Monday, August 29, 2016

Something on This List Will Make You Laugh

It's Monday. We need this.

  • Once I accidentally put two pairs of contact lenses in at the same time and thought my eyes were broken.
  • A former student used to give me coffee at Christmas, but wrapped in Victoria's Secret bags so I'd have to carry them home through the halls in the afternoon saying "It's coffee, I promise, it's really just coffee." 
  • One foggy morning on the way to school, I accidentally hit a bird with my car. Feeling sad but thinking little of it throughout the day, I was shocked in the afternoon to discover half a bird stuck to the grille of my car, an ominous smear up the hood, and one lone feather affixed to the antennae. Unfortunately, I'd parked in a prominent spot near the school office, and everyone saw. Even worse, I'd been teaching The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that day. The students watched closely for the next week to see what bad luck would befall. 
  • When my twin nieces were five years old, they were quite concerned that I didn't have a family of my own. I went for a visit and found pictures of little kids cut out from magazines and left on the guest bed. "Those are coupons for you, Aunt Ruth! So you can buy some children!" 
  • On my recent trip to France, I got up in the middle of the night, tripped over a slight ledge in the kitchen, and went sprawling into the living room. When someone in my group asked what that noise was in the middle of the night, I started telling the story (angling for some sympathy) and our waitress overheard and started laughing at me. 
  • During the year that I lived and taught in China (pre-cell-phone days), I'd been downtown all day and was unaware of a problem with our apartment that would leave me locked out for the next few hours. A friend thoughtfully tried to alert me to the issue (and save me a long walk to our apartment on back campus) by leaving me a note attached to a bush at our bus stop. Her: But I left you a note! Didn't you see it? Me: A note? Where? Her: I stuck it in a bush! Me: ...
  • Two years ago, I was taking care of five nieces and nephews while their parents were away. The kids took this as a sign that it was time to pass around the stomach flu. "That's it!" I told them dramatically. "No one else is allowed to throw up!" Twenty minutes later, I threw up. 
  • While on a road trip, a friend and I rented a car with weird bumps on the steering wheel. Later, she admitted that she thought the notches were Braille. On the steering wheel. (Braille. On the steering wheel.)
  • My sister and I once sneaked into a public performance of one of my plays. As the lights came up for the intermission, we heard the lady sitting behind us hiss, "This play is weird."
  • The same sister also once hacked into my cell phone, imitated my voice, and changed my outgoing message to something super long and pretentious, and I didn't notice for like six months. 
  • With Hurricane Gaston spinning around the Atlantic, Florida has been awash with Beauty and the Beast parodies. "No one forms like Gaston / Such a storm like Gaston! / No one plans your home quite to deform like Gaston! / I use plywood in all of my deccccccorrrraaaaattting! / Eyes on the sky for Gaston!" 

If nothing on the list made you laugh, please understand that the list is not defective.

It just means you need more coffee.

Happy Monday, everybody!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Here Amidst These Bones

Earlier month, I visited the Paris Catacombs, a municipal ossuary housed in underground quarries. The largest of its kind, this site is neither for the superstitious nor for the faint of heart.
Situated twenty metres below ground, the ossuary contains the remains of millions of Parisians, transferred there gradually between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries as graveyards were being closed because of the risk they posed to public health. The first of these was the cimetière des Innocents graveyard in 1786 in what is now the district of Les Halle
In the long maze of dark galleries and narrow passages, visitors can see a tableau of death with bones arranged in a macabre display of high Romantic taste. The alexandrine verse "Arrête, c'est ici l'empire de la mort" [Halt, this is the realm of Death] above the entrance to the ossuary is just one of an extensive series of maxims, poems and other sacred and profane passages giving pause for thought during the tour. 
As my travel companions and I picked our way through the dank warren of bone, we each took refuge in separate pockets of silence. Normally a lively group, we spread thin through the tunnels, quietly contemplating the macabre scene while pondering mortality and the human condition.

At least, I assume that's what we were pondering. Given the demographics of our group, however, it's likely that at least one person was thinking about lunch, while someone else imagined the catacombs as a perfect setting for an episode of Doctor Who.

Toward the end of the trip, I rounded a corner and suddenly found myself at the start of a long corridor of bone, eyes dilating as I stared toward the vanishing point.

Standing there among the bones, I tried to imagine the skulls as they were in life: clothed in flesh and wrapped in skin. I imagined them not piled in an indiscriminate maze-work, but recognizable as souls made in the image of God: individual souls with distinct personalities, goals, dreams, worries, and fears. Souls who lived, worked, and loved in a high-stakes world, leveraging their hopes for the future against the everyday grind. 

When they pondered their own mortality, did they ever considered themselves in a final resting state such as this: completely dismantled and rebuilt into a public and impersonal wall of bone?

That seems unlikely.

As I climbed the stone steps back toward the daylight of Paris, I felt highly aware of the bones beneath my skin, anchoring my muscles and leveraging me toward the surface. 

I considered the frailness and brevity of existence, thankful for even a brief space of life and motion here amidst these bones.  

* * * *

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us... always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.

For the perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.

(I Corinthians 15:26-27, 53-58)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Traveling with an Adopted Extended Family

I've done a fair amount of traveling, most of it solo or with one or two carefully-selected travel partners. That's because no matter how well-planned or exotic the trip, it's the company that makes or breaks it. Good travel companions can make the worst situations tolerable and bad ones ruin everything.

I'm currently traveling with a family of five: two adults and three children (although the kids told me they prefer the term very young adults). Naturally, traveling with a family provides an entirely different travel experience. It's not bad--just different.

How Traveling with an Adopted Extended Family Is Different:

1. Everything takes longer.

2. Every emotion is extreme.

3. Every crowd is a potential disaster.

4. Everything is exciting until it suddenly isn't.

Traveling with children who are experiencing the world for the first time brings added layers of richness and wonder. Their questions challenge me to pay closer attention and drive me to learn more. Traveling with a set of adults who know eachother well and are already accustomed to operating as a unit brings a helpful team dynamic that encourages everyone to share the load of plotting and decision-making.

Plus, with three adults on hand, there's always someone awake early enough to run out for coffee.

And that's a definite plus.

Monday, August 1, 2016

One More Ordinary Day

We'll all have one.

A last ordinary day.

It's the day before the accident. The day before the diagnosis. The day before the disappearance. The day before the allegations. The day before the death. The day before our whole reality shifts.

Our last quiet day.

The thing about these days is that we don't recognize them for what they are. They only reveal themselves in retrospect. 

When we consider the tragedies that run like Lines of Demarcation through our lives -- and we all have them -- perhaps we wish to go back to the days right before the incident. To the days when everything was normal. Back when we didn't realize how good we had it.

The so-called "good old days."

Sadly, most of us didn't appreciate the "good old days" when we were in them. That's because even on the best days, we're so easily wrapped up in small worries and petty annoyances -- things that matter little in the long run but fill our horizons when they're happening. 

I'm not sure why, but lately I've been hyper-aware of this thought. Maybe it's because I've already experienced this phenomenon and know it will eventually roll back around. Maybe it's because world events seem to be escalating toward something history-altering, and I know the present tense won't continue indefinitely. 

Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Either way, lately I've been thanking God for each ordinary day. For another quiet day doing my work, serving Jesus, drinking my coffee, and loving my family and friends.

i thank You God for most this ordinary

* * *