Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oh the things we worry about—musings from a crab-worrying mama

Singer Island, Florida.
Bob had spent the morning on the beach while I stayed in the condo doing crosswords with my ninety-three-year-old father-in-law who was accompanying us. Now it was my turn to soak in some sun.

I gladly paid the beach boy five bucks for use of a chaise lounge and umbrella, spread out my towel, sloshed on some sun screen, and pulled out a book.

Fragmented lines from Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” trailed through my mind: 

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright.

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky

Yes, it was a glorious afternoon, and I intended to absorb every moment of it.

No sooner had I settled into my book when I was distracted by movement directly in front of me. Two coal black dots rose up over a hump of sand. Like enemy seeking periscopes, they swept the beach before the rest emerged: a sand-colored hockey puck of a body suspended in the center of angled legs.

Slowly I reach for my camera, but it is wary, this one who has survived long enough to gain a three-inch wide girth and scurries back to its tunnel. I wait.

A few minutes later it emerges again, surveys the surroundings and edges sideways about three or four feet from its hole before a movement sends it fleeing once more.

I don’t know if it needs to eat or drink or wet its gills, but I scan the shoreline and see an opening—the next beachcomber is hundreds of yards away. The crab reappears. I will it to go, run, get whatever it’s after on this tourist-trodden beach day. “Go, go,” I cheer. “You have time.”

But it freezes, full alert, then scampers back to safety.

Annoyed, that I’m distracted by the fretful comings and goings of a ghost crab, I go back to my reading.

 I see her coming from yards away, this large lady in a black bathing suit, plastered with pink and orange flowers,on a direct course with the crab’s entrance. My worries are compounded by the hand-holding couple following her, also oblivious to the melodrama beneath their feet. I want to yell, “Watch out. You’re going to crush a crab hole there.”  

But I think it’s the cluster of tow-headed toddlers who do it. I gasp as they race by with their red buckets flapping and sand flying.

There is no use in pretending I don’t care. I close my book and rise.

Just as I feared, the spiral of a tunnel has disappeared, erased and filled with mounds of toddlers’ footprints and sand’s shift.

Oh well, I think. I can’t worry about everything.

I dive into the surf, wash away my silly preoccupation, and settle in my chair, once again book in hand.

A movement eight feet to my right catches my attention. Two black eyes pop up and look at me.

I wave, smile, and snuggle deep in my chair.

"You could not see a cloud because 
No cloud was in the sky . . ."


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seeking not the why, but the what does this adversity make possible

When twenty-one-year-old William Cameron Townsend went to Guatemala to peddle Spanish Bibles, he discovered that a majority of the population neither spoke nor read Spanish.
“Why doesn’t God speak our language?” a Cakchiquel Indian asked him.

Instead of being annoyed he was up to his ears in useless Bibles, Townsend responded to that simple question by packing up his young bride and moving to Guatemala where he dedicated his life to making sure the answer was, He does.

Decades later, thousands of people are able to read the Scriptures in their own languages thanks to Cameron and his vision for Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Negative situations, especially long-running ones often elicit a similar question: Why doesn’t God answer my prayer in ways I can relate to? Why doesn’t He speak my language?

How we choose to react to a negative situation will determine whether we fashion a world for better or for worse.

Instead of dwelling in Why this? Why now? Why me? MichaelHyatt suggests we ask: What does this experience make possible?  This slight shift in perception moves us from the past, which we cannot change, to the future, which we can. Hyatt uses as illustration the lessons he learned while recovering from a broken ankle.

His post challenged me to think of a negative experience of my own from which something good came. Although I’m sure if I rutted around in my memory long enough, I’d come up with a page full of situations that God redeemed, the one that stands out right now involves the recent death of my mom.

I know everyone dies— especially old people. Still, death stinks—especially when it’s Mom’s.

We sat there on red plastic chairs in that gray-walled, ten-by-ten-foot room. Mom’s constant complaints about the long wait exposed her anxiety. My sister and I also impatient to hear why we were waiting for brain scan results when Mom’s lymphoma was supposedly arrested.

