Monthly Archives: April 2019

Interruptions

Scurry scurry scurry.

I sat forward in bed.  I had been asleep, vaguely aware that the earliest morning call to prayer had gone off but the sun had not yet risen.  My eyes opened immediately, and my ears listened for the sound to come again, so that I could locate it.

Scurry scurry.  It was behind the headboard.

I leaped out of bed, flipped on the lights, and clutched my arms close, like a child trying to make herself as small as possible.  There was no mistaking that sound.

A mouse.

Using my phone as a flashlight, I figured out that it had gotten temporarily stuck in the small space between the wall and my headboard.  The light made it scurry scurry again, trying to un-wedge its little body.  I fled the bedroom for the relative safety of the living room, and tucked my feet underneath me, keeping my eyes on the crack underneath the door while I decided my next move.

Three thoughts tumbled over one another rapidly:

  1. I loathe rats and mice with an immature, illogical– but very real– passion.
  2. In my many years as a single woman, I had lived in questionable accommodations in Southeast Asia, a basement in a New York suburb, and different living spaces in the Middle East.  Never once had my sleep been interrupted by this scurry.
  3. In the 18 months since I had gotten married, my [non-rat-phobic] husband and I had not been separated for more than maybe three nights total, for work or family commitments.  Until this week.

He was traveling.  I was at our home in the Middle East.  We had returned a few months earlier after a year in the USA, during which we had celebrated our marriage with family and friends in Pennsylvania, worked with graduate students for a school year in New York, and spent a summer traveling from coast to coast, saying goodbyes both to long-loved ones and to those we had just started to know.

Still perching on the couch, I texted my non-phobic, seven-time-zones-away husband.

Hi!  You awake?  Do we have any mouse traps?

Ummm...

I have a mouse in our room.  Or a small rat.  I couldn’t stay to look for long.  

He called.  Eventually I found the courage to enter the room and set the trap.  The mouse freed himself from the tight space behind the headboard only to scurry into a cage.  After a pep talk from my husband (and his gentle observation that leaving it there was not a good option), I carried the trap outside.  I texted some friends for help with the next step; the first responder was my housemate, living just above our “garden level” apartment.  She and her two year old came down and cheerfully dispatched the mouse for me.

Somehow after that, despite the early morning, I found motivation that I had lacked before: I spent hours deep-cleaning the apartment, the most thoroughly it had been scrubbed since we moved in, so that anywhere this interrupting intruder may have scurried would be disinfected.

——-

Shortly after we had returned to the Middle East, after the year in the USA, I wondered why my “jet lag” was seeming to take such a long time to go away, why my stomach was not adjusting well to my favorite local foods, why my body felt so tired.  

That tiredness lasted throughout what they call the “first trimester,” and a bit into the next.  Energy was reserved for reconnecting with the Young Leaders program and with local friends, and learning how to live well with my husband in the land where we had fallen in love.

Not much was left for cleaning house.

Interrupting my lethargy was a small mouse.  And I hated it for doing so.  Sure, I had a funny story for my less-phobic friends, fantastically clean floors, and a faced (partially) fear.  But I would much rather have kept to the status quo of twilight dreaming and quick sweeping.

Because that was enough to get me through day to day.  Enough to leave my irrational fears undisturbed.  Enough to let me believe that my current underground (partially) apartment was impenetrable; that the sounds I heard at night were innocuous; that my life was going to remain uninterrupted.

Oh no, it wasn’t.

——-

I haven’t written in a long time.  In my earliest times in the Middle East, I would write because it helped me as an extrovert to adjust to having fewer people to talk to.  I discovered that I could use the quiet to think, and to communicate.  These were not the extemporaneous, coffee-flavored, face-to-face conversations I had been used to in the USA, but carefully selected phrases, steeped in reflective moments.  The leaves of tangible experience were strained out and saved for me alone (along with the rotating cast of friends living in my adopted city), but the flavor was left for whomever wanted a taste of the perspective from my basement apartment or, later, my second story home in the Middle East.

And then I wasn’t doing life alone anymore.  I waved that beloved Arabian city goodbye, got married in Pennsylvania, and moved into a new second-story apartment in New York– with a man who shared my heart (if not my taste for coffee).

We had a view of the Hudson River (in winter), we had a context for sharing our experiences with graduate students who were planning to work cross-culturally, and we had a chance to get to know each others’ families, since we had met, learned to love each other, dated, and gotten engaged in a country almost 6,000 miles away.

Interrupting my solitude was relationship.  And I loved it.  Sure, occasionally I missed the reflective nights in front of my laptop, staying up until 2:30 a.m. trying to wrap words around my experiences.  But it was nice to have someone to talk to.  And someone to experience things with me, no matter which country I was in.

——-

I feel soft stirrings– or solid kicks– in the circumference around my bellybutton, and I realize that interruptions are inevitable.  Any day now, our lives irrevocably will change.

