Pinnacle Moments {Hyacynth}

Welcome to this week’s edition of Pinnacle Moments, where we share the moments that have shaped our lives. This week’s moment comes from the lovely Hyacynth, of Undercover Mother. It’s a poignant one. I hope you’ll stay to hear her tale. Here it is.
 

From Hyacynth:

His two-year-old footprints shimmer in the sunlight dancing on the wooden floor as we both sit in a tangled heap crying, his small body draped over a rather pregnant stretch of baby beneath my skin.

In a moment of twoness that I just couldn’t understand, he scampered across the freshly mopped floor for a fourth time in so many minutes.

In a moment of selfishness, irritation he just couldn’t understand, I forcefully reached out, grabbed him by the arm and all but yanked him from the still-soaking floors while yelling loudly and denouncing his repeated attempts at puddle splashing.

Eyes wide, full of surprise, he looks at me stunned. He’s never heard that mommy before, never felt an ungentle touch come from her hands.

But I keep scolding anyway, hot from emotions and the exhaustion of scrubbing floors and being eight months pregnant and keeping up with a spirited toddler.

I hear the harshness in my voice. I see the panic spread across his brow, creep into his normally joyful eyes.

And at the same time he bursts into scared tears, I snap back into the reality of the situation:

he’s a two year old exploring our world, not a teenager defiantly staying out past curfew.

In his unique verbalization of two he cries, “Mommy soooo mad. I sorry. No more splashing on the floor. Mommy scary like a monster.”

The words mommy monster burn into my brain. It’s my turn for hot tears to spill past heavy lashes, for panic to creep into my heart about what kind of precedent I’ve just set, what kind of experience I’ve allowed him to harbor as a memory.

In a moment of Divine Grace realized, I’m reminded that no one is made of perfection; but everyone is bathed in forgiveness if only they ask.

So his body gathered in my arms, I dry his tears and my own as the floor’s wetness, too, evaporates and ask him simply, voice full of remorse, “Mommy is so sorry I yelled at you. Could you forgive me?”

Though he cannot yet speak the real meaning of apology or forgiveness, he feels the working definition of both in his heart after seeing the regret across my face, feeling the warmth of my arms and voice; he wraps his small arms around my neck, while nodding his head yes.

I feel his forgiveness, and I understand forgiveness in a whole new way through his embrace:

it doesn’t stem from being right, nor is it something that can be earned or bought; rather it’s given freely out of love.

And through the child-blessing of an oldest son, I suddenly know a little better the heart of the Father who gifted him to us.

What a moment! Even without a child of my own, I recognize that same part in me that Hyacynth so bravely shared with us today. Pinnacle Moments will be taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, but will return the week after. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
 

On Not Living Numb


I admitted that part of the impetus for us to pack up our lives and move to the other side of the globe lay in a secret, deep-down need to feel…something. There we were in a little paradise city snuggled up against the mountains and overlooking the beach, and ohmigod there’s the most amazing new coffee shop…and have you been to Red’s yet? And Edomasa is just a little jaunt down the street, for the nights you don’t have the energy for the Farmer’s Market and fresh, organic, free-range, local, sustainable, guilt-free produce to cook Ayurvedic style in between yoga and chai.

It was a beautiful life, with beautiful friends and beautiful habits…and we gave it up. We screwed up our courage and threw caution out the window like yesterday’s old coffee grounds. For a different language. For signs we can’t read. For food that might make you ill if you don’t wash it properly and smog in the air and incoherent traffic. For impenetrable social customs. For alienation. For bewilderment. For frustration. For discomfort.

For joy.

For childlike wonder.

For stretching and growing.

For beauty and profundity and spiritual depth.

For fear and challenge – and, oh, is it not amazing what you learn about yourself?

That you weren’t sure you ever really wanted to know. Things like: the fact that you will rearrange how you dress, how you speak, how you commute, how you show respect and how you conduct business, but you will not – WILL NOT – learn to drive stick.

