Memory of Rain

Over at 1000 Awesome Things I read a great post on the joy of getting caught in the rain and I couldn’t help but think of the day Terry and I got caught in the rain in Cancun last July.

It began as a drizzle, plinking on the marble that surrounded the pool.  We were laying on one of those canopied poolside beds reading our books in the heavy summer air.  I thought the rain would relieve the humidity, but Cancun still breathed down on us.

We didn’t care about the rain or the humidity.  We relaxed and watched the drizzle become a steady rain.  And then the steady rain broke open into a deluge.  Never in my life have I seen rain like that!  We set our open books on our stomachs and watched the rain fill the walkways.

Our canopy leaked, gently at first, a drop here, a drop there.  And then the rain came in sheets, rivulets becoming pools where we sat.  It soaked through our towels, our clothes, our books.  It soaked through everything.

We watched others create makeshift umbrellas from towels and shirts as they ran for refuge at the thatched roof bars.  But not us.

Terry and I have been caught in the rain on our bicycles and we’ve learned that there is a saturation point, a point at which clothing, hair, skin is so sodden with water that it simply cannot contain another drop.  And we had reached that point.  So there was only one reasonable thing to do.

We stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in the pool.

We were the only two swimming as the rain pelted the surface of the pool, but did not touch our bodies underneath.  We laughed and I kissed Terry, sucking the rain off his bottom lip.  The pool water was so warm, warmer even than the sultry air.

After our swim we dashed back to our canopy, gathered up our wet things, and sat down at an umbrella covered table at an outdoor café.  The waiters cowered in their white uniforms under the awnings, waiting for the downpour to stop.  We giggled at the people dodging from awning to awning trying to stay dry.

But this rain allowed no survivors.

The water puddled up over ankles and the waiters used giant squeegees to usher the water from the marbled paths back into the flowerbeds over and over again.  Men turned Coca Cola crates upside down and stood on them to save their leather shoes.  Terry and I ate lunch, my wet hair dripping on the table.

We walked back to our room in the rain and my arms and legs prickled with goosebumps.  Back in our room we sank into a hot bubble bath.  This is the part of the story where I fast forward.

Ahem.

Later that night I toweled off my wet hair until it sprung up in huge soft curls around my face.  No straight hair allowed in Cancun air.  I wrapped myself in a bathrobe and Terry and I pulled out our books and read some more while the rain pattered a percussion on our patio.

The rain had soaked through all 560 pages of The Poisonwood Bible and the pages crinkled up into waves.  Days later when all the pages were dry, the book was so fat with memories of the rain that it couldn’t even begin to close.  That book will never be the same.

And neither will I.

I, too, am fat with memories of that blessed rainy day.

A Bundle of Thanks

Dear Apple,

Thank you for building a very sturdy Mac Book.  I discovered just how sturdy mine is when I was happily typing away on my couch and a big, black spider crawled across my bare arm.  Naturally I shrieked, jumped up, and inadvertently threw my Mac Book to the floor.  After I’d finished shrieking and doing the heebeejeebee dance, I picked up my computer and was delighted to find it was none the worse for wear.  Job well done, Apple.

Sincerely,

The girl who will try not to throw her computer again

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Dear Terry,

Thank you for shaking out my couch blanket until the monstrous spider revealed itself.  Thanks for only saying once how tiny it really was and for not arguing with me when I insisted it looked much bigger close up.  And thank you for stomping the spider into oblivion.  I was only a little grossed out that you stomped it with your bare foot.  Your chivalry is much appreciated.

Love,

The girl who will try not to be so shrieky

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Dear Spider,

Thank you for crawling on me when I was awake instead of crawling in my mouth when I was asleep.  I’m sorry your trip did not end well.

Cordially,

The girl who is not that sorry

Tooth and Nail

I know the new year came and went a long time ago, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t finish this post.  I started this post back in December when my friend, Lynn, shared some questions with me.  The questions began bobbing around in my mind.  I’d stare at the screen as answers eluded me and the words felt all wrong in my mouth.  Then ever so slowly the answers surfaced.

