Grief and the Good and Hopeful Life


In my last blog post, I took a birds-eye view with some thoughts on why we don’t know what to do with grief. I’m not trying to talk us out of grief by rationalizing. It only makes sense that we don’t readily know what to do with grief. It can hurt like hell. Its existence means something has gone dreadfully wrong. There are moments where it feels completely dark; I’ve known those moments myself. But perhaps it’s for those very reasons that I think it’s important to look at it from more angles than the typical ones we come at it with.

In this blog post, I want to spend some more time on my final thought in the previous post: We struggle to see what a good and hopeful life can look like with grief always present.

This isn’t to deny the permanent wound a significant loss can leave on us; life will never be as we knew it. But with social media feeding into the rather narrow (read: curated) ways we define a good life which often include some version of lying carefree, young and beautiful on a luxury vacation, it is no wonder that we can feel almost doomed once significant suffering or loss find their way into our lives.

What are we doing to ourselves – and to each other – when we primarily define a good life as one that involves minimal heartache and tears?

What we do when we define a good life in a narrow, idealistic way

We live superficially and don’t allow ourselves to be challenged to consider what can make for a meaningful existence even when circumstances are deeply painful and far from ideal.

We miss out on a certain depth to our perspectives and our care for others that can really only come through wrestling with harder questions and circumstances.

We create a divide between perceived haves and have-nots, further isolating those who are suffering and compounding their sadness with despair.

We set our hope solely upon ideal circumstances that aren’t guaranteed to hold up, and this lays shaky ground for our long-term sense of well-being.

What we can do when we learn to broaden the definition of a good and hopeful life to one that includes grief

We can discover a different and more solid foundation for life – a process that is, quite frankly, work. It’s built through a process of dismantling old foundations that might’ve been easier to establish, ones that are sufficient for effortless days but can never hold up in the storm. It’s built with hammering, fire, sweat, tears, questioning if it’s worth all the cost and effort. But in the end, the new foundation holds solid, firm, unshakable when everything else is shaken. It can be terrifying to build and test, but it ends up providing the greatest sense of security we could find.

We develop an intimate understanding of hope beyond ideal circumstances where there was once ignorance.

We are less intimidated by people who are suffering and develop more capacity to share space with them without feeling desperate to sugar coat the conversation.

We discover deeper and more authentic community. Is it not true that when we are hurting, we gravitate more towards those who have been through similar heartache and less towards those who seem to have never tasted hardship? Our ability to truly know and be known by one another grows in new dimensions through shared suffering. My richest and most significant relationships are with those who have shared their grief with me and who have borne mine as well.

I wish grief upon no one, but we do ourselves such disservice when we pretend that we can or should avoid it throughout our lifetime. Its reality is sobering, but its reality also does not automatically mean a good and hopeful life becomes unattainable for all who experience it. Without discounting the very real pain that suffering brings, my years of being an ICU nurse and my own encounters with personal grief have taught me that in some ways, those who wrestle hard with grief are the ones who find a deeper understanding of what a good and hopeful life really mean.

Staying in the Hard Thing: When Glory becomes Gritty

I seem to live in a perpetually tired state nowadays. If I’m looking for the easiest, most honest response to “How are you?” my default answer will be, “I’m tired.” Tired as a mom of two littles. Tired as a nurse to critically ill children. Friends and coworkers nod in empathy, and praise Jesus for all things coffee. It sometimes feels as though we are a people living collectively on the edge of burnout. It begs the question, how do we endure in the hard thing?

I’m not referring to acute crises. That’s its own animal, and I am guessing most everyone has a similar approach to toughing out emergency situations, which typically throw people into sheer survival mode. Bury the debilitating emotions to process later. Do the immediate, most important tasks at hand. Absolutely let the non-essentials slide. Lean on your village. Fall on your knees in prayer. Do each thing as it comes, one thing at a time.

The hard thing I’m thinking of is the hard thing for the long run that you never imagined would be such a hard thing. In fact, you thought it would be the glorious thing: Start your own business, write and publish a book, get married, raise children, work in a job you feel passionate about, become renowned in your field. We set out with a sense of calling, not completely naïve, but confident and motivated enough to choose the dream. The business. The book. The person(s). The career. The glory of a very real and truly beautiful dream.