We had the gauze ripped right off us, and we knew once more what it was to feel.

But the truth is, even the most alien eventually becomes routine. You find the good restaurants, and the good coffee, the pretty mountain views, and the friends to call when you want to share a glass of wine.

And some days you find yourself sipping tea and looking at flowers and realize you could be anywhere in the world, and you’d still be doing this. Just this.

And that’s okay. So long as you’re okay with the you that’s you underneath it all.

Also linking up with Heather @ the Extraordinary Ordinary, for Just Write.

If you like what you see here on Tasting Grace, please considering clicking “LIKE” on my Facebook page. Thank you for your support!

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September 12

Collectively, we have an expectation that September 11 was a transformative experience. We expect that one of the greatest tragedies of American history would have changed us in some tangible way. We assume that we, as a nation, are different now, a decade after the towers fell, the Pentagon proved itself vulnerable, and the sleeping giant nation awoke to stunning horror.

But how? How have we changed?

There was a YPulse article arguing that 9-11 caused Millenials to be more socially focused. I wish I could say that were true. Unfortunately, I think the article’s argument is just an example of Pollyannaish optimism brought on by a desperate attempt to find meaning from tragedy, while misappropriating a trend that started long before 9-11, one that began with the dawn of the post-materialist age (there’s a great book by Abramson & Inglehart (1995) on this).

I’ve been reading post after post of people recalling where they were when tragedy struck, how they reacted, and the emotions they grappled with since then, in tribute to the memory of those lost on that day and in the days after. But what I see when I read these posts is that they are not the posts you’d expect to see ten years into the healing process from trauma.

What I see when I read these posts is not a nation in the process of healing, but a nation shell-shocked, and shell-shocked, and shell-shocked, over and over again until what meaning we might have found in the tragedy has become lost in the continual bombing of our hearts and minds.

We remember that in the hours and days following the attacks our nation came together in a profound sense of unity: generosity, resolute bravery, and love for our fellow Americans. It was a defiant denial against an unspeakable act of hate. But that was short-lived. Because what fear we had was co-opted and turned into anger and hate. What anger we had, was harnessed and turned into vitriol. 9-11 was no longer just about 9-11. It had turned into war, and more war, and suddenly we learned it was all lies, and still there was more war, on and on and on until our economy and everything else along with it collapsed. Our actions, instead of defying the terrorists, practically ensured all of bin Laden’s stated goals would come to pass – as they did. Meanwhile, any attempt to say, “Wait, this war is being waged for the wrong reasons!” or “Wait, I’m not sure this is right!” became labeled unpatriotic – or worse, traitorous. Dissent, one of the foundational pillars of American democracy, suddenly became synonymous with treason. The media, who once prided themselves on objectivity and the search for truth, suddenly refused to ask the tough questions. The opposition party, whose job is to insist upon debate, fractured, some turning tail to flee, and some becoming more war-hungry than the hawkiest of war hawks.

This is what I remember.

And now, ten years later, Osama bin Laden is dead (another event that leaves us with complicated feelings), but what can we say we have gained from the experience? How has 9-11 shaped us? When we look around we see a nation half-beleaguered, and half-still trying its darnedest to soldier on, to find new ways to rise from the ashes. But our media has lost all sense of objectivity, preferring the pretense of controversy over the quest for truth. Our parties, which only 50 or so years ago, had quite a great deal of ideological overlap, now are so polarized that they can barely function, and getting anything done at all is lauded a success, no matter that what they accomplished is shitty policy.

After the Holocaust, we had the Nuremberg trials. After apartheid, there was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

After 9-11 and its attendant wars, what will we have?

We have moved so far apart from each other, politically, that it has become almost impossible to have an open and honest conversation about what happened in the last decade. There is blame to deal with truthfully if we are to heal and to uncover what the true lessons were, and attempt to bring meaning to chaos. There are few who are completely blameless in the actions we have taken as a nation. But still, only a select few truly deserve blame. Nevertheless, to deal with that, we must talk about it and we must listen. We cannot shove it under the rug any longer. We cannot be afraid to deal with difficult truths. We cannot fear controversy. We cannot care who bleeds red, or who bleeds blue. We have to know and trust that ALL OF US bleed red, white, and blue. We must be brave, both to find the courage to speak truth, and to find the courage to forgive.