The new year always brings about a restlessness to clean out my house and gut it of clutter.  Along with the removal of physical clutter comes the move toward cleaning out life in general.  What stays, what goes, what needs to be cut away, what needs to be alloted space-all of these thoughts seem to press in on me at the close of the year and the opening of another.  It’s a time to answer hard questions, a time to resolve the year.  A resolution, but not.

What was an upset or a disappointment last year?

It’s no secret that I was disappointed with the disruption my heart caused in my life last year.  To say that it upset me is not accurate, but to say that it caused an inordinate of fear in my life was a painful realization.  The balance between pursuing medical answers and being unafraid eluded me for months.

Where and when did things not flow easily?

The obvious answer is that blood did not flow easily to my heart, but the more important answer is that my classroom has not been easy.  No, my young ones have challenged everything I thought I ever knew about teaching, but from that discomfort I’ve learned new ways to teach, new ways for them to learn, and I wouldn’t trade this impossible year for anything.  As our class becomes their school home, I hold out hope that the hardest part is now just a glance in the rearview mirror.  Far enough away that it doesn’t impede our daily progress, near enough that I am aware of our starting point.

What flowed easily?

In the absence of turning the pedals, my fingers flew across my keyboard.  It’s not that I birthed revolutionary works of literary genius, but as fear of my physical heart increased, my writing pulsed with honesty and I faced the terror of the blank page with unflinching boldness.  This boldness was a delightful surprise.  And yet I can’t help but wonder if it was that way because one passion moved aside and gave way to another.  Can I have both at the same time or is it like wanting to sprawl on the hot sand during high tide?

What’s incomplete?

My novel.  My novel is so horribly incomplete.  And you know what?  That’s okay with me for now.  I like knowing I can come back to it bit by bit, tinker with the words, change the outcome, alter the characters.  But for now I’m content to just leave it in peace.

What are insights I gained last year?

I feel like if I answer this question, I’m saying I’m insightful.  Believe me, that’s not what I’m saying.  At all.  What I learned last year, or already knew, but am remembering, is that everyone has a story.  A lovely, hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring, tender story.  So I wonder then what if I began to listen more than I talk? To laugh more than I criticize?  To accept more than I judge?  I can’t help but think that the story of my life would become wider, richer.

What am I grateful for?

Terry, always Terry.  It’s not lost on me that I am spending every day of my life with someone who loves me and desires my love in return.  I’m acutely aware of what a gift that is and I hope that I remember that as our happy days together stack up and make me fat with joy.

How will I acknowledge and celebrate the wins of the last year?

Wins.  Isn’t that an interesting word?  My cycling team used to have a mantra “Win, Susan!” She fought tooth and nail against cancer and I pedaled my heart out to help her.  Then she died, but to say that she didn’t win is an ill-fitting phrase.  She left this Earth having lived with passion, love, and tenacity.  Our team now says “Fight like Susan.”  And so I guess, I don’t feel like noting wins or losses of 2009, but instead I want to figure out what is worth fighting for and then use this new year to fight for it tooth and nail.

I love…

Sometimes after a challenging day at work I need to remember that there really is a lot to like in this world, a lot to love even.  This was one of those days and so turning the corner into this blissful three-day weekend, I’m focusing on the parts of my life I love.  It is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I’m going to come back and add more over the weekend.  I hope you’ll let me know about all the things you love in the comments section.

