground in an unladylike heap.  I don't want to fear the rug that gleefully lies in wait for me in front of the main entrance of the secondary school building.

"Why," I ask the walls, the sidewalk, the sea, or even the trees (those wretched, ugly new ones that were controversially planted months ago at great expense and still can't stand up straight), whichever inanimate or animate object that happens to witness my latest escapade, "Why is it always me?  Can't someone else do the tripping and slipping or the smashing and crashing for a bit?  Can't I just have a moment of gracefulness in an entire lifetime of black eyes, sprains, scrapes, burns, scratches, inexplicable harm from seemingly-innocent objects --"

Yesterday, the universe replied.  As I reflected on my own clumsiness, I tripped over the doorway whilst carrying an ironing board and got hit in the eye with the leg of it.  Second black eye of 2012 . . . I'm choosing not to count the almost-black-eye back in July.  As I commented to my roommates, "Usually when I get a black eye --" one of them interrupted, remarking, "Very few people would start a sentence that way - I don't think black eyes are usual for most people."  I sighed, and chose to force a laugh, though inwardly I just wanted to . . . well, punch myself, but that would only have given me another black eye.  It's tiresome being me.

Today I fell down the stairs again.  I guess it's nice that now my left eye and my left ankle can color-coordinate.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Photos from Spring and Summer Travels

I am in no way artistic, so I make no apologies for the complete lack of artistry in my photographs.  I see something that pleases me, and so I push the button and capture it.  I just don't think that some things need added embellishment.

长白山 (Chang Baishan, Jilin Province)  - It can only be seen two days out of every year (in a good year).  The side I am on is China - the mountains across from where I am standing are in North Korea.
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing
景山公园 (Jingshan Park), Beijing

At the Ming Tombs.
At the Ming Tombs.
天坛 (Temple of Heaven, Beijing)
I just love all the vivid colors.  天坛 was probably my favorite part of Beijing, despite my massive migraine at the time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I feel so tired sometimes — soul-weary might be a better name for it, perhaps.  As though I were ceaselessly running, running, running; fighting to live selflessly, and better, and more wholesomely and guided by Someone other than myself . . . but sometimes I just want to sit and stare into space and envelop myself in nothingness.

I suppose I'm still working through grief.  And my way of handling grief is, well, to work.  Sitting and dwelling on loss doesn't bring anyone back, and it certainly does not restore what is broken.  It merely makes you more aware of the gap that used to be filled by someone — or, in my instance, someones.  In my estimation, it's the only healthy response.  "We can never go back to Manderly", as du Maurier immortally penned — so we've nothing left but to move forward.

But sometimes, alone, at night . . . Oh, how I miss them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Few Thoughts from Dorothy Sayers

“It it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology.  It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously.  It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.  It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and incompromising realism.  And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it.  The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ."

"I admit, you can practice Christianity without knowing much theology, just as you can drive a car without knowing much about internal combustion.  But when something breaks down in the car, you go humbly to the man who understands the works; whereas if something goes wrong with religion, you merely throw the works away and tell the theologian he is a liar."

"We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies."

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Study in Melancholy

“The melancholy river bears us on. When the moon comes through the trailing willow boughs, I see your face, I hear your voice and the bird singing as we pass the osier bed. What are you whispering? Sorrow, sorrow. Joy, joy. Woven together, like reeds in moonlight.” ~ Virginia Woolf
In the quiet stillness of the nights, or in the midst of a crowd, I've recently found my thoughts dabbling in swirls of melancholy.  Oh, there's no need for the butterfly nets or the oft-recited platitudes — I'm still, at the root, a happy person.  I'm still happy, but I'm also . . . sad.

The summer was one of loss.  

My best friend's mother died in July, and I even now tear up at the flood of memories from fourteen years of having my life touched by hers.  How does one even begin to say goodbye . . . from across the world?  It was an anticipated pain, for she had been gravely ill for quite some time, but no matter how prepared I thought I was . . . I wasn't.  I wasn't at all.  It seems so silly to me that Lorie's death should entangle itself so with the selling of my parents' house in August, the house I spent half of my life in . . . but it did.  It was as though in one summer two ties were severed, forever.  Lorie's death was even more than that, though   it was a gunshot that hit just over my shoulder, missing me by such a small distance that I felt its sting as it rushed past.  My mother is sick, too.  I worry so much about her . . . and there's absolutely nothing I can do about the time bomb living inside of her.  She can say she's well, she can come all the way here to visit, as she did in June . . . but she's still sick, and I'm still afraid.  I can pray and I can praise God for the little things . . . but my mother is still sick.  She who seemed invincible to me once . . . is not.

I was blessed last year with two very special, lovely friends whom I immediately felt at home with (kindred spirits, if you will).  Through difficult times last year, they were there.  When I yearned for deep conversation, beyond what generally can be found, they were there.  We could discuss philosophy, novels, theology . . . for all of it, they were there.  And then, in June . . . they weren't.  One went back to America, another on to a different city here in China.  In mere weeks, two of the people here who made it most a home were suddenly gone.  

My dearest friend here, my 姐姐 who has led me more than any other individual to love China and to have a heart for Chinese people, was so overjoyed to at last be expecting a baby.  She had struggled and hurt from an empty womb for so long.  I rejoiced with her, because no one could possibly be a more loving mother than she.  And then, just as suddenly as God had given . . . He took away.  I know in my heart, as deeply as I know anything, that He loves us all and means all things for good.  I know that someday something beautiful will bloom in the empty place.  But at the moment, I ache so much for her.  I selfishly miss seeing her each day, and that special way she has of blessing people just by a word.  

For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.  O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen. ~ Psalm 39:12b-13

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"