We sure as hell can’t trust our politicians to start that conversation. We can forget about the media. All we have is…us.

Can we start that conversation?

Change. It begins with me.

Via Pinterest/icanread.tumblr.com

Turning on the light

It’s hard to figure out how to start this post. It’s hard to know how to begin when you come from a place of vulnerability. As happy as I am in this new life we are building here in Thailand, I find myself prone to more intense and more frequent attacks of panic than I ever used to experience. (I suppose a result of “ripping the gauze off”, as it were.) Even if I’m not actually panicking, I sometimes have a clutch in my chest, a wall of pure anxiety and stress. How funny is that, to be happy and afraid all at once?

Sometimes these would last for a few minutes or hours. Sometimes for a few days. When I managed to find center and peace again, I brushed it off as a passing phase. A growing pain of living life abroad, sure to pass with time. But things can only happen so many times before they become not so much an anomaly as a pattern.

On Sunday, after coming home from a weekend in Chiang Rai spent working at SOLD, we were rushing around cleaning and returning the rental car, grabbing lunch, and getting some shopping done. It was hot, the kind of heat that makes you sweat from the exertion of the sheer act of breathing. I’d been up since 6 a.m., thanks to cattle lowing outside our window and our dog huffing at them indignantly, and my mind was full of all the things I could/should/needed to remember to be doing with my time.

I forget how exhausted these weekends make me. I come back thrilled, and forget to breathe.

So on Sunday, the panic struck. It palpitated my heart as we wove through traffic. It made me lightheaded, red-faced, hot, and nauseated when we ate lunch. It made me want to go home, crawl in bed, and hide.

I fear diabetes. I fear the one mosquito bite that might give me dengue fever. I fear all the diseases we might get. I fear all the diseases our dog might get.

I fear.

But this time, I did something different with my fear. I acknowledged it and then decided I wasn’t going to let it play me. I wasn’t going to tap dance to its tune like some manic marionette.

Instead of chasing the “should-do’s,” I invited my husband out for a drink, and we had a beer together. Slowly, sip by sip, I began to relax. Then, still staving off reality, I suggested we go get massages. My husband got a full-body massage. I got a facial. And by the time that hour was up, my face was soft and moisturized, and so was my spirit. It wasn’t about what we did so much as what we didn’t do. We didn’t get caught up in all the crap we “had” to accomplish. We took some time off and sat in a space of quiet. And it was lovely and rejuvenating.

But it wasn’t until the next day, that I really realized what happened. I think these anxiety attacks come when I push myself too hard, and when I don’t treat myself with enough compassion. They manifest themselves when I don’t treat myself with care. And they stem from shame. I fear diabetes not because of the bodily pain it inflicts (though that isn’t fun either). I fear it because I fear having it will say that I lack self-control. Never mind that it’s genetic and runs in my family; we’re not talking about rationality here. And I fear tropical diseases because I fear getting them will prove that moving to Thailand was a bad idea. Never mind the thousands of reasons we’re so glad we came. Never mind the fact there’s such a thing called medicine. Again, rationality is silent here. So, from these fears of shame, I push myself too hard. I treat myself without love, as if to beat myself into submission, to avoid that which I fear most: shame.

But, as Brene Brown wrote, “Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it – it can’t survive being shared.” She also said, “If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way – especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.” After all, “shame loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet.”

So I am sharing my shame with you. I’m sharing what I fear people may one day say and think about me because I hope. I hope that by calling it what it is, I will pull it out of the deep, dark closet of my heart and find that it is not in fact a monster, but rather a mere shadow on the wall. A shadow that disappears, if one might only turn on the light.

What did you capture this week? Join in this week at Hyacynth’s!