  • I love the smell of Terry just out of the shower, wrapped in steam with stray drips of water still behind his ears.
  • I love when we’re laying in bed and Terry reaches over and touches my leg, acknowledging I’m there with him.
  • I love the steady beat of my heart.
  • I love reading blogs in the morning before work to see how friends in other parts of the world are starting the day.
  • I love tucking under a blanket with a good book as the rain streams down my windows.
  • I love riding my bike the long way up to Shasta Dam just because I can.
  • I love the pink casing on my bike that matches my jersey and my water bottles.
  • I love going to church and closing my eyes to worship.
  • I love praying with Terry as we part ways in the morning.
  • I love when my nephew begs for more tickles and kisses me with crackers in his mouth.
  • I love when one of my students says, “I love writing.”
  • I love eating summer blackberries from my backyard.
  • I love writing.
  • I love writing so much I’m putting it on the list twice.
  • I love talking to other teachers about how to foster young writers.
  • I love visiting new places, but I love coming home even more.
  • I love Abby and her candy drawer.
  • I love Nick because he believes I’m a better person than I really am.
  • I love my Gramma because she understands the worst parts of my life and doesn’t judge me for them.
  • I love green vegetables.
  • I love when my principal has my back.
  • I love my grade level team for making me a better teacher.I love my home.
  • I love burritos.
  • I love parasailing over the turquoise Caribbean ocean.
  • I love the Olympics.

The Blanket

I tuck under the green blanket you bought me in Mexico when we were much younger, when our faces were unlined and our eyes unclouded by what would become our history.

It is here on the couch, toes wiggling free in the fringe at the bottom of the blanket, that I write.  Propped up with a pillow behind my back in the red walls of our living room is where I am a writer, where I am the truest value of myself.

It’s where I write about teaching and the untainted faces of my students.  It’s where I paint in the details of my town as seen from two wheels.  It’s the place I write about you and I and how we swam beyond pain and have now come up for air in this place of joy.

On the computer I bought with money, blood money, from my dead father, I figure out who I am, what my purpose is.

Faces come to me here in intricate detail, illustrating my life.

In the solitude of our home, I write without veils, with truth so searing that I have to throw the blanket off and let the cool air slap against the sweat gathering on my skin.

This is writing, breathless and demanding, rushing red warmth into my cheeks.

In this version of myself I’m learning to let go, to type with racing fingers, to wander halls of my mind, to slip into the corners.  My destination is unknown and there is a freedom in that.  I can’t help but think that I am secure in that leap because I am grounded in our home, grounded by you.

I remember the day you bought me the blanket, walking in the market stalls of Tijuana after a long day building a church of stucco and tar babies.  We walked a careless pace, eating from taco stands.  The new blanket was made of itchy wool, so scratchy I could not sleep under it.  Instead I piled it atop other blankets.

Fifteen years later it’s been washed so many times, spun through and dried, that all the itchy fibers have been rubbed away.  I press the soft corner to my cheek and I wonder if you and I are the same way.

After a time of cleansing and spinning dry until there were no more tears, we are soft.  You are soft and I press my cheek to yours.  I curl under the blanket of you and write.

What is my favorite subject?

You.

You are my happy ending.

Good to see you again, Mexico.

A few hours from now, Terry and I will be driving to Sac to catch a flight to San Diego and hop a ship to cruise around Mexico for a week.  Some of my fondest memories from my teenage years and early adulthood are from trips to Mexico.  No, I’m not talking about those crazy high school drinking excursions you see on Dateline.  For eight or nine summers, I spent time in Mexico as a short-term missionary.  Yeah, God was surprised, too.

My first time in Mexico, I was part of the construction team.  We built a small church near Tijuana.  We mixed cement with shovels, hammered up black rolls of pungent tar paper, and rolled out miles of chicken wire to stucco the walls.  This was all very cool to my fourteen year old self.  My task for the majority of the build was to measure out all of the boards to be nailed into place.  I measured and marked all day long for my saw team.  (It helped that my saw team happened to be two cute boys.)

On the last day of the build, as we were packing up, we spotted a fire on the hillside across the road.  The hillside was brown with weeds and spotted with houses made from salvaged materials.  One home was made primarily of wooden Coldwell Banker signs.  As the fire devoured the weeds, a horde of us grabbed our shovels and ran up the hill.  We dug trenches to hold the fire, threw piles of dirt to extinguish it and pounded out hot spots.  After the fire was out, we put the shovel handles between our legs, sat on the mouths of the shovels and slid all the way back down the hill.  It was a fantastic ride.

