Monday, August 27, 2007

all kinds of love

Last week I finished my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, and this weekend I flew down to Atlanta to officiate at my sister's wedding.

I saw a lot of love in the hospital, and a lot of marriages. Often, I saw this love, and these marriages, in moments of incredible crisis: either the sharp moments surrounding death, or the long slow suffer of walking with someone through illness and surgery.

Eventually, I came to see the face of grief as the same face of love, filtered through pain and anguish; I guess it's like what that book said that I quoted here a few days ago- every lament is a love song.

But it was pretty powerful to come out of the hospital, to take a step back from husbands standing constant vigil over sick wives, from the wife I saw trying to pray her husband back to life, from the man who rushed in to the hospital in the middle of the night because his wife coded, and then just looked at her. Because, the thing of it is, that man who came in looked at his wife, lying wordless and trached, in the intensive care bed, and she looked back. And it was the same look that Kate and Kenneth shared, as they stood in front of me, as I performed their wedding. This love is the same. And it is as strong as death.

The first song they danced to, at the reception, when I could finally cry my wedding tears and wasn't so caught up in my role that I had to take appropriate distance from my emotions, was this ben folds song, 'the luckiest.' The amazing bluegrass band that played there learned it just for them. The last verse pretty much says it.

"Next door there's an old man who lived to his nineties
And one day passed away in his sleep
And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away

I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know we belong..."

There it is.

And I am pained and proud to carry my identity as a lover into the hospital room and into the wedding feast. I got to write the pronouncement part of their wedding. I'll close with what I said there:

"This world is often full of struggle and hardship. We walk daily amidst sickness, amidst news of wars and death and tragedy, amidst injustices on a grand and intimate scale.
In the face of this, the greatest gift that one of us can give to another is a constant, faithful, loving presence.
Therefore, it is my great pleasure, to stand before the gathered community today, and to stand before Kenneth and Kate. I do not only stand for myself, but also for the gathered and the scattered Loved Ones, and for the Spirit.
Then, on behalf of all of these, here amidst these pines and these witnesses, I pronounce you Kate and Kenneth McGuinness, husband and wife."


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prayer request

A statement which might sound strange coming from me, given my last serious post, but I'd appreciate your help and support.

Fr. Greg Brennan, a friend of David's and mine, drowned in a boating accident in the Allegheny Reservoir last Friday. As near as we can tell, he was out boating by himself and ran into a storm and must have been knocked out of the boat.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Guatemala #10

My friend Pablo (my landlady's grandson) asked me the other day: "What does Guatemala have that the U.S. doesn't have?" I thought it was a very interesting question, and even more interesting was thinking of answers. Here's a sample of the list we came up with.

-Volcanos (or at least not many outside of Hawaii)
-Tortillas (tortillas in the US are not the same)
-lots of different kinds of birds
-some kinds of fruit
-some kinds of vegetables
-cheap public transportation
-open-air markets
-a large percentage of the population comprised of indigenous people
-huge stone ruins from previous civilizations
-traditional Guatemalan marimba music
-cloud forests
-colorful, handmade woven cloth
-gringo tourists
-black beans, in three styles (enteros, colados y volteados)
-pastel de tres leches (3 milks cake)
-upside down question and exclamation marks (¿¡)
-Pollo Campero (a chain of fried chicken restaurants...I was later corrected on this as Pollo Campero has recently opened restaurants in some southern US states, as well as Indonesia, and possibly China)

That's a start...feel free to add to the list if you've been to Guatemala.

Volcan Tajumulco, San Marcos Guatemala

I liked his question because people are always talking about what the U.S. has and what "developing countries" don't have, but Pablo's question takes it from another angle!

Snake in a hollow tree, Costa Rica

This post is taking a lot of different turns, so, I hope you can keep up. My friend Ruth asked me in a letter what people call me here. It's kind of a funny story, so I think I'll share it. At first I began introducing myself as Beth. However, the way that went was,

Person- What's your name?
Me- Beth
Person- Huh?
Me- Beth
Person- (hesitatingly) Bet?
Me- Yes, Bet.

(In Spanish, the "th" sound doesn't exist:)

Then, because diminutives are the rule rather than the exception, and because Bet, isn't really a name on it's own, everyone began calling me Betty. I might have gotten used to hearing that, but I couldn't bring myself to introduce myself as Betty. It just wouldn't come out. Especially not with my last name, too, Betty Peachey. So, at the end of my first week here, I decided to go with my middle name, Anne, and become Ana. Everyone I had met the first week became very confused, but it all got sorted out, kind of. At the moment, some people call me Ana, others Anita or Ani (using diminutives), still others, maybe one or two hang on to Betty, and some people put the two together to make AnaBeth (pronounced AnaBet). I decided that out of all of those, I like AnaBeth the most. So, now I introduce myself as AnaBeth. This has produced a new confusion because on official documents, my name is Beth Anne. So now, the question is, why do we call you AnaBeth, if your name is Beth Anne? Unfortunately my only answer is that I have some inexplicable bias against the name Betty. So, that is the story of my name. A good strategy is to try not to confuse people. Don't do it like I did!