Virtual Coffee

When I took this photo, I was already in a state where I was thinking, “Let’s take Virtual Coffee outside today, for I need space to think.” But the day just progressed in it’s méchant way, and now I’m looking around for the bottle of wine. So if we all had our collective cups of coffee (or glasses of wine) in hand, I’d start with something a little upbeat.

I was hoping to find a Thai translation of Harry Potter to use with the kids at SOLD and went to a bookstore that looked promising from the outside. Thus far, in Thailand I’ve only found bookshops that are little more than corner stands or maybe the size of a small shop in a strip mall. It always made me feel a little alien, as I hid away at home with my Kindle downloads. Anyway, so I walked into this one and was slightly dismayed, though not totally surprised, to see it was small and had not much of a selection. But I knew Thai translations of HP exist, so out of desperation, I asked the girl behind the counter where I might find it. She instructed me to go upstairs. Pleased as I was to discover they even had a second story, I was overcome when I got to the top of the stairs and saw a store the likes of any of our largest Borders Stores or Barnes & Nobles stretching out before me, and full of people looking for books to read! In an instant I was home. I combed every inch of that beast, just soaking it all in. Simple pleasures, folks. Simple pleasures.

If we were really chatting over coffee or wine right now, I’d try to hold back, but I’d probably not be able to help myself talking about the death of bin Laden. And the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I feel a sort of grim satisfaction, I suppose, as it seems to mark the end of a chapter in our collective history. But I cannot quite rejoice in death, even in the death of such an ignoble villain as he. And one thing that worries me is the focus the news has placed on the celebrations everywhere. The world, friend and foe alike, sees this. What they probably don’t see are the thousands of smaller, quieter voices I’m seeing everywhere saying: This is not happiness I feel.

The part that I really wonder about though, beyond the politics, beyond religion or ethnicity, is I wonder what our younger generations will take away from this entire episode. I’m about 10 years ahead of the generation who came of age in a post-9-11 world. Their lives, more than mine, have been shaped by a world in which war is a near constant background, and politics ever more than before has been characterized by folly. Will this have as powerful an effect on this generation as the Vietnam War and Watergate did when those events eroded public faith in government and set in disillusionment on the national scale? If so, what will those kids take away from it? Or have they (or even we) become so numb that even something as big as this will roll of our backs in a few weeks’ time?

I can’t help but wonder.

Meanwhile, when I turn my gaze closer to the ground, to the immediate, I find myself again contemplating consequences for the future of children. When I taught at the university level in the States, and here again now, teaching disadvantaged children in Thailand, I find myself bumping up against the same thing: people held hostage by fears, too afraid of children to stand up and guide them. Too afraid to make them upset. Too afraid to make them do hard work. Too afraid to challenge them. Too afraid of not being fun. But then I read this post and was reminded of all the reasons I feel it is right to push the children, to be the disciplinarian, and to hold them to a higher standard, even when everyone else around me is saying “don’t expect too much from them.”

The thing that I found when I taught at university though? The more I pushed the students, the higher my expectations, and the less slack I allowed for laziness, the better the students responded. It’s like they craved the discipline. Sure, I got the stink eye from them a time or two. But when I got my evaluations back? It was nothing but gratitude. They found the harder they worked, the higher their rewards.

I refuse to believe it’s any different here. At least, not until I see any strong evidence otherwise. And hell yes, I’ll take a few stink-eyes if my students walk away from my class feeling they actually got something out of it, more than entertainment.

</end soapbox>

Have you read Amy Chua’s book? If so, what do you think?

Anyway, this month will be hectic for me. I’ve written 60+ pages of my novel so far (not counting any of the character descriptions, vignettes, scene layouts or synopses, of course) and I’m getting to the point where I’m fully absorbed by it and any attention directed elsewhere makes me itchy. But I’ll be going to Chiang Rai every weekend this month to teach and to help with Parents’ Weekend. School is starting up again at the temple, and I’ve gotten back into yoga, AND I have to fly down to Bangkok for several days to take care of some business (yay, another visit with Mr. Pig…). My days shall be quick full, and I’m already sorely behind on my 365 photo project.