So what are we to do when the glory becomes gritty? I dreamt about one day marrying a man who had a tremendous heart for ministering to people. The dream came true, and then I found myself crying out to the Lord in tears, “I can’t keep up with his heart! I can’t do this.” When I was first exposed to pediatric ICU nursing, I knew right away this was where I belonged and wanted to be. It was so deeply personal and meaningful. But the experience has not been without moments of tremendous struggle and doubt. I didn’t know it involved all the things it involves. I didn’t know it would make me feel all the things I feel. And I didn’t know it would make me fight so hard to feel anything at all some days. When I became pregnant, I dreamt about the sweet relationship I wanted to cultivate with my children. I didn’t know what to do with the fact that I felt dull, sad and guilty in the first few hours after giving birth to my first child. I have constantly surprised myself at how angry and selfish I can choose to be as a mother. What do we do with our disappointment or disillusionment when glory becomes gritty? How do we stay in the hard thing?

Glory becomes gritty, and this can be bewildering and disorienting. Part of this, I believe, is because in the beginning, we chase the glory because we are blinded by the glory itself. This is not a cynical statement; it’s just the nature of dreams. Maybe we need some initial blindness to even have enough courage to start the pursuit. Our dreams and ideals launch us out of inertia and felt mediocrity, and they carry us when little else can. They are beautiful and often God-given. But in an Instagram-inspired world, the glory can blind us to the fact that these are also hard things. We’ve all seen the photos: a Pinterest-perfect small business grand opening, a well-designed book display on release day, hugely romantic wedding pictures, adorable shots of kids in their Easter best smiling ear-to-ear while hopped up on way too much chocolate, a beautiful portrait of a nurse quietly holding a patient’s hand with reciprocated expressions of gratitude, an executive in his/her prime delivering an impressive speech at a podium. In contrast, there is very little to inform us of the down sides outside of direct experience. The gritty aspects of living out our dreams can catch us by surprise all the more because of the blindness we had in the early days. Perhaps this is why Jesus warned us,

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Luke 14:28-29

We may start to ask ourselves, “Do I have enough in me to see this through the way I originally hoped?” In my most exhausted, discouraged moments, I would try to remind myself, “I chose this!” I chose motherhood. I chose PICU nursing. But somehow that blanket self-motivation has been insufficient and almost even self-blaming. For how could we have known all of what we were choosing? We chose the romanticized version of the story in the beginning, didn’t we? It’s always the glorious path we want and hope for. But people change, unforeseeable situations arise, and they change people – including us – in unforeseeable ways. I’m beginning to realize, it’s not so much about “I chose this” as it is, “I continue to choose this, all of this, today.” I am not the same woman my husband chose to marry over a decade ago. I am quite certain I am not who he envisioned I’d be at this stage. This is not about my insecurities; it’s about every person’s inability to foresee the future. He is choosing me now, and I him. I am choosing my children now, and I will choose them when they change on me again and again in all the years to come. I am choosing PICU nursing for what it has shown itself to be now, and I will continue to do so for as long as my life is called to that ministry.

The discovery of how un-glorious, monotonous, or outright excruciatingly painful the hard thing can be in the trenches, may temper the glory, but it can actually magnify the meaning if you can push through. The meaning in the everyday moments may not become readily apparent until the crisis moments show up. I watched my patient and her parents endure an agonizing six-hour delay of her surgery to remove a tumor. Six extra tortuous hours of telling a very hungry toddler trapped in the hospital that she cannot eat. This is agony for any parent of a healthy child on a normal day. For parents bearing crisis-level stress, it is an indescribable test of patience and longsuffering. Whimpers and occasional whining became intermittent screaming and kicking in the last hour. The parents shut their eyes tight and clenched their jaws with grit. And then, I beheld the glory. In between screaming sessions, the little girl would say, “I love you, Mommy. And you love me too.” The mommy’s reply was always the same, “I love you more than anything.” The little girl lying next to her daddy in bed would occasionally call out, “Mommy?” The exhausted mommy’s reply was always the same, “I am always here for you.” There was no question they had a long-established foundation of love and commitment. I could imagine these exchanges practiced in their home in their everyday mundane; the parents never would have imagined they were practicing for this crisis moment in the hospital. The beauty of their shared love with their child was nothing short of glorious, in the grittiest situation they could find themselves in. Staying in the hard things now helps us stay in hard things for the future. We develop muscles of perseverance, flexibility, hope, perspective, faith, and deep love.