He entered, white-coated, all business-like. In less time than we had been waiting, he sealed the envelope of Mom’s life. “Six weeks,” he said. “She has six weeks.”

It was a gift really, that cold punch in the gut. It put life in perspective.  All those plans and things I had to do suddenly weren’t so important.  

 Death prioritizes inconveniences.

Now, many months later, because I remember those treasured six weeks of jokes, reminisces, tears, prayers, soft lingering looks and last squeeze, I gladly share an anticipated vacation with my husband at a lovely ocean front resort with my ninetysomething father-in-law.
His presence means my husband and I can’t go to the beach at the same time, can’t go out to dinner for more than an hour, can’t walk in sunset’s glow because Pa might forget where he is or panic to find us gone. 

So we take turns doing a hundred crossword puzzles (why do old people love them so) and watching waves from the balcony while the other swims or suns in a lone beach chair.

For we understand how brief the time.

And then the treasure: Yesterday, backdropped against ocean’s roar and sky’s vastness, my husband explained the unarguable defenses for a God, Designer, Creator to his now interested agnostic, Jewish dad.

And today, on my watch, at first wistful I wasn't on the beach, knelt instead on our ninth-floor balcony and prayed with my teary Pa that he would lay his sin on the Lamb of God.

Yes, God does indeed speak our language, may we speak his.

 Even in the adverse seasons—especially in the adverse seasons, open our eyes, Lord to seek not the why, but the what this makes possible.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Finding the funny: Distance helps

Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanoes
One of the writers in my critique group asked me why I didn’t talk with as much wit as I wrote with. Fairly certain she wasn’t calling me dull-witted, I took no offense.

Although her question triggered some group speculation about repressed personalities, alter egos, and writer’s persona, I suspect the answer lies more in the perspective of distance.

It’s much easier for those of us slow to find the funny when we are not in the midst of the family feud. It is easier to laugh when we are a safe distance from a fearful experience, or even a humiliating one.

This is particularly true when writing personal narrative. Personal stories like wine and cheese are better aged. Putting some distance between the event and the telling allows us to see from a wide-angled perspective the other factors involved that our on-the-scene emotions were incapable of absorbing.

In Call of a Coward, I related an incident when my husband was momentarily annoyed, angry with me for indulging in an expensive Dove ice cream. At the time, not even his attempted apology: “Marsh, you’re worth twelve Dove bars,” did much to appease the ruinous moment. But years later, (mind you, I didn’t harbor ill will that long!) it was easy to write about the incident. 

With the poignancy of perspective, I happily accept that I am worth more than twelve Dove bars.

Another time, while traveling an unfamiliar road in Guatemala, we were halted by road construction. A huge swath in the side of the mountain was blown open; its spewn boulders lay scattered in the road. A sign warned of the obvious danger, which not only entailed maneuvering around the rock slide that had already happened, but dodging the boulders that continued to plummet down as the road crews kept right on dynamiting.

No flagmen. No detour. No stop in blasting. Just pure guts, grit, and go Guatemala style. Choose the side with the two-hundred foot drop and oncoming cars or the one closest to the tumbling rocks and pray it’s not your day to die.

Those of you who have read my story know how I felt about traveling the roads there on a good day.

This wasn’t good.

I’m quite sure in the throes of fear, I muddied my prayers with things about primitive public safety and lack of common sense: “Can you believe this! You, don’t have to be a North American to know enough to have a flagman and stop blasting, for crying out loud.”

Once through, however, I looked out the rear window in wonderment. What fortitude these people had. Drive through a rock field while dodging boulders and oncoming traffic—no problem— just do whatever it was you had to do and get on with it.

Safe with five hundred feet between me and death, I thought it was pretty funny.
The perspective of distance.

How about you? Do you have a story that you find humorous now, but at one time was mortifying, horrifying, or petrifying?