::sigh::

Still, busy doing what you love? Not so bad.

And I’m very excited because I’ve just finished (well, almost) putting together a textbook for the kids at SOLD. I’m gearing my writing workshops to each focus on one element of putting together an illustrated storybook, from start to finish, so that by the end, the kids will have practice in creating, planning, and executing a whole project by themselves. The exercises will walk them through it, but we’ll also have some other reading & writing exercises to help build their vocabulary in English and central Thai, build skills in critical thinking & analysis (especially understanding cause & effect and understanding how we learn things through observation and attention to detail), and improve writing skills. I can’t wait to see how it all goes! And when the kids are done, I hope to somehow put their final projects on display somewhere. So excited!

Ok, I KNOW I’ve rattled on long enough. I can’t wait to hear how your week is going! Hope you’re staying away from crazy tornadoes…See y’all around the Virtual Cafe!

Join in the fun at Amy’s!

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Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

Sometimes awareness comes in startling revelations. Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time.

I was sitting at the resource center and had finished up some small bit of work. I turned to the group of girls who had been playing together while waiting for me to finish working and join them.

“So you girls want to watch a Disney movie?” I asked.

Squeals of delight erupted and they clambered over to the couch while I pulled out the DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

Without hesitation: “Cinderella!”

I chuckled over their love of an old Disney classic and was intrigued since I hadn’t seen it more than a couple of times when I was a kid. But as I watched it, it seemed to me to be such a stark contrast from my personal Disney favorite, “Beauty and the Beast”. “Cinderella” is a story that captured the imaginations of little girls of the 1950s and 60s and follows the traditional story line of an impoverished and used girl who must be rescued by magic and a prince to find love and freedom. Both Cinderella and her prince are thin on personality; they are primarily just pawns moved about by larger forces (some benevolent, like the King, some malicious, like the wicked stepmother). Slightly different from my favorite, where the heroine must overcome her own fear and prejudice to find love and freedom with a hero who looks terrible from the outside but has similar intelligence and sensibilities underneath.

But “Cinderella” is the one these girls want to see. And as we watch, the tiny memories started to accumulate into one larger revelation.

When I was at their families’ home on Saturday night, the girls were watching cartoons on TV and interspersed between the cartoons were popular music videos. These girls, all around ages 6-8 or so, were belting out the tunes at the top of their lungs. I laughed at the cuteness, though I felt a little disturbed because all (and I mean ALL) the songs were about two girls fighting over a man.

And then I remembered my cousins doing the same thing when we were teens: watching music videos and singing happily about betrayal and loss.

And I thought about all the popular Thai music videos I’ve seen, waiting in bus stations, sitting on the bus, playing in cafes and hair salons, and in shop windows…

Almost all of them feature a woman left behind by a man. A lover who moves on to be with another woman. Two women fighting over a man. Men make all the choices. The women are portrayed as scheming and over-crazed by emotions. And they haven’t the self-respect to walk away.

And as I looked at these young girls, the same age as my nieces, singing lovingly about heartbreak and affairs, jealousy and betrayal, I realize just how ubiquitous this theme is in Thai culture. How do we teach empowerment, when they’re taught to romanticize love triangles and inferiority to men at such tender ages? I’m not going to sit here and blame popular music for how these girls think. Rather, I believe that these songs strike such a chord with them because the stories are so deeply embedded in the consciousness of the culture.

In reality, most Thai women I know are actually incredibly strong. But they are also rather jaded on the whole idea of romance. I’d venture to guess it’s because what is portrayed as romance in the popular culture is really just women being weak.