That evening we were joined by many neighbors from the hillside at a candlelight service in the newborn church.  Whenever I hear the words “thinking globally” or “global community” or any of the other catchy phrases people throw around, I think of that candlelight services and the glowing faces in that little church near Tijuana.

The following summer I was on two teams.  The build team worked on an orphanage during the early hours.  Then in the afternoons and evenings I went out with the drama team to perform and give my testimony at church services and neighborhood gatherings.  At a training before the trip we had to audition for parts in one of the dramas.  The female part choices were a hypocrite and a glamorous girl.  I tried out for the hypocrite, but my movements weren’t crisp enough.  I auditioned for the glamorous girl, but as we were “walking gracefully”, I tripped and fell.  On my face.  I was embarrassed and turned a deep shade of red.  Luckily for me, there was one more part that hadn’t been announced; a clown.  When I tripped, the trainers handed me the clown mask immediately.

And so it was that on a sticky afternoon in Mexico, we were rehearsing for an evening performance.  Dressed in black we held our masks in place and a handsome stranger started our music.  As the drama unfolded, each character pulled a mask down to reveal their true self.  I pulled my mask down and locked eyes with the handsome stranger.  His eyes were limpid pools of chocolate.  My body did the motions of my part, but my mind was swimming in those eyes, oh those eyes.  I was a goner.  The stranger was Terry, whose eyes still turn me to jell-o.

On my third trip to Mexico, I chose to return to both teams.  I loved it all, but when the fire died down each night and it was time to retire to our tents, I laid awake until the sun announced it was time to get up and build again.  After several nights of reaching for sleep just outside my grasp, I was desperate for rest.  That night as I prayed, I pleaded with God to let me sleep.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I laid motionless in a deep, dreamless sleep unaware of the storm that rolled in.  More accurately, the storm that rolled in and wreaked havoc. The pelting rain collapsed many tents, causing people to seek refuge in cars, the kitchen, and even in the bathrooms.  Mud slides relocated some tents entirely.  Thunder and lightning caused nearby cattle to break through a fence and tromp around in the chaos.

I awoke the next morning to a steady drip, drip, drip between my eyes.  I looked up and saw that my tent had collected a large puddle of water directly above my head.  Huh, must have rained last night, I thought.  I unzipped my sleeping bag and it released water like I was squeezing a sponge.  Must have rained A LOT last night. I glanced over to the other side of the tent.  It had collapsed.  I dressed, grabbed my toothbrush, and unzipped my tent.  I looked out and saw the scars of the storm.

I wandered up to the kitchen and Terry filled me in on the events of the night, including the part when he came to rescue me, only to find me wrapped in the gentle arms of sleep.  As the sun cut the clouds, I stood outside brushing my teeth.  People hung their belongings out to dry, repaired tents, and herded cattle back to the neighboring ranch.  Everything I owned was wet.  My tent was plastered with red mud and only partially standing.  But me, I’d never been better.  I was rested and happy.

I returned to the same campsite year after year.  In one corner of the campsite there was a cement water tower with ladder up one side.  Each evening I would slip away from the group and sit on top of the water tower.  As the wind licked my sunburned ears, I would pray, meditate, and write.  On clear nights I gazed out over sleeping Mexico and in the distance I could see a faint triangle of ocean.  It was serene.  My experiences as a missionary and this humble campsite became home to me.

In a few hours, I’ll board a ship to visit some of the more polished cities of Mexico.  My days will be spent lounging on beaches and devouring piles of books.  Nights will be spent eating fancy cuisine with my favorite brown-eyed boy.  I’ll treasure every second of it, but at night on the deck as the wind licks my sunburned ears, I’ll gaze out over the vast ocean longing for my second home.  I miss the grit.  I miss the work.  I miss the glow.  I miss the faces.  But most of all I miss the serenity of the water tower and my tiny triangle of ocean.  I’ll return to it someday, but for now let me just say, it’s good to see you again, Mexico.