- Elya’s previous Asian Travels
This morning I awoke with a massive “Parental Hangover.” The throbbing began in my shoulders and radiated up through my skull. The last couple of weeks preparing for and then experiencing my daughter’s departure overseas proved more challenging than anticipated.
Today I’m going to climb back on top of my life. The following blog entries are catch up from the last few days. I have been too stunned to type my thoughts and feelings into a readable form from the scribbled journal pages blotted with tears. I hope that there are a few empathetic parents out there in the cyber world who can commiserate with my ramblings.
I find it personally therapeutic to log the experiences of life in readable and visual forms. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of blogging. A present to one’s self that can be reread and reviewed during those dark days and nights of the soul.
Recently, a colleague who is also a writer, expressed her reservations about blogging voiced by her friend, “Once you’ve put it out there, it’s out there forever.”
Yes, this is true and does strike a chord of terror in my heart; however, I would not be sane today had other writers refrained from doing so. Therefore, here is my meager contribution to the world of “trying to stay sane in the midst of living life.”
So I’m putting it out there. You will need to scroll down until reaching the first entry dated October 8th titled “Sorting.”
October 11, 2009
The Longest Forty Hours of my Life
The longest forty hours of my life just occurred. Snail-like slithering until I heard world from my daughter. Wondering whether she had made it safely to Batdambang, Cambodia tormented me. These last few tumultuous weeks wrought with anguish, fear, and grief culminated as I awoke to her email message:
Hi mom and dad,
Jesse and I arrived to Batdambang, Cambodia after a long 6 hour bus from phnom penh. we are staying at a nice hotel called senghout hotel for 15$ a night. we have a meeting with the teachers tomorrow to discuss the following 2 weeks. Last night we arrived and Daniel met us at the airport. we then went to eat at a local restaurant and the food was actually pretty good. similar to thai food. i’ll post pictures and stories soon. i love you both and hope all is well back home.
My tree of faith has definitely been shaken until the very roots seemed to dislodge. Heaven fell silent in spite of my crying spasms during the night and impassioned imploring during the day.
“I just need a tiny inkling that she is ok!” I pleaded.
Yesterday, the inkling came through the assurances of colleagues attending the training day at which I was to be a presenter. Their words warmed my heart,
“You know who’s in control.” One concerned teacher assured.
The organizer of the event lit up when I told her my daughter would be teaching English in Seoul, Korea for a year. She explained that she was born there because her parents were missionaries in that city for eight years. After the training, the administrator in charge of the event reassured me of God’s faithfulness. Funny how these wonderful people spoke from their hearts momentarily ignoring the separation of church and state.
I found their words to envelop me with peace. What a lesson in faith. When the heavens seem silent, we wait. Awkwardly, we grope around in darkness like famished beggars searching for any crumb of hope spoken through others. We experience our humanity and embrace our powerlessness once again.
October 9, 2009
Transferring the Heart of Writing
Elya called while on my way home from work around 3:45 pm. She had safely arrived in Taiwan, China and had two more flights to go before reaching her Cambodian destination. This is the most difficult waiting period so far. I will ask the teachers attending today’s training to be patient with me keeping my cell phone on in case she calls. I so need to hear her voice saying she has arrived safely.
Today I train teachers in the “How to’s” of our district’s cornerstone writing program. Yet, I hope to share so much more; I long to communicate a passion for writing that will inspire them to become writers themselves. Or at least to provide a bit of room for the writers amongst their students to arise, spread their wings, and fly.
So today I will begin by telling my own writing story. How near and dear writing is to my own heart. How the inception of journaling was modeled by my sister during our childhood and youth. The first evidence of my practicing the craft found in an old journal dating back thirty years. I was a young woman of only twenty newly overseas. Finding myself in a strange new world—a training school located in the Dutch countryside—caused me to pick up the pen.
I will tell the teachers of finding my daughter’s first journal entries written when she was only seven. She sought to make sense of her grief over her parents’ separation. A child’s scribbles detailing her groping in the darkness of divorce and single parenting stack in plastic containers packed in our shed.