I want love for these girls. When they get older, I want them to find joy in romance; stability, comfort and honor in marriage. (If marriage is indeed what they want.) I’d hope they don’t have to push away love to survive, for love and strength don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, they should support each other. What I don’t want is for these girls to sit around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want them to ever feel like they don’t have the power to make choices. It took forty years for the story of a generation to shift from “Cinderella” to the likes of “Beauty and the Beast”. I wonder what it will take to help even just one little girl see how much power she really has over her own life.

I wonder, if I ever have a daughter of my own, what story will capture her imagination?

What Disney film captured your imagination? What bigger picture did you see this week? Join in at This Heavenly Life!

 

 

virtual coffee

Welcome! Come on in and help yourself to a cookie (or two or three). I baked them fresh. They’re oatmeal but I tossed in some chocolate chips and a few chopped up Ferrero Rocher chocolates for some hazelnutty-crispy decadence. Do you love Ferrero Rocher as much as I do?

I’m pretty sure I need the chocolate after the past couple of days. If we were really meeting for coffee today, I would tell you about what’s really been going on in my heart. But because this blog is just so public, I’m just going to have to say I’ve been stuck in a bit of a moral grey zone the last little while and I don’t know what the better path is. The brunt of it seems to have passed, but the weight of the uncertainty in this particular instance has left me rather emotionally exhausted. I would also tell you all about a separate issue entirely that has been weighing on me, but for now I can only say it is a situation where a girl is at a crossroads between choosing what is right and what is easy. I worry for her immensely because there is a lot at stake. If you’re the type to pray, prayers that she chooses the higher path would be much appreciated. And for now, I’ll just have to say my heart is heavy and leave it at that.

Anyway, as I type this, my husband is crossing into Burma. The embassy in LA told us he has to check in with immigration periodically to keep his visa valid for one year. What they didn’t mention is that it’s not checking in with the immigration bureau in Chiang Mai. It’s an actual border crossing in and out of the country. When he went to Chiang Mai’s immigration bureau, they explained what he actually has to do (and said the embassy in LA isn’t very good), so he had to drop everything and ride up, on a motorcycle, over some gnarly roads, in the rain, to Burma and back. Things dealing with legal authorities always make me (perhaps irrationally) nervous. I feel about 70% better now that I just got a call from him saying it’s taken care of. But I won’t feel 100% better until he’s back home safe and dry.

Although, as a Californian, I never developed much of an affinity for rain (though most people I know like rain), I’m actually quite glad we’ve got some rainy weather now. It cooled down the heat considerably and cleared the air so it smells fresh and lovely outside. I never liked going outside in the rain before, so I thought I would hate riding a scooter in it. But it turns out, with a helmet, I’m perfectly fine. I discovered I don’t mind getting wet; it’s just getting rain in my eyes and the feel of raindrops on my head that I find annoying. So that’s good news because it’s supposed to rain the whole rest of the week.

I’m also excited to hold another creative writing workshop at SOLD this weekend. After watching the Women In the World summit last weekend, I have lots of ideas to play around with in terms of where I’d like to go with our education program and how to develop different aspects of it. After watching the summit, too, I think I have an even deeper understanding of the nature of the challenges we face. I realize even more deeply than I did before that what we do is not just a matter of giving children the tools they need to avoid being trafficked. It’s not just educating them so that they can have chances for a better life. There are deeper ramifications. If you educate a girl and financially empower her, she will be far more likely to change the power dynamic within the family and she will be far more likely to make different choices. She will send her children to school instead of to work (or to war). She will not accept a husband having a mistress or second wife. I realized this before and thought of it as a good thing; an end to be achieved. But now I also realize, or perhaps am more sensitive to the realization, that when you create those changes, you really do begin to mess with a whole cultural order. That can be good, when elements of a culture give rise to or perpetuate the use of children for sex. But we also have to realize how those same elements are linked to other aspects of the culture that can be forces for good (or at the very least, may just be a different way of doing things). If we really want to tackle the problem of child sex slavery, we have to attack the problem deeply. But the deeper we go, the more responsibility we carry in affecting a society and a culture. In the name of our goal, to what extent do we have a right to push? These are questions we must be aware of and try to answer as an organization. Not having clear answers is okay. It’s life. But it is critical that we are sensitive to and aware of the questions. Reducing the issues to black & white would be irresponsible.

