Endless Summer: A Place in the Sun

Summer is my favorite time of year. An invitation to breathe, relax, explore. After living in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, I don’t dread winter as I once did. I appreciate changing seasons.  And yet… when the cicadas’ song crescendos from a low hum heralding summer in May to a hiss screeching summer’s end in September, I have trouble letting go.

This is my salute to the longest day of summer where I escaped to a beach house in Asilah, south of Tangier. The ocean is where I feel God’s power most intensely, especially on the northern African coast. 

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Road between Asilah and Tangier

I returned to Marrakesh in June to see students I’d taught graduate, reconnect with old friends, and collapse for a reset. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor at my friend’s place grounded me again.

My first year back in the US had been harder than expected. Everything had changed. I’d come back focused on writing my memoir about the time away, feeling positive about getting a full time university position for which I’d applied, and expecting to buy a home near work and my daughter. When the position didn’t happen, I continued job searching though thankful for adjunct positions in the fall and an interim position in the spring. Housing prices in Nashville kept rising; my kids were busy with lives of their own (as it should be but as a Stage 5 Clinger I felt lonely at times no less); and Mom became ill and moved from Kentucky into my apartment with me. At times we both felt lost (more on podcast), but God, as always, never let go. 

Mom made a miraculous recovery and celebrated her birthday in April in a new apartment. We’re all so happy she’s finally living in Nashville. One day after the summer term ended, I boarded a plane. I met my Spanish friend, Moni, in Madrid, then headed to Marrakesh.

After resting until mid-month, I headed north with my Aussie friend, Kate. We stayed in the old city of Asilah, the cleanest town I’d ever seen in Morocco.  Whitewashed in preparation for the annual Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, a mural/art festival, the medina was as quiet, pristine, surreal as a movie set.  

Below was the Airbnb respite —a dream writing space. I felt protected within the 15th century ramparts built by colonial Portuguese. I fed on seafood. I felt free. From the rooftop I watched the waves rumble. On the second floor, I wrote as the sun rose and fell with the tide.  I didn’t know then that I’d teach full time for a university this fall. That I’d have benefits again and a schedule that would give me time to write.  But I knew the One telling me not to fear. I recognized the way He moves–the way He moved me while I lived in Morocco. The unforced rhythm of grace. I remembered a promise that led me here in 2014. A promise extended to all…

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”—Matthew 11:28-30 

Smoother than Nora Jones, He’d again called, “Come away with me.” I did, and though I had no idea what fall would bring, He knew. And it was enough. I knew my only job at that moment was to give thanks in the summer sun.

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Asilah
Photos of me by Kate Woods at https://www.moroccobespoke.com/. Other photos by me.

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Asilah Rooftop
Asilah’s white and blue rooftops reminded me of breezy shoreline escapes in Greece.

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These guys, sure-footed as cats, played and sat along the fortress wall watching the sun set and a friend swimming below.
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A really good day

 

 

A New Perspective

photo (14) “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”–Henry Miller

Sundays are delicious days.  Finally, the work-weary can feast on time.  We say of Monday, the most unpopular day of the week, we’ll “hit the ground running.” We lament that until the weekend we “won’t have time to turn around.”  But today I do.  And I did.

In Nashville, Sundays began on my deck under my grandmother’s quilt.   In the trees I’d rest, recharge and remember. There God lifted my gaze from problems to possibilities.  I’d later walk Ella, ready to face the world again with faith, love, and hope. As if she’d never seen the familiar greenway, she’d strain at the leash leading me.  I’d, too, with new eyes, see panoramic beauty on our path.

In Marrakech, today began on my balcony in a handmade chair delivered on the back of a motor scooter.  My feet propped on a pouf under a Moroccan wedding quilt, I was reminded in my quiet time of the same promises. But this time my chair  faced a different direction.

Last August when I stepped on my new balcony,  I took a quick look down the alley both ways.  At one end I saw cluttered buildings and satellite-covered rooftops.  On the lower end, nearer my apartment, I saw pretty palm trees, green space, and hills in the distance. I loved that view and have looked that way each time I stepped outside since.

But today, I looked the other way.

I couldn’t believe it.   There they were.   My favorite site in Marrakech–The Atlas Mountains–strong and beautiful, peered back at me as I stood, amazed.Atlas Mountain Though hidden behind summer heat and sand when I moved in, they must have shown themselves last winter.  They had been there all along. For months I could have enjoyed them on clear days, if only I’d looked a different way.