Today, we will be a small group of ten and so the day will be up close and personal. This is my dream class; a real delight because my own heart weighs heavy with sadness over my daughter’s departure. I hope teachers will be open to hear about the “heart of writing” from a vulnerable heart. For the gift of writing extends far beyond merely preparing students for state exams. Our ambitions as educators should be to encourage youth to find out what they want from this world.
October 9, 2009
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
Yesterday will go down in my personal history as one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Elya left for Asia and my heart felt pulled out by the roots. The void in my chest after our final hugs and kisses was so unbearable that I could hardly breathe. An actual physical pain of longing was so intense that I have never felt such agony as a mother before. Let me go back and explain how these events unfolded.
After our brutal night of crying in each other’s arms, I went to work bedraggled. To make matters worse, my students seemed especially cantankerous and defiant. Some girls were having a war during the last fifteen minutes of the day and had finally extracted my last ounce of patience. I was mid lecture about their behavior when the classroom door unexpectedly opened. In the midst of such a hellacious day, she entered. My precious daughter’s beaming face came through the door and in that moment, the classroom madness melted away. I gasped, ran to her, and wrapped my arms around her willowy frame. My students’ watched momentarily forgetting their personal misery.
As the class ushered out, the former student who recently wrote me the thank you letter came in to see me. What a priceless moment it was as my daughter and this student met each other; my offspring leaving and the one promising to always be “your smart girl.”
After work, we went to buy her a nice camera for her trip. My husband decided this was an essential and offered to contribute. Just being able to walk arm in arm and spontaneously hug was priceless. After returning home, she packed and repacked once again until reaching the luggage limit. The remaining cast offs went into a box for shipping to Seoul, Korea or into the trash. How amazing that a lifetime of “must have’s” reduces to forty-four pounds.
I sat by her on the floor just to be close. I noticed her petite hands once again that we had studied the night before while lying side by side on the bed. How odd that I never before knew how delicate her hands were. Those slender fingers lifting and folding dozens of times formed artistry in motion.
Her sister came by to see her one last time and she collapsed on the floor laying her head in Andy’s lap. Andy played with her hair as the stress melted away. My husband, Justin, took pictures of us before her father arrived to pick her up.
I rolled the suitcase out to the car and burst into tears after her father and his girlfriend asked how I was holding up.
“Not good!” I cried.
They got misty-eyed as she came out. She had that panicked look on her face that I remember from childhood whenever I would leave her in the mandatory Dutch school she attend at only four years old. She glanced back and forth between her stepfather and me until we fell into each others’ arms and wept. Justin covered us with his broad arms as we buried our faces.
Even as she walked towards the car, she kept grabbing me for another hug. Finally, the door closed and I could not see her face any longer through the tinted window. They pulled away as I waved good-bye to a shadowy form huddled in the back seat.
No one could have prepared me for the gaping hole in my chest resulting from this separation. No words from another having already experienced the trauma of having your beloved daughter go into such unsafe places for so long would suffice. The only reader who can truly understand is a mother who has gone through a similar ordeal. I shuttered thinking about those I know whose precious children have perished. In that moment, I seriously doubted my ability to survive such an ordeal. I write in order to soothe my savage longing to hold her in my arms again. I fear that if I lost her completely, I may never desire to write again.
Later that evening, I called her cell phone to tell her I was ok and had stopped crying. I vividly remember leaving my own mother and father at the airport weeping and not being able to hear their voices again. When I left home for my overseas travels thirty years ago, we did not have cell phones or Skype. The next message came through a letter or cassette tape. I grew to despise those gut-wrenching good-bye’s that repeatedly tore our hearts. As we briefly chatted, I heard the peace in her voice.
“Mom, this is a big flight. I’m counting one, two, three….ten stewardesses. It must be one of those double Decker planes”
As I said my last good-byes, I had to fight this overwhelming depression settling over my mind producing a feeling of utter hopelessness. Nothing seemed to matter anymore now that I could not be close to my daughter. Once again I cringed at the thought of parents permanently loosing a child. The motivation to go on living stripped away like bark from a tree enabling insects of despair and lethargy to infest. I wondered how long this robotic feeling would continue. In these moments, nothing seemed to matter; not job, writing, art, nothing. No dreams for the future or grief over the past could compete with my broken heart that longed for God’s soothing ointment. To have my precious girl back in my arms once again was all I wanted now.