A new life will make an appearance in the outside world.  And as much as we try anticipating what will be needed so that we can confidently enter into this next part of our journey, we are fairly sure of only one thing: what to expect when you’re expecting is to face interruptions.  Sounds that rouse us from our sleep, things we didn’t realize we would need to disinfect, fears faced and brought up to be faced again.

Shared experiences with each other.  With long-loved ones.  And with those we have just started to know. 

It has taken me about two years to resume writing.  Even when my husband early on encouraged me, I thought I no longer had the time.  In reality, blogging was interrupted more by a fear that I would not find words that honored all the changes, all the interruptions, that had already taken place.  And anytime think I will be interrupted by not having or being enough, I would rather not begin.

Interruptions show me, like solitude did, that a season’s change opens opportunities.  Options to sink into silence, but also to connect in new ways.  The chance to go it alone, or to accept the grace of having to ask for help.  The temptation to move backwards or to stay in the same place, with either giving ground to my fears– or the motivation to do what I did not think was possible before, and to overcome them. 

When I would rather make myself small, clutching my arms close, interruptions pry my eyes and my arms open and invite me to embrace something new.  

Maybe it is less like an extrovert bubbling spontaneously over coffee with friends.  And quite less like reflections carefully brewed in a long night of uninterrupted solitude.  Maybe it is more like that hot, milky, delicious drink they serve to new mothers in my area of the Middle East.  Punctured with cinnamon and walnuts, it is believed to be healing for the one who just delivered, but is not meant for her to sip alone.  She drinks it when family and friends surround her.

It is a mix of bitter and sweet, so different than anything I have had in the past that there is no worthy comparison.  It is not familiar, but it is good.

So bring on the interruption, Baby.

 

 

 

 

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Preserved

This post was originally written in April 2017.  It was interrupted.

“A second story room is never preserved.”

Our guide said it solemnly.  We were walking on a street in Jerusalem, following him, as we had been for nine days, soaking in the way he set the geography and ancient sites in the context of Biblical stories.  As we were approaching our next stop, a student had asked:

“Is the Upper Room that we are about to see the original location?”

He explained that, while the place we were heading may have been built on top of the historical location of Jesus’ Last Supper, time, decay, and conflict together undid any chance of a tour group in 2017 standing in the original Upper Room.

IMG_9549
Site commemorating the Last Supper – possible location of the Upper Room

This was not unique to this site or city.  Archeology teaches that, while foundations remain, second stories are never preserved.

As I traveled with this tour group for the first two weeks of January, my heart and mind were weighing a possibility that neither they, nor my friends back home across the River, knew about yet.

One that would require letting go: of my sweet second-story house in the Middle East, to live who knows where.  And of my joy-filled work with Young Leaders, to work one year as a teacher and mentor for graduate students who were seeking future employment in cultures not their own.  And of the country where I had learned and wept and loved and been loved for three and a half years, to replant in a place familiar but different– and knowing that I would be different, too– than it had been when I left my beloved basement apartment there behind.

I could scarcely wrap my mind around the prospect.  I was just getting the hang of living in the Middle East.  We had finished one 18-month cohort of leadership development with at-risk teenagers; we were about to begin another.  I spoke Arabic like a precocious kindergartener, able to use my limited vocabulary with enough heart that, in general, people did not mind hearing me out.

My teammates and I had just celebrated the holidays together, feeling like a family, enjoying loving visits from our local Muslim friends, and buying footie pajamas for our group’s children AND adults to wear as we enjoyed Christmas morning together.  Nope.  Not putting that photo on the blog.

So the words hit me differently than our tour guide meant them.  A second-story room is never preserved.

Fast forward, but the old fashioned way, like a VCR in my growing-up days: with quickly-moving glimpses of the scenes in between where you were and where you are going.

I pray and seek counsel, and after I return from this trip to Palestine and Israel, I accept the job in New York.  

My colleagues and I launch a new chapter of Young Leaders, trusting a new director will emerge; one does.  

My teammate, whom I began dating last fall, and I do life together with each other, our team, the Arab mommas in our women’s handicraft project, the new and old teachers in Young Leaders.  On the back porch of my second-story home, he asks me to marry him.

I say yes.  (There is so much more to this story; please ask if we one day see each other).

His contract is up mid-April; before he goes, our community center friends throw us the best engagement party we could imagine, complete with ululations and blessings from Arab women; dabke dances from the men and a slow waltz from Ed Sheeran; handmade favors from an Arab grandma and heartfelt kisses, as is culturally appropriate, from man to man and woman to woman.  

——-

Note in 2019: This is where I lost words, and allowed my writing to be interrupted much longer than I ever anticipated.  By the time I returned to the Middle East, not only was my second-story home occupied by someone else, but an apartment building had been put up beside it, obstructing much of what had been my view.

Second stories are never preserved.  I would not stay there; I would not return to that season.

But the stories formed there would stay with me.