On this side of heaven, some things should be hard. If everyone has written a book or started a small business, then the meaning of each has by default decreased exponentially. I don’t want to feel as though it’s easy to take care of critically ill children and their parents, or else my heart has forgotten how to be moved by important issues. Some hard things should be hard, as we are people who still open our hearts to dream, hope, and care in an imperfect, fallen world. It is our gritty longing for Heaven, groaning quite frankly against the Hell we may see.

For Jesus, God in the flesh, glory became gritty as He walked amongst us and walked His final steps on a dusty road to a cross – for the love of others and the glory of God. We look to Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

The answer to a Charlie Brown prayer

The other evening, I received a small but profound blessing, a seed.

We had gone away for a brief vacation, both of us burdened by the sadness of many hearts, and weary from the battle for hope and joy and light when the darkness felt so thick. I asked a dear friend to house-sit for us. Yes, and can my other friend come too? She has been looking for a time of retreat. It couldn’t have worked out better. We prepared and cleaned as hastily as we were able, and I was glad that our time of getting away could in turn allow for other hearts to also find a time of hiddenness and rest. We left a small list of things we needed them to do – gather the mail, water the plants, take out the trash. I wanted their work to be minimal, and their rest to be true. I felt a bit badly for the countertops I didn’t get to clean before we left, though I knew these friends wouldn’t mind.

Our vacation was perfect. Mammoth was my much-needed reminder that beauty did not always require heartbreaking effort to find. That is the mercy of God over me. I hope in His redemption but I rest in His unshakable love.

Returning home from vacation always involves a mix of relief (there’s no place like home) and low-grade dread (I’ve got some work to do). On the long drive down U.S. Highway 395, I began to plan what we would do when we got home. First things first. Wash the towels and bedsheets. Wash the dusty dog. Semi-organize all the stuff we unload from the truck. Wash up. The rest can wait until morning.

Weary, though in a lighter-hearted kind of way, we finally arrived home. After unloading our vacation-in-a-truck, I walked into the main living space, and there it was, the blessing. Clean towels, washed and folded. Bedsheets newly washed, beds remade. A handful of thoughtful gifts, and a note. Everything has been washed. Enjoy your rest after a long drive. I walked into the master bathroom, and saw there was more. The countertops I hadn’t gotten to were now wiped down. Even the jacuzzi bathtub, which we hardly use, had the embarrassing spiders and dust rinsed from it. These friends had served us in their own time of retreat, beyond what we could have asked. They gave us a blessing.

In a profound Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown whispers a prayer one dark night after reassuring a very frightened Snoopy that the sun would eventually come out again. Who comforts the comforter? That was my heart as I wept in my prayers before leaving for Mammoth. God, my heart feels so drained, and so lonely. Who comforts the comforter?

These friends had given us the blessing of meeting anticipated needs. They were God’s answer to my prayer. I know what you need. I know what you need. He moved hearts to be thoughtful in the most substantial form of the word, to be sacrificial, to be incarnationally compassionate down to the most minute details.  I took this blessing, this seed, and put it in my heart. It is growing. Hope. Joy. Light. Life.

Reblogged: Can Grief and Joy Coexist?

I deeply appreciate the honesty of this blog. I have lost my stomach for pat answers laden in overspiritualized vocabulary that invalidate the reality of what people experience when life is just honestly, hard. I have a deeper hunger for something both honest and real when we talk about joy in Christ, because of Christ. The same Christ who knew the Father was good, loving, and in complete control when He was broken on the cross and asked why He had been forsaken. He knew He wasn’t back Home yet, and He knows we are not either, not yet. This is the Savior I love, in whom I hope and in whom I can rejoice.

Clearing Customs

There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.

Expressing Grief

Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are

  • a stable home
  • identity
  • competence
  • support systems
  • a sense of safety

In an audio presentation at Member Care Radio (entitled “Good Grief“), Sweatman also discusses the differences between concrete and abstract losses felt by cross-cultural…

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when my mess tumbles out and God comes in

In all the 20 years that I have been leading worship in music at church, I still get nervous every single time. It’s more than stage fright, though that remains a significant component. It’s anticipation, longing. Wanting more than a sentimental musical experience. Wanting something real, something deeper. Creating a space with the music for people to go beyond words in bringing their hearts, their hurts, their fears, their doubts, their shame, before a God who says to every broken soul, “Come to the cross, I will not turn you away there.” Creating a space where the heart is opened and everything tumbles out in the mess that we often feel we are, and we try so hard to contain our mess and apologize that we didn’t get it together before we came before this Holy One. Only to find ourselves caught up in the embrace of the Father who ran to us while we were still a long way off and says, “Welcome home.”