In the meantime, we can empower individuals, one child, one woman, one man at a time. And they at least will be able to make choices for themselves. And if there are enough individuals together, they maybe they (not SOLD) can push a society to ask itself questions about what they want for themselves as a society. And then maybe the society can choose what values they want. But at least they might begin asking the questions.

Maybe it is not really for SOLD to have the answers. Maybe the role of SOLD is to just present the question and provide alternatives and the chance for individuals to choose for themselves. After all, isn’t that what empowerment really is about anyway? Having the freedom to choose.

Oooph. Heavy for a cup of coffee, eh? Anyway, how are you all doing? I’ll stop yammering away now and turn to your voices. How is your week going? Do you like rain too? What is written across your heart today? What is brewing in your mind?

- x -
Jade

P.S. I did make the crocodile last week. I sauteed it in olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper with bell peppers and pineapple. The flavor combinations worked quite well together. And crocodile is indeed a delicate flavored white meat. The hubby quite approved. However, I’m still not sure I’m sold on crocodile meat. It was a little bit like white fish that had been cooked too long – maybe because it was cooked from frozen? Whatever. I can now say I’ve tried it.

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Join Amy for Virtual Coffee (and hopefully some lighter conversation)!

The Flowers That Break My Heart to Buy

To live in Thailand is to be confronted almost daily with the choice between poverty and an ideal. These beautiful, delicately fragrant flowers soothe my soul to see and smell, but they also represent a harsh reality. Little children, probably no more than 5 or 6 years old will roam the streets at night carrying handfuls of these flowers woven into elegant chains and exquisite designs, hoping to find people willing to shell out a dollar each.

At 9 p.m.

When it’s dark. And they should be tucked in a warm bed, listening to bedtime stories.

Instead they’re out selling flowers. Or toys or trinkets. Or cigarettes.

Usually, when I’m approached by a silent child holding up flowers and pleading with her eyes, I shake my head and steel my heart. I say no because I hope that if no money can be made this way, parents will stop seeing their children as means for income. If the kids are lucky, a parent will be with them, usually hiding discreetly down the street or around a corner, keeping a watchful eye on them and doling out the flowers in small batches as they sell. Once all are sold, the kid will hop on the back of the motorbike and they’ll go home. Sometimes, though, the children are out alone.

Usually, I say no, hoping this road is the higher one.

But last night, I did something different. I said yes. A little boy, probably about 6 years old, came up to my table, held up flowers, and I said yes. Because the 20 baht the flowers cost will put dinner on his family’s table. And really, how can I judge those parents? If the choice comes down to choosing between having your family go hungry and asking your child to sell some flowers, selling a few pretty flowers doesn’t sound so bad.

If you really sit and look at it from that perspective, can you really say what you would choose?

And so the choice for the rest of us is: put food on a family’s table for a night, or make a statement. It’s always a brief moment, when you’re caught unawares…but how you respond represents your stand in a large-scale dilemma. And you don’t ever get to see what the results of your decision were.

Will the statement ever be heard? Will it be understood as a statement – or hard-heartedness or greed?

Will the money go towards food – or feeding an alcohol addiction?

It is a humbling moment, when you realize just how powerless you are in these larger processes.

And I never know which hurts more: saying no …

…or saying yes.

How do you make that choice? What would you choose?

butterflies in my tummy

I am thrumming down along the meridian lines. In acupuncture, the meridian lines are the pathways in the body along which vital energy is said to flow. I am the meridian line. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Today we celebrated an early Thanksgiving-backslash-Bon-Voyage party. I started prepping food on Friday and finished promptly in time for guests’ arrival Sunday at 2 p.m. Then after the party, I promptly crashed. I meant to take photos, but I was so busy cooking, eating, and spending time with loved ones, that all I have to show for it are a few crappy shots of the last of the pear crisps I made for dessert.

