9/25/2011

We are together, she wrote.


Marta in 2010: Portrait of a girl wondering which crow to feed.


Two messages came through my world over the weekend. First came from the Facebook confessions of my friends.
         In his wall-post one of my friends wrote: conversation with my daughter this morning about her future: "You should be a pastor." Her reply: "No way, they don't make any money."  She is a young child, and children talk with no apprehension, and express themselves how they see it – sweet and straight.
         It made me wonder – what is it that she is picking up from the milieu she observes that already at her young age she is so resolute and focused. Her father, a pastor, is obviously wondering, too. What is he feeding her, I wondered? Or is she another victim of being exposed to mind-bending diatribe served daily from the politicians?
         Perhaps, if all she is hearing and internalizing about the rich paying less in taxes, for example, she constructs a vision for her life to consider wealth as a better option. I get it. Her father’s pastoral salary does not allow her to get what she wants, nor that she should get all her young eyes desire. Perhaps she wants to be like, say, Paris Hilton, and have more than less in life.
         With years of upbringing his child still ahead, my friends joy will be to explain and model other options that would undergird her life choices. He will watch her progress and relish the sight of her growth and beauty.
         The other piece of news was about our niece, Marta, when Grazyna’s sister, Lidia, and Jarek, our brother-in-law, told us that Marta announced that she has a boyfriend. When I spoke with Jarek, he was excited. Of course, I will have a “man-to-man” talk with her as any father would, he said, but I know what she received from us. We are not worried about her.
         Marta’s dad was traveling. And having been caught by her aunt with her boyfriend-to-be, Marta wrote an SMS to her dad: “we are together.” He thought it was a message of affirmation to her traveling parent, and that the message was about him.
         Later, he realized it was not about him, but about the other man who appeared in Marta’s life. “I thought – how sweet my girl is, remembering her tired father. Then I learned that she is serious about a friend she was dating.”
         With plenty of laughter, our conversation moved into a topic of trust. Marta is trusted as she is very close to them, and also trusting toward her parents.
         Lidia and Jarek are still to meet Marta’s boyfriend, but what they saw on a photo, and heard about him does not create a fog of distrust toward their daughter. They have given her examples of kindness, honesty, compassion and moral standards. As a family, they share hope, love and faith, which she, now an adult, is taking into her everydayness, and her own choices and decision-making.
         A reminder from the past came to mind when at years ago Grazyna and I had a conversation with Michal, as we expressed a concern – in many and varied ways – about late evening arrivals home from his escapades with friends. Natural worry about living in a crime-ridden metropolitan area of Washington DC, made us sensitive about his well-being.
         No, I am not doing what you think I could be doing, he stated one evening. You have given me the moral values, and what I need to be trusted with, so don’t worry about me, he continued.
         It was reassuring. Yet, we still didn’t stop worrying. Even now – many years later - as he is on his own.
         So, what did we give him? What did Jarek and Lidia have been sharing with Marta? What is my Facebook friend’s daughter getting?
         What matters in my book is that, to be is far more valuable and lasting than what is to have.

A family quartet: Lidia, Grazyna, Jarek and Marta visiting Warsaw's Lazienki Park.

9/11/2011

Strange bedfellows unite in a landscape after battle


A tranquil fishing village in Pulutan Region on Sulawesi, Indonesia

It was March 30, 2005, and just after midnight in Manado, Indonesia. Believe me, I wasn’t expecting my sleep being interrupted with the 11th floor hotel walls swaying due to an earthquake under the Malakan Sea near the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). Wondering what to do, I got out of bed, and supported myself by the touching a wall, as a bathroom door swung.
         A hotel receptionist told me later, as I went to breakfast, that it was nothing to worry about, it was an aftershock (5.7 magnitude) of a major earthquake in a region that is prone to such moments of horror, an event that occurred two nights earlier near the island of Nias, in Northern Sumatra, which took 1,346 lives. It measured 8.7 on the Richter scale and was third most powerful earthquake since 1965 in Indonesia.  
         Come August 23, 2011, and we are on vacation in Europe. Several text messages from Washington, DC, broke a seeming “tranquility” of our vacation with information that an earthquake shook the capital of the United States with a moment of trauma, at 1:51 PM and with a magnitude of 5.8.
         One text message, however, offered no consolation. I came to check your condo, and there is nothing to worry about, we were told. Natalie [see her first photo below], who was looking after our flowers and all the other wellbeing of our dwelling, explained that the earthquake redecorated my study. It moved a few dozen books off their shelves, and a few artifacts were floored, with some damage. When you come home, you will determine if it was significant, we were reassured.
         Not knowing exactly what happened, we wondered if the in-coming earthquake’s partner, Hurricane Irene, would complete the onslaught on the condo, and we knew that at least Maia, The Cat, was in good hands of a cat-loving friend, with food and other supplies placed in her carrier should a quick escape was needed.
         On September 8 all was revealed, as we were back in our dwelling. And what did we see? For starters, it offered a lesson in symbolism. What we saw was not meant to mean anything else, except an earthquake’s aftermath. Yet …


         Europe (by Norman Davies) was flat on its belly, with Buddha’s head resting on the carpet next to it. An Indian elephant (actually, a carving) was hiding under a footstool, with an Indian horse resting on a bunch of displaced, selected books resting on my favorite armchair.
         A rather bewildering sight was offered by two wooden 5.5-inch chess pawns, separated from each other. One was resting on the carpet; the other, after a fall from the top of the bookshelf, must have been catapulted to the lower section of the bookcase.
         Obviously, the earthquake was considerate for my two boxed chess sets which were still on top of a bookshelf, as if in a balancing act – “to fall, or not to fall?” They made Grazyna imagine that the sight might have been improved if the kings and queens, and the ordinary pawns entertained a bit of egalitarianism after jointly hitting the floor.