I long for this as a worship leader. For this real exchange to happen. For people to find themselves found by God, because of Christ. I am afraid of getting in the way with too many words, not enough words. Awkward pauses. Wrong notes. I’m afraid of a Sunday with a weak voice, an off voice that doesn’t inspire others to proclaim, “I am His beloved, and He is so good.” I used to think that quality and skill in music didn’t matter that much as a worship leader, but particularly after going through John Piper’s series, “Gravity and Gladness,” and reading Bob Kauflin’s book, “Worship Matters,” I am convinced that quality and skill do matter. Quality in music, quality in leadership style, skill and discernment in both. I don’t think I can take the ministry of worship in music too seriously. I am leading people, through song, to come before a holy, loving God. The Creator and King of the universe. Our Life-giver. He is holy, holy, holy. I tremble with this, every week. I don’t want to sing flippantly to this God who sees my heart of hearts. I want to be used by You, God. I don’t want my pride to get in the way. I don’t want my fumbles to get in the way. Give us Yourself. We need You. No one brings life the way You do. Not me, not my music. Give us Yourself and help me not to get in the way.

There is a deep joy I share with my fellow worship team members. I love musicians who offer what they have to worship the Lord. They get it. They get that the backing off with an instrument is a humble expression of worship, a humble act of service to the church family, just as much as the loud strums and beats. I don’t have to play, to be heard, to be recognized, all the time, because it’s not about me. We’re creating a dynamic with our music, the rise and fall of our hearts when we hurt and we hope and we fall and we get up, when our brokenness robs us of our words before God and when our joy can’t be contained so we have to sing and shout and clap. There are certain Sundays when we know that the Lord has been gracious to us in our time of music, He has been there. The weight of His glory lingers even after the benediction has been given. I exchange glances with other worship team members and we just know, He has glorified Himself through our offering, and our hearts are so glad. Sometimes, I have trouble talking with people afterwards because I feel so amazed that He would give us this gift of Himself, our little broken but beautiful church community. He is what we have longed for. We need Him to go with us into our traffic and our housework and our tense relationships and our Monday morning blues. Give us Yourself, God. As you always have, would you now, again, graciously give us Yourself.

Backwards Faith

Recently at work, some of our human resources staff had us take a look at what they called our ‘behavioral style framework.’ Generally speaking, people fell into one of four categories: controlling, supporting, promoting, or analyzing. I fell into the analyzing category, and while these personality tests of course have some degree of overlap and imperfections, I would for the most part say that the description of the “analyzing” type fit me well.

Theme: Tends to be thorough, organized and a good planner

Strengths / Pluses:

–       Planning and organization

–       Conscientious and logical

–       Persistent and steady

–       Following through

–       Setting up systems and procedures

Approach to Work:

–       Problem solver

–       Thorough / accurate

–       Reliable and dependable

–       Anchor of reality

–       Defines and clarifies problems and issues

Challenges / Minuses:

–       Can be indecisive

–       Too detailed

–       Risk-averse; overly cautious

–       Not expressive / persuasive enough

–       Overly process-oriented

(Taken from “the human operating system: an owner’s manual” by Senn Delaney.)

It’s true – I am not a big risk-taker. When confronted with big challenges that involve the unknown, I am usually hesitant, indecisive, and, well, analytical. Most of the time, I am always able to make a longer list of risks and potential dangers than I am of potential benefits. I can’t deny it – I like what’s comfortable, predictable. I can generally relate more to the potential disciples who shied away from Jesus’ call to leave everything and follow Him, than to the ones who actually did so with little (or at least less) hesitation, though they had no real idea in that moment what His call actually entailed. For these reasons and many more, I do not tend to see myself as a person of great faith.

What I do see compelling many of my decisions to move forward in the face of fear and uncertainty is more of a backwards faith. First realizing on the surface, and then eventually coming to know on a very deep gut level that

I can’t not move forward.