Volcan de Agua, photo taken by Melissa Engle, MCC photographer

How am I? I was telling my parents the other evening that I'm both feeling better than I have the whole time I've been here (more comfortable with language, life in general, logistics, culture, the churches, work, etc.) and feeling more homesick than I have the whole time I've been here....all at the same time! It makes for an interesting combination. So, really I'm doing great, but I just get these pangs of homesickness for funny things like pickles, or the season of summer as it is in Pennsylvania, and of course family and friends.

I'll try to outline a bit of what we've been doing so far, in the past 6 months that I've really been working, as opposed to just studying Spanish. I am somewhat nervous about writing about this, because I want to communicate it as it is, and not give false impressions. Almost all of MCC's workers are placed with local organizations. So, in general MCC doesn't create it's own projects, but supports local organizations with service workers, capacity building and economic support. I'm working with the local Mennonite church conference. We've started a school of music, using as a base the 9 Mennonite churches, and the hope is to add other arts, sports, and skills in years to come. But those are long term goals. Right now we're still trying to figure out how to best do what we've got, which is Saturday music classes at two of the 9 churches.

The classes are group classes, in the areas of singing/choir, keyboard, guitar, music theory (learning to read music) and in one of the locations, a special class for young children. I've had a fun, and somewhat frustrating time figuring out how to be a good teacher in Spanish, and in a different cultural context. By now, I'm definitely on my way, which is a lot closer than I was at first! I'm teaching keyboard, to about 45 students (thankfully, not all at one time!) whose ages span from 9 to 65 years old. The students can choose between studying guitar or keyboard, and then also have to take the singing and music theory classes. There are also several who chose only to study singing and theory.

Children's recorder class, in Zone 11

What I've been most excited about recently, is realizing the diversity in ages, walks of life and gender that exists among the students. There are kids, adolescents, youth, young adults, middle aged and older adults, and in each age and instrument group, a good mix of men and women.

So, that's a bit of a taste. We've got many challenges ahead; more activities, concerts with the students, improving the program of study, trying to begin the process of sustainability, both economic and in the sense that people are committed to the project, and willing to make it continue, planning next year, etc. But, for the meanwhile, things have calmed down a bit to a nice routine, which is a welcome change from the hectic beginning of planning, implementing the plan, and the first two months of classes, with little experience to guide us!

Woven wall hanging, Chichicastenango

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A 20-Year Journey

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!
He comes to our house every day,
An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay;
An' he opens the shed -- an' we all ist laugh
When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
An' nen -- ef our hired girl says he can --
He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann. --
Ain't he a' awful good Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
--James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man”

“It’s about diversity,” my dad would say as he closed the giant book of Children’s Literature. Reading this poem often was one of my father’s several attempts to keep my brother and I thinking about a world bigger than the one children create in their heads. Though my parents taught us life’s lessons through conversation, television, and the computer, the avenue used most often for dialogue was my father reading aloud from a book nearly every night of my childhood.

The giant book of Children’s Literature had stories and poems that had deeper meaning than the R.L. Stine books I checked out from the library. When my father read, he had the full attention of the whole family, that is, until my mother ultimately fell asleep, a tradition she carries on to this day. I realized later that my father came from a family of readers, of educators. I knew that the Highfills were first and foremost teachers, but their profession extended into the home. My granddaddy read from the gospel every Christmas, perhaps the only time I ever heard the bible read. When I was in grade school, I lived too far away to visit my grandparents, so my grandmother recorded herself reading stories so that I’d have something to listen to at bedtime.

As my brother and I grew older, my parents’ reading choices matured with us. “Watership Down” was the first true chapter book I remember. On my own, I would have thought that the entertaining novel was just a cute story about a bunch of rabbits. My father explained the social and economic implications behind the exciting humor and eloquence of the story.

We went on to read Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Books such as “Sounder” and a couple of John Steinbeck’s shorter stories were added to our repertoire. One time, we read “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and each family member read a character or two. And then came Harry Potter.

I was worried I wouldn’t like Harry Potter. I didn’t get into the craze at first, being rebellious and “different”. I was very skeptical to add that book to the ranks, when so far we had read Shakespeare and Mark Twain…could some woman from England really meet my family’s standards? I don’t even like fantasy or science fiction. Surely this idea was way off the mark.

I was wrong from the very beginning; from the first chapter I knew I was so wrong. Though we started reading Potter when I was in high school, I felt like a young child again. I had never felt so enthralled, so mesmerized by a book, though our previous reading experiences always left me wanting more. We read the first two books in the series consecutively, before the third was released. I gladly joined Pottermania. The rest of my family fell just as hard as I did.

When the third book was released, I was in 10th grade. By this point the entire muggle world was taken over by a new obsession—reading. When I went to the midnight release party at Barnes & Noble, I realized the impact that these books had on children and adults everywhere. People were reading, and for once, children put aside video games and cartoons to pick up a book. My father read aloud as my brother and I were on the edge of our seats, along with my mother before she fell asleep.