I lay in bed for a very long time after our call ended. Amazing how I took for granted being able to reach her by that cell phone number. Now her phone will forever be silent. When she returns from Asia, she will purchase another plan. How I would give anything to be able to call that number just one more time. Communication fell dark and the only comforting words I could find were her last, “Mom, I will Skype or email you once we land.”
October 8, 2009
I held my little girl in my arms last night as we wept. It will be a very long time until I can hold her again. We finally let our emotions go and had a good cry. Neither one of us thought parting would be so difficult.
Previously, I had sat on her bed for hours watching her sort through her possessions wheedled down to what would fit into a suitcase. Even then, the weight proved over the limit and so she began the process all over again. Item by item, she lifted, evaluated, and decided.
“Should this go into the box for shipping to South Korea that I can have in six weeks? Would it be better to place it in a plastic container for storage over the fourteen months that I am gone? Should I put it back into my suitcase as a priority item?”
I could see her face intently studying each item while carefully evaluating her priorities. The flat iron for straightening her “almost straight hair” got demoted to the shipping box.
“I guess I’ll just have ugly hair for six weeks.” She grumbled.
The fingernail polish remover was to stay at home due to possible leakage.
“Are you really going to polish your nails while in Cambodia?” I chided.
“I guess not.” She sheepishly mumbled.
I watched her go through every single thing in her suitcase until finally falling onto the bed and into my arms. We cried. I told her how much I loved her and asked for a promise.
“Promise me you won’t be proud when you feel afraid or endangered and will cry out to God.”
I felt her nodding against my chest.
Finally, I had to let her go and get some sleep. During the middle of the night, I awoke to a muffled sound. I followed it to her bedroom and upon opening the door, found her painting like Picasso with pallet in one hand and brush in the other. I could hear one of her favorite books on tape playing in the background. She just had to get one more painting session in before leaving all of her artistic supplies at home. I closed the door smiling. A picture etched in my mind of a true artist; someone who loves the very act of creating more than any thoughts of what might become of her play.
Today after I get off of work, we will buy her a new camera so she can take nice pictures of the amazing sights she will see. She will then go with her father to meet her brother for dinner in Los Angeles before boarding the plane. I must admit that stung for I would have loved to have been there. I have barely seen my son since he just returned from living and working overseas. Yet, divorce means having to share.
Yes, I had to do quite a lot of sorting lately in preparation for some sad goodbyes. My other daughter plans to move out of state this summer. My son plans a trip around the world for a year before starting business school. My husband and my children form a blended family who are in a process of sorting through what they will do, where they will live, and what will become their priorities.
This morning I ponder how this process of sorting continues throughout one’s life. When I was nineteen, I also sorted through possessions packing and boxing away before leaving for a year of overseas living. My mother held me in her arms as we wept. Little did we know that first trip would only be the initiation of eleven out of fifteen subsequent years of living far from my family, either in Europe or Napa, California.
The sorting continued after leaving the ministry due to my former husband and my life and marriage falling apart. I had to evaluate every purpose, every talent, and every path until deciding upon becoming a teacher. I continue to sort through priorities every day of my career and creative life. Which project needs immediate attention, which artistic opportunity is worth my time? On and on the lifting, evaluating, and deciding goes. Sometimes this wearies me to the bone. Questions act as continual burrs pricking my otherwise tranquil thoughts. Questions as to what my spiritual priorities should be continually stir:
“What activities would please God the most? How can I wisely use my remaining days upon this earth. What would bring the most glory to His name?”
My daughter’s life and my life are decidedly different. She just begins her sorting quest and I have been at this for a very long time. The questions we ask vary due to age and life experience. Yet ironically, I often feel no closer to the answers than she does. Last night as I held her close and kissed her soft forehead, I whispered a prayer:
“Lord, may you grant Elya the answers she seeks in finding out what she is supposed to do with her life.”
After all, isn’t that the true essence of sorting?