         Nothing doing. Several volumes of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, were moved an inch or two toward a potential downfall, all next to a slightly displaced gypsum bust of an Albanian communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, smuggled out of Albania in early 1991.


         A tour de force accent of my study was a sight to encounter. There it was – a mélange of art and craft objects performing a “Landscape After Battle” scene with several skinny Ivory Coast colonials partly fallen, but the Embrujando prophet-like mini sculpture by a Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante, and a Hopi Indian artist Quotskuyva’s kachina doll “Corn Maiden” standing tall, proud and seemingly victorious.


         Several of my Polish-language books were given a breathing space, moved a couple of inches toward a shelves’ edge, with a miniature painting of a Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz in Cracow, handing for its life by a convenient squeeze of two books.


         Two images struck my imagination. It was poignant to see the Bustamante prophet’s image of a “time is at hand” expression, and President Clinton (My Life) with his wife, Hilary (Living History), still smiling from their book spines, not quite off the shelf, as if saying: As a people, we live on the edge, but we are not defeated.
         Eight point seven, or five point eight notwithstanding, we are standing tall, and facing the future with hope.

9/05/2011

An unchartered territory of aging

This time a reflection on dealing with aging.

It goes like this: After we grow up, marry and establish our own homes, we build a natural distance, a valley that requires a bridge to cross back to our maternal/paternal homes. Years of growing up on our own, adulthood, and creation of our own domain adds to the length of a bridge to cross later on. Our own children come along and then they themselves fly away.

Obviously, such is my own, Western perspective on aging and family relations. As over the years I was able to observe diverse cultures, their reverence for the family elders and respect for the ancestors, I marveled at continuity of family ties. It was fascinating to watch and learn how members of direct and extended families live together under the same roof, and amazingly stay happy forever and together.

Last week, I heard a story about seven siblings living in a two-bedroom dwelling, cheerful as ever and happily dreaming of better times with more space to enjoy together. Brothers and sisters were living in the same bedroom, sharing oversized beds and good-for-nothing room partitions. Imagination takes over wher considering their adolescent inquisitiveness and challengin innoscence and privacy. From the next room-cum-kitchen mom and dad were managing their family's everydayness.

This blog reflection is perhaps not very inventive and fresh, but none-the-less, it is mine. I ask myself, how would I manage such a livelihood today?

In a minefield of my predictable dilemmas, I pause to reflect on what type of a bridge I must build between my "today," and that of my own parents. Their aging moved them on and brought them to the largely unchartered autumn days of their lives. Decades ago we left our maternal and paternal homes and moved to a far away land. To have a meaningful, direct contact, we meet perhaps once a year only. All else is a virtual, mediated and proxy-like communication at best.

Yet, whenever we meet them, our elderly parents remind us that we are still their kids. To add, they remind us that we need their counsel and corrective advice. The fact that my dad is nearly 87 does not make him less of a concerned parent, though hardly conversant with the culture and the mindset of "my generation."

A recent visit with our aging parents, brought a few new reflections. Point one, we still have our parents. They are alive and as loving as ever. You still have living parents, my friend David told me. Enjoy them.

And yet ...

A distance measured in thousands of miles apart does not contribute to effective bridge-building one requires between generations, who seem also far apart through cultural divide and generational challenges. Being members of same faith helps, but also discribes plenty of diverse options as to how to read it's practices, norms and forms. For we are apart, in many and diverse ways. Family ties and relationships notwithstanding, we have grown to accept polarized views and choices.

A few more points.

We are stuck in a resolve that all is possible, they are expecting their encroaching finality.

We crave new opportunities, they are parked in their traditional, predictable way of living.

We speak of healthy living, they are suspicious about our recommendations, and talk about surviving numerous health challenges as seen through their doctors and medications.

We talk about new worlds to conquer, they reminisce about trips they took in the 80+ years of their lives.

We seek a new golden age, theirs is a nostalgia for the golden years they seemingly had.

For Grazyna and me, our joint bridge-building with our parents still in progress, a few days in August and September gave us an opportunity to consider their challenges now, and our challenges to be met in the future.

What an amazingly rich journey for the six of us. But as we could ask questions, and listen, our parents were challenged to provide us with their answers and desires. Honestly, the best we could offer is listening and a conversation expected of the adults.

But, whose journey is easier, I ask?

Who cares how difficult is the journey ahead? For both sets of parents in their 80s and for the two of us. All such journeys, we resolve, will require to be nourished with love.

Loving, caring, expecting the unexpected - that's what actually matters most for both of us.