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Posts Tagged ‘change’

moments of wonderSometimes my breath catches

Somewhere near my throat

And my heart leaps up

In there too

So my breath

And my heart

Mingle and touch

Like a little bit of heaven

With a whole lot of earth

Like a veil pushed aside

Or ripped from top to hem

And I see clearly

Or maybe not so clear

The transient moments of life

Weaved with the eternal essence of love

The poignant blend

Catches in my spirit

In my throat

Makes my heart leap

And spirit, soul, heart

Me

Mingle and wonder if that isn’t

Perhaps

The way it’s meant to be

 

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The air moves

In ways strange

It doesn’t explain

The winds change

From gentle to gale

From rushing to ripple

And I feel the urge

To clean out my house

Or my heart

Or even to disappear

Into the wind

And let it carry me

Far

A mountaintop perhaps

Or even a star

I can’t track the movement

Of the wind

Its cycles and cold fronts

Colliding with heat

Piling cumulus over nimbus

And stratus beneath cirrus

All I know is the rain

And the magic scent

Of sky before it falls

A smell like the sound of skittering leaves

Whispering the approach of a storm

This wind change

Will it be a storm

A calm

Perhaps a little bit of both

Settling and stirring me

At the same time

I don’t know

And at times

All I can do is close my eyes

To better feel the change

Skirting the edge of the wind

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It was mid-July when I heard some great news: the family I had traveled with to India and had been staying with were planning to move to Lonavla. They invited me to come along and I jumped at the chance. They had found a bungalow outside of town, and we planned to move in early August.

Besides this family, another young couple with a newborn baby planned to move with us. They were good friends of mine and I was happy about this turn of events.

We traveled back and forth between Mumbai and Lonavla over the next couple of weeks—cleaning, packing and moving. We arrived just in time for monsoon, the rainy season. I loved the magical feeling of rain falling all around, green fields and hills in every direction. The walks and hikes we took were great fun and full of discovery. We often made it home just in time to watch the afternoon downpour from the safety of our cozy home; we didn’t always make it back in time, though, and ended up looking as if “the bridge fell in.”

After a couple of weeks, Jonathan and his family asked if I would be willing to return to Mumbai for a couple of weeks to help with a couple of projects. Of course I agreed. The couple of weeks passed quickly, involved in projects and programs for the underprivileged.

Mid-August found everyone back in Mumbai to celebrate India’s Independence Day together. We had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “I could get used to this,” I remember saying to a friend over the dinner, which was arguably the tastiest food I ever had; it ended with fresh mangoes and vanilla ice cream—still a favorite of mine.

The family was returning to Lonavla the evening of August 18—my seventeenth birthday. I had originally planned to return with them, but a friend asked if I could stay on in Mumbai for one more week, to plan her mom’s birthday. So I stayed an extra week…it passed very slowly. The highlight of that time was a birthday card and letter from my best friend. She hadn’t forgotten my birthday, and I was so happy to hear from her.

It was at the end of the week that I got the phone call, which came from Lonavla, letting me know that my best friend had passed away. (Read the full story, “We Shared a Heart”)

Two days after that, I was still reeling from the shock when the young couple returned to Mumbai, on their way to the airport. Their newborn baby wasn’t granted a visa, so they had to return to the States.

I wished I could go back to Lonavla right then, but there had been a misunderstanding and those I had been staying with in Lonavla were under the impression that I had wanted to stay in Mumbai for good. They wouldn’t be able to pick me up for another two weeks.

It’s not easy to describe how I felt during those couple of weeks. My best friend had died; any other close friends or family were thousands of miles away. I felt every comfort had been removed and the familiar ground pulled from beneath my feet.

Had I done something wrong? Did I make a big mistake somewhere along the line to bring me to where I was now standing (and felt like falling)? Why was everything crumbling apart around me? I had nothing to hold on to, and I never felt so alone. I wanted to call my mom—to whom I could always talk and find some form of comfort—but she was away from home at the time and I didn’t have a phone number to reach her.

I had only one place to turn. It’s strange—almost funny if it weren’t so pitiful—how, when everything is going fine, we find it difficult to draw close to the only one who is always with us. Yet it was at this time that I grew to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and the depth of His love, a comfort that could only be felt through deep sorrow and a peace that could only be understood through great turmoil of spirit.

I realized that no matter how alone I might feel, how far from friends and family I was, how distant from the comforts in which I always found solace—I still wasn’t alone. Beyond feeling, I knew that there was a purpose. Perhaps it would take time to find it. Perhaps there would come more sorrow and difficulty. Perhaps the path of life would be just that—a path—with rocks and boulders and hills, rocky and cold mountains, lonely and sunless valleys.

I knew I was meant to walk the path and I knew where the path led. One day the path will eventually lead to a home where no tears will again dim the eye, where pain will finally be drowned out in abiding joy. Yet I knew that as long as I traveled this road, I would not be home, because there were still many things to experience, learn and understand upon this path. Sometimes I would feel I walked the road alone, and sometimes I would have those beside me with whom I finally felt at home. The journey beckoned, and I was only just beginning.