The party was festive and fun. Everybody ate and drank and had a good time.

So why is it that now, at 12:33 a.m., I sit here alone, Indian style, with tears rolling down my face and plopping in my lap, wetting my ankles?

It is because, today, I saw my family laugh and smile and hug. And I saw that though they had smiles on their faces there was sadness behind their eyes.

Today is the first day that leaving here becomes really really hard. In one week, my life is about to become very, very different. Up until now, I’ve just been anxious for this time to arrive, busy trying to cut through all the things we have to get done before we leave. About halfway through last week, I started to get really excited. Like jumping up-and-down excited.

Now I’m just about every emotion in the book. Nervous that things won’t go right. Excited for the change. Afraid of the things that might really not go right. Incredibly sad to leave family and to see their sadness (and worry) as we go. Ready for the new chapter, for space, for freedom. Exhilarated to take the plunge. Vertigo at the fall.

Toby and I, our tempers are short now. Not because we are angry, but rather because there’s no where for all this crazy feeling to go. In some form of wordless understanding, we give each other space to process. Then, in private spaces and stolen moments, we cling to each other tight. It’s a dance, where somehow we know the steps with each other, even though neither of us knows what the hell we’re doing.

We’ve been reading a couple of books about Thai culture and it is a strange sensation for me to read about things like how Thai people express love with a sniff, taking a whiff of a loved one’s cheek or neck. Or how snacking is an essential part of Thai life, the peccadillos of Thai high society, and how Buddhism radiates out through all elements of Thai life. When I read these things, it is like a remembering. I’ve never expressly been told any of this, nor do I recall specifically noticing or observing these elements of Thai culture. But having it pointed out to me is like culling out a long-lost memory. Like tapping into the collective unconscious. In that sense, I wonder just how farang (foreign) I will really be, if I understand before being taught. If, to me, these things are already ingrained and intuitive. The Thai call it faa suung paen din tam. “Sky high, Land low” – an order of social nature so self-evident that only a farang could question it.

But that has been my life no matter where I stand. Neither of this world nor that, and of both simultaneously.

I am not static. I am not one place. I am the energy flowing between East and West. The energy within me is tumultuous at this moment, while my actions cause the energy around me to change. There is a shake-up in my family, by the act of me moving to Thailand. My family had a routine, a way of life, a way of thinking about life in Thailand and life in the U.S. I hope it does not sound too immodest for me to admit it, but me moving to Thailand challenges all that. A whole clan content to stay here now are shifting, thinking of time for and possibilities of going back. Uprooting me uproots them.

This is my bigger picture moment. This is the day I learn never to underestimate the power of one person to transform the fabric of an entire family. It’s probably a little bit crazy that I feel a little bit guilty and a little bit proud.

Monday we fly out. I can’t wait to show you all Thailand.

5 {things} for a Friday

*Inspired by Simply Feather. (Sorry no photos today. I gotta get to work!)

5 {things} I’m looking forward to:

* coffee
* playing around with bridal makeup with bestie, C, who’s getting married in a month(!!)
* savory pie
* hugs
* a swim in the pool

5 {wishes}

* this month will be the last of it
* I had more library time to spend researching the new novel
* my sand dollar hadn’t fallen and broken
* I hadn’t gotten boiling hot curry splattered on my eye
* I had control over the speed of time

5 {things} I want

* new underthings before moving to Thailand (because pretty bra sizes there range from AAA – not-quite-B; anything larger is granny style)
* time to read more
* scented candles
* an iPhone (not badly. just, you know, wouldn’t mind if I had one)
* a Vespa (ditto)

5 {loves}

* lavender milk baths
* lunches with loved ones
* ice cream
* Red’s (new bar in town with great cocktails and live jazz)
* picnic dinners

5 {things} I need to do today

* book my flight to Florida
* return Moosejaw stuff
* finish Chapter 5 revisions
* figure out dinner for tonight
* put gas in my car

Happy Weekend Everyone!

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