Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A summer's day

I took Snuggler and Little Guy to the city pool today. This is what it looks like when it's empty:

A sign posted by the entrance says the pool's capacity is 1,407 people. There were not that many there this morning; we arrive when the pool opens, and leave after an hour or so. I'd guess there were 250 people there, so we had plenty of space. It's very big.

It's a long, hot walk to the pool, a mile or more each way through city streets. We stopped on the way home and bought piraguas. The old man scraped ice off his big block of ice, tapped the ice it into a plastic cup, and rounded off the top by pressing a funnel on it. Then he squirted syrup (my kids chose coconut) all over the ice, and stuck a stirrer straw into it. Very refreshing. I suspect he charged us more than if we were Hispanic, but at $1.25 each I'm not going to worry about it.

When we were still eight blocks from home I decided the kids needed something salty, so we stopped in a bodega and bought a small bag of pretzels. Then we wilted our way home, where we sat in front of fans and prayed for the breeze off the river to pick up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Musings on hard times

Way back when I was single, I took a vacation trip to Spain. My plan was simple: I rented a car in Madrid, and drove until I found a place I wanted to stay. Then I tried to persuade the inn owner to rent a room to a single woman, found a restaurant that would serve a single woman, and went back to the inn to bed.

As I drove south I went through a mountain range. The road was a two-lane highway, and it was only after I had entered a long tunnel that I realized two important things. First, the tunnel was unlit. Second, I didn't know where the headlight switch was on my rental car. Far, far ahead I could see the end of the tunnel.

The question was whether or not I could get there before crashing. I couldn't stop, because a car might come up on me from behind. I couldn't see where the wall was, except by occasionally tapping the brakes to check by dim brake-light.

It was the most terrifying quarter mile I have ever traveled. And when I finally emerged into daylight, the road lacked a shoulder onto which I could pull over so I could heave my guts out. I had no choice but to keep going.

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I have been feeling glum the past couple of days. The road ahead of me appears very long and dark. It is hard, after having traveled a rough path for a decade with Big Guy, and a long stretch with other woes, to contemplate handling yet more difficulty. The one reason I know I can do it is that I can't afford not to. Like driving in that Spanish tunnel, I don't have any choice but to keep going.

The I-don't-want-to's of life are long and numerous. They easily morph into I-can'ts. But as soon as you say 'I can't', chances are that you're lying to yourself. This is one of the huge benefits of big, big problems: it doesn't matter if you don't want to. You have to. And then you learn that you can.

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I saw a friend yesterday I haven't seen in a while. She asked how I'm doing, and I replied, "A lot of my prayers these days start with, 'Really, God? I mean... really?'" We laughed. Sort of. She has been through a lot this year, too; I spent a couple of weeks this spring coaching her through her 15yo's hospitalization for depression. It was something helpful I could do. Being helpful gives me joy and a sense of purpose.

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I am a person of faith. I believe that everything happens for a purpose, yet I don't believe that purpose always has to do with me. The Bible verse that people like to quote in hard time, "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11) comes smack in the middle of what God said to a nation that was being exiled to Babylon for 70 years. Yes, exiled for a lifetime. And that promise was made to an entire nation, not to an individual.

Lemme tell ya, bad stuff happened to those exiles. They endured misery until they died. The promise was true -- it just didn't happen to come true in their lifetime. There are times when the greater good subsumes the individual good. There are times we're called on to be the ones who suffer for no currently-visible reason.

It's taken me a while to be okay with that. Hope doesn't necessarily have to be the kind of hope we 21st-century Americans are accustomed to having. We think in terms of personal outcomes and personal goals and personal happiness. If you ever get to the place where you have to let go of all that, it's actually kind of a relief. You can start thinking about having hope in God, rather than hope in what God will do for you. And you start to understand -- just a little bit -- that what's going on here on your section of the face of the earth this week or month or year is neither the beginning nor end of the story.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Quick update

We returned from Cub Scout camp yesterday, a day earlier than the rest of the pack, because I had to teach a nature class on ladybugs today. It's a popular class, though not with my family: one year I rushed out and left a container with a couple hundred ladybugs open on the counter. The house swarmed and the kids complained. This year I was careful to close the container.

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Camp this year began with a thunderstorm at bedtime. Four scouts neglected to bring flashlights, and since coincidentally they were rooming together (two in a tent), they had a dark time of it. But at least they didn't have to see the spiders who came in to get out of the rain. A third of the pack had no rain gear.

On day two our kids went exploring (an intrepid 20 feet behind our site) and one came back shouting, "I saw a raccoon with a black and white tail!" Another asked if raspberries are poisonous. This is what camping with city kids is like.

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I have received a pile of email following my piece a couple of weeks back in Daily Guideposts 2013, which mentioned that Andrew was out of work. Yes, it's true, even two years later. For reasons I won't go into, he is not looking for a full-time job at this time.

Yes, that does make life a bit complicated.

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Snuggler is still a long way from well, but seems to be a bit more stable. We have been painting the girls' room, which is the kind of project one can do in stages, according to how much energy one has. We should have it finished by the time Dancer returns at the end of the month.

While I was away, Big Guy turned 17. He seems to think that means he needs to acquire a sudden case of maturity. I told him I didn't feel like an adult until I held Eldest in my arms, so if he chooses just one way he wants to grow up this year, that's fine.

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One thing I learned at Cub Scout camp is that every kid is working on something. Some kids need to learn honesty, and others courage; some are learning to manage anxiety, and others are in the process of taming a temper or reining in impulses. It's rather refreshing to see so clearly that it's not just me, and not just my kids: it's all of us. We've all got ways we need to grow. It's normal.