His Alabama accent was thick.
I had met his wife shortly after I arrived, a Japanese woman who uses origami to connect with Syrian refugees. We had come together the week before to an after school program for young refugee women. Waiting in the car with us, ready to help again this afternoon, was my friend’s precocious seven-year-old. She spoke to her mom in Japanese and to me in English (with her dad reminding her that she should address me as “ma’am”).
We waited in the car, beside the locked door of the center. Finally we called. Times had changed– and we had missed the program.
The night before, I told a teammate how I have been feeling huge waves of grief sweep up, sometimes with long periods of stillness in between, and at other times a steady pounding. She listened a long time, and did not attempt to solve things. “I think the measure of how good something is, is how much you mourn it,” she said.
Today she had me bring my guitar to our community center’s fitness room. We met with three other women who are involved in the leadership of this fitness program, who were expecting to have a business meeting. Instead, we sang; we proclaimed the love of God, the holiness of God, the miraculous healings and transformation, the power of God– over ourselves, the space, the women in our fitness program, and the rest of the city.
It was awesome. So when my impatience stirred like a wind over calm seas, I was surprised. “It’s getting late. I need to go visit my Arab moms… or start studying…” The tug to “do something” was strong. A quiet voice told my soul, Peace! Be still. We kept singing.
A favorite poem of mine declares, The art of losing isn’t hard to master. The author, Elizabeth Bishop, advises,
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
The poet records her losses, increasingly significant (I lost two cities, lovely ones, and vaster, / some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent…). She moves from acceptance to seeming to try to convince herself that it’s no “disaster” to have lost what, or whom, she lost (see full poem here: One Art.)
And as I live here in the Middle East, in addition to studying language and society and new roles, I am studying this art. The art of letting today’s “wasted hour” at the closed community center, turn into the joyful acquaintance of my new seven-year-old-Alabaman-Japanese buddy.
The art of knowing that the best use of time is the pursuit of loving God and others. And if it’s more about the process than about producing, that must just be part of the art.
And the art of calling the losses the irreplaceable things that they are, and staying soft-hearted and open-handed, embracing life fully, every day.