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misty sky over forest and hills

Future: unknown, exciting, foreboding, yet beautiful

One old, large suitcase that couldn’t decide whether it was red or purple… Maybe it had known in years past but by the time it came my way, it had lost its sense of identity.

One steel-string guitar, with colors deeper and richer than any tune I ever played on it—complete with a plush lined black case. I remember the day I spent with my dad as he drove from one music store to the next helping me to choose the perfect instrument. The fact that I didn’t play guitar was non-essential at the moment. I planned to learn and anyway, I had to spend my babysitter money somehow before making the “big trip”.

One green backpack, lined with brown leather. You just got a feeling it was worthy of the name. I still own it and it’s still my preferred bag for any journey.

Each piece of luggage was stuffed to the full, to where I and a friend had to sit on my suitcase while another person finally managed to zip it.

Then there was me. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but how to do it was another matter entirely. I knew where I was going, but what to focus on once there was beyond me.

Just a few months before the journey, I had been thinking of different friends and siblings, comparing myself with them—as we all know we shouldn’t do but most of us do anyway. My perception of myself became smaller with each person I considered.

She sings and plays guitar.

He’s great with people and always knows what to say.

She writes beautiful poetry.

He has an awesome sense of humor, and is an artist to boot.

I was familiar with the story of the talents in the Bible. My question at the moment was, what about the person who didn’t have any? Like not a single one. What are they supposed to do? I had placed myself in that lonely and disadvantaged category, and I did not know the answer.

I made it through the first week or so in India. Jet lag had been overcome, the tummy bug passed, and the toughest phase entered—culture shock. For me, it wasn’t so much as case of,

“OMG! Is that a cow walking down the street?”

Or:

“Seriously, that guy is peeing on the fence.”

It was more a case of, “What am I doing here and what am I hoping to accomplish?”

I have since realized something I wasn’t quite aware of at the time—a part of my personality. I think ahead, like, way ahead. I always like to have things planned for way in advance. I remember when I was seven and my parents told me we would be taking a camping trip. I packed 26 days in advance, taking my toothbrush out of my backpack every morning and evening for the next three weeks. It’s not always a conscious thing, but I run through tasks mentally in my head, or the step-by-step plan of what I will do that day.

Having just arrived in India, I didn’t know what was next. I knew we would be involved in projects. A part of me was happy just learning new things and experiencing life. Another part of me was reeling through space, not knowing what the future held, and not sure I would be able to just wait around to find out. I realized that I didn’t have a choice but the feeling of “not knowing” was disconcerting.

Other things took some getting used to as well, which just compounded the perpetual hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was used to the dry heat of California’s central valley, not the extreme humidity of Bombay. My nature took to wide open spaces and I found the density and congestion of the city suffocating. I loved the blue sky and clouds of every color. When I went to the roof, no matter what time of day, it seemed as if an artist had made a photocopy error and created the vast expanse in “grayscale”.

“Give it six months,” a friend told me. I can do that, I told myself.

Little did I know my experiences over the next six months would leave my emotions stretched thin to the point of drooping, and then squeezed back again into a tight wad, like a piece of silly putty in the hands of an experimenting child.

Or maybe it was akin to something else. Maybe it was like a piece of clay in the hands of a potter, who had a particular creation in mind, but had to start with the squeezing and molding before he could get into the shaping, polishing and finishing.

After all, He doesn’t give the talents we think we need or that we are sure we deserve. He gives us what He knows we need, when He knows we need it most and will decide to use it for a greater purpose than we might originally understand or plan, to make for an exciting and wonderful future.

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India’s welcome

airplane window paneTouching the thick glass window, I could feel heat emanating from the window pane, although I was seated in a chilly, air-conditioned passenger plane. It had just landed and was still coasting the rough gravel runway of the Mumbai airport, yet the familiar clicking of seatbelts being unfastened, though the “fasten your seatbelt” sign was still on, brought my senses to full wakefulness.

Everyone around me was rushing to gather their bags and depart the cramped quarters, as I just sat, contemplating. “Am I really here?” I slowly got my backpack and stood along with the rest of those waiting to disembark. As the plane’s doors opened, a wave of heat rushed in to greet me, along with a blend of unique scents: some good, some not-so-great.

Excited, but terribly nervous at the same time, I tried hard to remember why I was doing this. “Come on!” I told myself. “You’ve wanted to do this for a long time! You’ve been working for more than a year to afford it. Imagine, a year in India, working to help the underprivileged, giving classes to inmates, cheering mentally handicapped children. This is what you want to do.” Having sufficiently psyched myself up, I stepped out of the airplane, descended the rickety staircase, and my feet touched the ground of the land I had dreamed of so long.

At the main exit of the airport, there must have been hundreds of people, forming a massive, teaming throng. Some held signs and were waiting for specific individuals; most, however, seemed overly happy to see someone like me walking toward them.