We went to the midnight releases for books four and five, and every time my father had to read longer and faster as our interest grew more intense. There were nights we stayed up until the early morning, listening to the very end of each book. Crying and laughing, and of course discussing. By the time book six rolled around, I’m sure my father welcomed a break. Though we were disappointed, my brother was away in California and I was back at college in the fall. My brother suggested we read it over the phone, but in the end, I bought two copies and my brother bought his own and for the first time in Potter history, we read to ourselves.

With every book came more media attention and spoilers were beginning to be published on CNN the day after the release. I was worried about book seven. Could we really take the time to listen to the book and finish before we accidentally heard the end? What horror if after so many years of dedication we caught the final pages in a careless comment on the Today Show. At this point, my brother and I were both in our 20s, and my whole family was working. Did we have enough time to sit down like we had for the past 20 years and read a book?

Many of you have heard about our Harry Potter/Bill Clinton vacation. It was my mom’s idea to vacation with the specific goal of reading Harry Potter. We knew that if we stayed at home, even if we took off work, there would be too many distractions for us to really concentrate. If we were going to succeed, and finish the series the same way we started it, we needed to think out a plan, a book seven-intense plan.

We were able to read over half of the book in our few days in Little Rock, mostly in the car to and from. We blocked out all news and conversation for several days after our vacation and ended up finishing almost a week, to the minute, after the book was purchased. My dad read for six hours that Friday night.

I have never been prouder of my family than in the moment that my father closed the last book. Though it was never mentioned, we all knew that this was likely our last book together. It was hard to say goodbye to the Harry Potter series, but what was even more difficult, was saying goodbye to the endless hours I spent listening to my father’s amazing voice. When I review the list of things we have read over the years, dating from Shakespeare’s England to Rowling’s England, I know that a huge part of who I have become is etched in memories on the pages of those books. I am so blessed to have been born into a family that valued literature, but I am more blessed to have a family that values being a family. I hope that I can carry on this tradition with my own children, not only reading aloud, but creating an environment full of imagination and diversity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

every lament is a love song

In his book, 'Lament for a Son', (which I commend to anyone who wants to think about grief and God and love) Nicholas Wolterstorff tells us that 'every lament is a love-song.'

I wrote a song to accompany my final self-evaluation for my Clinical Pastoral Education program. It's pasted below.

Every lament is a love song: a song about cpe.

What kind of God are you that you want my worship
What kind of God are you that you want my prayer
Who am I to criticize your method?
Who am I to question your care?

Did you promise me abundance?
Did you promise me light?
I'm not getting a dawning.
I'm getting walking with me through the night.

I've been asking, all the old questions.
Children dying, all of the time.
I want you God, to get here and transform us
I want you God, to make the verses rhyme

I want you, to heal my patients
I want you to end the war
I want you, but that's not what you tell me
All you promise is that you will show up.

I've stopped looking to you for victory
I've seen too much pain, for a time
I'm not looking to you for abundance
O God my God I'm looking to you for enough.

Sometimes, I don't think you are trying
When the world seems like one big bruise.
But I believe that you cry the hardest;
This is some kind of awful good news

Bridgey stuff

One bed's laughing, one bed's cursing, one bed's crying
All together
One at a time

I believe you are there, in the blood, in the bread
I believe that you move, in the wind and in the wine

This world feels like missing a lover
This world feels like dancing in a cast
All I can give them is some love and space and presence
I just show up; I believe that's all you ask.

I can't offer them abundance
I can't give them any truth or joy or light.
Somehow, I just give them what you promise.
I show up, and walk with them through the night.

It's not much, this grace we have to share.
It's not much, but it's enough, it's enough.

(repeat last two lines.)

-I think there might be another verse in me, about how we show up, and a few other people show up, and they're never perfect, and often they're deeply flawed, but their showing up enables our continuing showing up. So, yeah. I'll put up a link to a recording if I ever get that together. I told Beth that you can just sing it to the tune of Yankee Doodle, but that was a lie.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Nicaragua: My new preschool classroom

You may remember pictures I took toward the beginning of my time here, of the unfinished rooms in the school. I posted pictures of the same rooms with the grass cleared out, roof and electricity installed. Last month, they finally finished the floors, which meant that I could move in! Tuesday was my first day in the new room. Right now I have just the essentials moved in; sometime soon we´ll move in the other furniture and the backup supplies and materials.

I love the new space. It´s bigger, there´s more light, and best of all, it isn´t isolated. I have already enjoyed a hundred tiny ways that I am more included in the school faculty, in the school schedule and rhythm. There is more collaboration between the other teachers and me, sharing ideas that wouldn´t have been worth the old trek to the old preschool but which can now easily take place. After school it´s nice to plan for the next day knowing that in the adjoining classrooms the other teachers are doing the same. There´s a synergy to my new location that encourages me to feel part of the school community, and it´s really making a difference.

In these photos, three of my younger kids are in a bus headed for Masaya. This is one of their favorite things to play. At the table, Noelia is fitting a square into the square-shaped hole. Lately she is really getting good at this shape-matching toy. On the wall are the alphabet and a calendar. I took these photos on Tuesday and even four days later, things are a little more decorated and spiffy. I´m very happy.