When my parents came down hard on me during my college years for my growing faith in Christ and the impact it had on my life priorities and choices, the criticism was incredibly painful and deeply personal. They told me I was crazy, brainwashed. In so many ways, it would have been so much easier to just walk away from, or at least de-prioritize my faith a bit. I could avoid all the painful arguments and the criticism. I could have the approval that I craved so intensely from my them. But I couldn’t not move forward. God had done too much to transform and heal my life; He had been too good to me. I simply could not go back to a life without Him.

When I was faced with an incredibly difficult choice in my 20s as to whether or not to confront someone on some very serious issues, I was no masochist. I knew the confrontation would thrust me into the center of public controversy for an extended period of time. I knew I would lose friends. I had no desire to walk into that kind of heartache. But the issues had already been swept under the rug for too long, and they were now too serious to ignore.  I had no idea what lie ahead, but we couldn’t go back and we could no longer stay in our state of pretending things were ok. I couldn’t not move forward.

Sometimes, I think faith for me has been less out of a heart that is certain of the things hoped for, and more out of a heart that just knows it can’t go back or stay stagnant. An analytical heart that trembles with each scary, tentative step, but a heart that knows that life is always better with the One who loves me with His very life, than it is without Him.  And the more I see His faithfulness behind me, the more I am able to learn to trust His faithfulness to find me here, and to go before me.  Hope rises.

the strength that comes

I hear it and I say it a thousand times a week in one form or another. “I’m tired.” “I need a vacation.” “It’s been so busy.” We are tired people. It seems to be a given, just inevitable. It’s the pace of our society, and it comes with growing responsibilities coupled with the physical changes of getting older.  Gone are the carefree days of being a five year-old whose primary concern was which toy offered the most entertainment at any given time. What a life that was!

I think a lot these days about the weight of our lives. Heavy issues in my family, heavy issues in my patients’ lives, heavy issues in friends’ lives. Sometimes it’s easier not to think about it. And sometimes it’s important to give myself the freedom not to think about it all for awhile. But the reality is that it’s still there and can’t be ignored forever. Not if I want to live fully and discover the redemptive joys and lessons in character and faith that are to be gained from working through even the most painful situations.

After a particularly harrowing day at work, I commented to a coworker, “I choose to be here, right?” At the start of each day, it is still ultimately a desire and voluntary choice of mine to come into work, even when I know that it can be intense and beyond crazy-busy. The ability to choose our burdens, in that respect, is truly a gift. Because sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are outside of our choosing, from which we cannot escape. I watched the family member of one of my patients carry unbelievable burdens and responsibilities on her shoulders after a horrific accident. She was honest about her exhaustion and deep struggle, and yet she carried on with such fortitude, such commitment. She never would have chosen to be in this place, not for herself and not for her family member lying in that hospital bed. They were so tired. A vacation was not on the radar. But there was and there is a strength that comes.

According to Isaiah 30:15, “This is what the Sovereign Lord…says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

Some days I have to remind myself that for every legitimate complaint I am tempted to utter (and often do) about how tired I am or how hard things can get, I have ten things I can be thankful for. I really do. I’m not trying to be over-spiritual, unrealistic, or dishonest about what goes on in my heart. There just comes a point where I need to let my complaining grow quiet, and let renewed strength come from a grateful heart. To look less to the shadows and more towards what is lovely and good.

Sometimes, I try to escape burdens through busyness. Clean the house, fill my schedule with activities, watch movies. All good and helpful in the right time and right amount. But it is only in the quiet place of prayer before a loving Savior who Himself bore the burdens of a broken world on His shoulders where I can truly relinquish all the brokenness I feel for myself and others to Him once again. Let my anxious heart look upwards to trust that He is still Emmanuel, God with us.

I do not and should not expect Him to fix everything now, to free me of all trouble for the remainder of my days here on this earth. There are a lot of very uncomfortable uncertainties for my life, my loved ones, and for what I see in my patients, that I am learning to live with, and it is hard. But there is too much left for me to learn about resting in His presence, trusting Him more, longing for heaven, and responding to hard situations with better character, for Him to give me less than what I need to grow. Simon Rodia constructed a beautiful testament to what beauty can be brought out of brokenness when he built the Watts Towers, and I am thankful for his reminder.