Two years ago, my friend, Kim,  gave me this Marcel Proust quote on a porcelain plaque.  Neither of us knew I’d be moving to a French- speaking country: “Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.”  Translated, it means, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

A friend asked yesterday what I’ve learned most since the move. I said I realize now that understanding people and places takes time.  That just when I couldn’t be happier and think I have this thing of living cross-culturally “all figured out,” a situation or person disappoints me and I feel I’ve slipped back to square one.  But if I take a breath–my yoga class helps with this–release, pray,  I realize  I just need to step back. To wait and watch.  To be patient with circumstances and others.  And with myself.

Sometimes we find beauty, as I did, at the end of the street and are satisfied to stop looking for more.  Contentment is good and being thankful for what we do have even better.   Settling is not.  Knowing the difference is hard.  Sometimes we aren’t ready to see something even better–wouldn’t recognize it–even if it appeared.  Others we scan the horizon in faith, in expectation for a vision for our life, a deep desire, a dream planted in our hearts long ago to be fulfilled.  Today before stepping outside I was reminded though parts of the vision I have for my life tarry, to wait.  What I desire may be years away or right around the corner.  In the meantime, I’m thankful for my destiny and this day.

I’m still thankful for the pretty patch of green at the end of the street that continues to soothe me.  The sun sets there.  But I’m amazed to see today that it rises over the majestic Atlas Mountains, symbols of strength, gifts of beauty, within my vision. With patience, they revealed themselves when I looked up in a new direction.  When I could see.

Slumdogs and Soulmates

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I always enjoy hearing my friend Adam play in The Diggy Band–almost as much as I enjoy talking books and movies with him.  Last weekend when he stopped by the table on break, he gushed about Slumdog Millionaire…by saying almost nothing.  The look on his face when he asked if I had seen it… what he didn’t say, couldn’t say because he was so moved told me this must be some movie.  Truthfully, though he’s a discerning critic,  I expected him to like it.   He and his wife, Amy, had gone to India to meet their sponsored child.  Over a span of years and countless plates of The Cuisine of India’s Tiki Marsala, the three of us had discussed the country they so love.  Still,  I’d never seen Adam as awestruck as he was by this recent release.

Based on Vikas Swarup’s debut novel, Q & A, and nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Boyle), and Best Screenplay/winner of Best British Independent Film and Best Newcomer (Dev Patel), it is the story of an Indian street kid arrested for cheating on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Through his interrogation, we learn by flashbacks how he had the answers and why he wants to finish the game show despite his seeming indifference to the money.

I’ve always had a thing for gritty underdogs whether Heathcliff, Scarface, or Aladdin, so slumdogs were barking my name.

Gritty I got.  Some of the first few minutes made me consider waiting for Kim in the lobby.  I can’t stomach graphically violent torture scenes. The intensity/suspense of pending cruelty or bullying usually makes me run.  But the movie was her pick and my treat (her birthday was the next day), so I shut my eyes and hung on. I’m so glad I did.

Like a hearty Biryani, Slumdog is a rich mix of classic fare.  As Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations condemned cruel class disparity in Victorian London,  Slumdog reveals  staggering social injustice in modern  Mumbai.  And like Oliver and Pip,  Jamal, the quietly courageous, ever determined, and longsuffering hero is a soulful survivor.   Facing the trash heaped literally and figuratively in his life–at times with a pragmatic “It is what it is” and at others with a fierce romanticism– Jamal is a foil to his brother, Salim.   On many levels Jamal and Salim parallel The Kite Runner’s Amir and Hassan, and East of Eden’s Adam and Charles Trask. And told in flashbacks, Jamal, Latika and Salim’s saga have similarities to the back-stories of Sahid and Mr. Eko of Lost.  We pull for Jamal and Latika who fall in love in childhood as we did for Pip and Estella, Cathy and Heathcliff. The prejudice of the police who are convinced a poor kid would have to cheat to succeed made me as angry as the Educational Testing Service in Stand and Deliver.  And yet in one scene there’s a dance as joyful as that of Olive and Company in Little Miss Sunshine. I can’t imagine a stronger Academy Award contender–not only because of comparisons that place it in the company of greatness, but also because of those twists and truths we don’t see coming as moviegoers and Westerners–the resolution which I won’t spoil–the homage paid to the human condition and faith.