“Taxi?” was the friendly greeting I received from half of them. From the remainder, it was, “Rickshaw?” and all of them calling me “madam”, though I was only 16. Each of these eager escorts had a large smile and a mustache. The mustaches almost seemed to be highly valued, the older and more experienced the individual, the larger the mustache they sported. Some of these men were so enthusiastic in their attempt to usher me to their waiting vehicles—and thus be able to charge “foreign fare”—that they began vying to carry my bags. This would be the right time for a knight in shining armor to ride up on his stallion and whisk me away.

Suddenly, there he was. Actually, it was a friend with whom I would be working for the next few months, AJ, driving an old Maruti van. It was such a relief to see a friendly face after the 30-hour journey, which had included boarding and disembarking from three different aircrafts and enjoying an 8-hour layover on the way.

“It’s a long drive home. You need anything?” He asked once I had disengaged myself from my heavy backpack.

“It’s already been a long trip. I just want to get where I can shower and relax.”

“At least have something to drink.” AJ stopped the car by a little shop, one room behind a counter that traversed the entire opening, and a great variety of things within, from candies to snacks, cigarettes to drinks. A boy worked busily behind the counter, fetching everything that was ordered, while an elderly man painstakingly wrote down each item twice, one copy for himself, one for the customers waiting, not quite in line. I watched my friend press through the crowd and place his request. The boy looked happy to serve a foreigner and jumped to fill his order. He returned with a bottle of orange liquid.

“It’s Maaza, a mango drink. Try it.” It was thick and sweet, very sweet, but cold and refreshing at the same time. As I sipped, and AJ stopped at a red light, I looked out the window, keen to see the sights of India.

A child dressed in oversized clothing ran up and began to dirty our windshield in a concerted attempt to clean it with a worn rag. He headed around the side as AJ rolled down his window and gave the fervent child a few coins.

As the light switched to green, it seemed to me that cars, motorcycles, trucks, and even the random cow or dog, were all fighting for the same strip of asphalt in a frenzied scramble to be the first one through the traffic light and on their way. Although white painted lines signified lanes, it seemed more a gesture of hope than an actual rule, as the lanes all merged together in one throng of traffic.

“Just to warn you, we are going to pass by a pretty big slum area now” AJ mentioned as we continued driving.

“It’s no problem. I’ve seen slums before.”

“Where, on TV?”

He was right. I was not quite prepared. I smelled it before I saw it, and then, there it was, what I later learned was the largest slum in all of Asia. At first it looked like nothing but a huge stretch of ridged tin sheets. As we drove closer, I saw that they were rooftops, covering a massive area. A row of huts connected together, with alleys that could not have been more than a couple feet, separating one row from the next, and the next. Young children wearing next to nothing played at the edge of the rows and I was scared for them being so close to the busy street. A girl who couldn’t have been more than five years old was carrying a younger child, half her size. At a nearby river, muddied from overuse, women washed laundry, more children played, and men washed up.

AJ spoke up, “Pretty intense, huh?” He noticed my taut expression, which I quickly tried to hide.

“It’s okay. By the way, this is one place we visit for our polio child relief programs. Hundreds of children get treated, who either suffered from polio or other birth defects. Doctors volunteer to help; and our volunteers assist both pre- and post-operation with comfort and counsel for the patients, transportation and admission, as well as distributing clothes, blankets and other needed items to the patients and their families. It’s not an easy time for them; for some the recuperation stage lasts months, yet seeing a child with previously deformed limbs walking properly for the first time gives me a feeling that can’t be matched.”

My attention was suddenly diverted when AJ swerved the vehicle to dodge a cow, and then another one. A whole herd was slowly making their way down the main thoroughfare, without a proverbial care in the world. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” AJ quipped with a smile.

Somehow I knew he was right. Before long, we pulled up to a well maintained two-story house. The yard was big with beautiful foliage.

“Here we are.” AJ said with a smile. I smiled too. It was April 6, 1999 and although I did not realize it at the time, I had come home.

(re-posting from http://www.scinti.com/)

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drawing of the states of India

sketch I made (at 16) of the states of India and a few facts about the country

It is April 6, 12 years to the day since I arrived in Mumbai (Bombay), India.

 

 

When doing the math, calculating the three years spent in India when I was a child, even subtracting about half a year over the past 12 years, of times when I was “visiting” the States, I realized that, at this point, I have spent half my life in India.

 

The worst thing about those 12 years in India is the embarrassing fact that I still don’t speak Hindi, or any other of the many languages and dialects of the nation. I can read it passably, but need someone to let me know what I’m reading. When I was 17, I vowed that I would be fluent in speaking the language within five years of arriving in the country—proof that good intentions don’t necessarily pave the best of roads.

 

The best thing about that half of my life, and specifically the 12 years I recently spent there? I know one thing: it would take more telling than what I can put in one blog. Here’s the idea though. Starting with this blog, and continuing for I-am-really-not-sure-how-long, I would like to write about my time in India—highlights, low points, and lots of stuff in between.

 

One main thing to start with… You never know, when making a decision in life, just how far that choice can take you, but if it’s a choice you are making to follow God and to pursue your passion and/or what you feel inspired to do, you will be amazed by the journey.

 

I hope you enjoy taking this trip with me.

 

You can read about my “first impressions” of India, when I arrived at 16 years old, from this post at Scinti.

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