So I am learning slowly that strength does not ultimately come from venting all my complaints, escaping all burdens, or having all the answers to all my questions.  Let strength come, rather, from the quietness of knowing His hand is over all things, and trusting that His hand is faithful, loving, and good. For my home is with Him now in the midst of a broken world, and my future home will be with Him when the brokenness is no more.

when romance becomes reality

He married a very pretty girl. No one was surprised that he fell so hard for her. I mean, she was without fail the one that guys would see in a group photo of many good-looking folks, point out and ask in an overcurious tone, “Who’s that?” He beamed on his wedding day; he didn’t think she could look any more beautiful, but his bride was beyond stunning. Many men envied him: he gets to wake up every day with her. Many women envied her: she probably wakes up every day looking effortlessly perfect.

A few months after the wedding, I overheard him say, “Oh… after you get married, all the makeup comes off.

The thrill of romance is, I believe, still a God-given gift despite its ability to blind us a bit (or a lot). From it springs forth great dreams, exhilarating hopes, longings for an ideal way of being. It is good and important and thrilling to dream and hope and long for a redeemed world. It keeps us from settling for just-ok, just-the-way-things-are. Hence the wise advice I received during my engagement period to not just love my husband for the long run, but to remain enduringly in love.

But sustaining romance is not easy in marriage, nor is it easy in other aspects of life. A couple months after I started my new career as a nurse in my dream job, someone asked me if the honeymoon period was over yet. I had to admit, the cleaning of some unbelievable bedpans, and the futile attempts over many hours to soothe an unsootheable child, was quenching a bit of the zeal I initially felt about working in a challenging pediatric intensive care unit. After you get married, all the makeup comes off.

My friend whom we affectionately call Chia once shared this quote: “I want to live a life that is closer to the oppressed than to the oppressor.” Entire books can and surely have been written based on the principle behind this quote. Suffice for now to say that I have dreamt a lot about what the living-out of this quote could look like in my life. I long for this kind of life. But if I’m honest, I long for it in a romantic kind of way and I still fear, and resist, what it might mean for me in reality.

These dear friends have decided to enter into the tension between romance and reality, with a deep burden to know and care for those living in the inner city. To move from what feels like a safe(r) distance of love, into the inner city itself, to risk being close. Closer. Uncomfortably closer still. They have big dreams, and they are not so naïve to think that they are not still in that romantic phase.

But I am hopeful and full of faith for them, and I am inspired to keep dreaming for their life and my own. Because I am convinced that the transition from romance into reality is not just a one-way street, with no looking back. I am hopeful that there exists, rather, an ebb and flow where romance helps to fuel a vision for reality, and reality helps to remove some of those more naïve blinders of romance, thus refining our core and bringing forth an even deeper vision. True, after you get married, all the makeup comes off. But from that, something even more beautiful than we can ask or imagine emerges, and we learn what it is to truly love and stay in love.

what was once my ordinary, everyday life

I stood in my living room and stared for a long time at what was once my everyday, ordinary life. It was as if it was the first time in my fourteen years of living that I had ever really noticed my television, sofa, the very roof over my head.  Traveling away from my middle-class, suburban American life had turned my world upside down with the revelation that not everyone in the world lived the same way I did. I could still hear the cry of the infant I saw sitting alone on the dusty road in that poor village. I picked him up and he pointed to a shack up the hill, a shack no more than 7 feet long, and 7 feet wide. I did a poor job, I am sure, hiding my shock when I pulled the curtain to the shack’s entrance to be greeted by six dusty faces. Where was the television, the sofa, the roof? I slept on the ground beside my bed for weeks after that trip out of some inner compulsion to try and remember that not everyone in the world shares my same ordinary, everyday life.

Why I should be so surprised by the little and big lessons learned from traveling, I’m not completely sure, but I am. Maybe because of the way it shakes me out of the illusion that the rest of the world is at once all that similar, or all that different, from mine.

For example, I learned that not everyone in the world dances to Beyonce.

I learned that what may appear charming and endearing to one person could just be a long, hard day for another.

I learned that there is no time and no place where people are not searching for solace and hope.

I learned that it doesn’t always take magnificent architecture to find moments that take your breath away.

I learned that somewhere, on many unmarked street corners throughout the world, there are nameless people with haunting voices who have something to say.

I learned that I can be in the most fascinating part of the world, and yet those simple, familiar things still have the power to draw me in like nothing else.

And finally I learned that what is someone else’s ordinary, everyday life can be like a dream to the one who is beholding it for the very first time.