Slumdog is brain and heart food.  Though there’s some comic relief and a storyline built around game show trivia, its issues are in no way trivial. The genius crafting of the plot is much like that of Shakespeare in Love or Life is Beautiful—truly a triumph.  More importantly,  not since Hotel Rawanda have I been so moved to do something about injustice and poverty.  When I was younger I’d ask why God allows such misery.  Now I wonder why we allow it when He has given us the means to alleviate much of it.  Watching Slumdog in the Green Hills theater—one of the most privileged parts of Nashville–I thought of the money I’d spent on the Super-Sized popcorn and Coke I couldn’t finish.  I thought of how for the second Christmas in a row I was secretly disappointed not to find a pair of Uggs  under my tree.  I thought of how much most of us are blessed, and that while the US does a lot for some third world countries, we don’t do nearly enough about worldwide poverty, child abuse, human rights.  I don’t do enough.  The movie was hard to watch because I felt overwhelmed with guilt in going about my daily routines while so many are perishing.   I again wish I could do more than just sponsor a child as I have in Brazil.  I want to meet her more now than ever.  Though my own children are almost grown, I fantasize about adopting a child to give her a better life.

I had coffee this morning with a former student.  After a mission trip in Africa last summer where she saw children dying of malaria, she plans to use her biology major for global responses to epidemics.  Maybe as a teacher I can influence more young people to consider global involvement when choosing a career.  Maybe I can get more involved politically in the belief that we’re here to make a difference…and to believe.

It was good being reminded again that faith can move mountains.  To never give up.  To concentrate on what’s good while going through what’s awful.  That love is redemptive.

Slumdogs and soul mates.  Nothing better than that.

My Cup Runneth Over

“Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”–Howard Thurman

The most creative people I know seem to be defined by vision, passion, sensitivity, and need—specifically the urgency to manage and express the chaos without and within.  Some sneer at the “starving artist.” The paradox is that no matter how much money one makes, a true artist must continue to starve–to thirst and hunger for truth and love– with abandon.  Likewise, no matter how little one earns, life is rich– in its intensity, diversity, and complexity.  I decided in 2009 to finally blog about the wealth of  joys I’ve found through the arts, travel, my family, friends, and faith.

I’ve been writing for awhile.  I first thought writing would kill three birds—maybe even a whole flock– with one stone.   First, it would provide income–for travel, for Lancome eye cream, for groceries.

Second, it would provide therapy as I released the stuff ricocheting in my head, eliminating the need for Wellbutrin.  I concur with my favorite Bad Boy Byron who said: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”  Writing would uncover my usually stifled rebel yells and free my muddled, melancholy musings.

Third, writing would help me see where I’m going and help me remember where I’ve been.  With writing I could comfort others with the comfort I’ve been given.

When I was a little girl in Kentucky, the Mother of All Field Trips was going to Mammoth Cave.  While I was told not to fear the Natural Wonder, I wasn’t all that excited about going deep into the black unknown, feeling my way down damp, winding paths. (This was before Pan’s Labyrinth or I might have seen it as quite the adventure.)  The tour guide seemed so calm.  She had a light to guide us but no map.  She had obviously been in that cave before—many times–and was so familiar with it she could  have led us through that vast cavern even if the batteries in her flashlight died.

The only good I can make of getting older is that I’ve lived long enough to have gone into some terrible darkness but emerged again into the light.   I’ve survived the death of two unborn children and of two marriages—my parents’ and my own.  I’ve survived the death of a father and then a grandmother who was my mentor and muse.  I’m still surviving the life of a single mother and a woman dating over 40.

Though I have survived great losses, I rarely emerged from the black by way of a blowtorch or floodlight.  God usually just gave me a candle—one that flickered—and He whispered He wouldn’t let go of my hand even if the flame went out.  I still grope but know He’s there.  Even if I can’t feel his fingers interlocked with mine.  Even if I can’t feel his hand at all and seem to wander in the dark for days…or weeks….or years.   I write to share my cave experiences—those I’ve emerged from blinking in the light as well as those I’m still mining through—looking for something of value as I wait and work and wait for release.

Some say we read to know we’re not alone.  We write for the same reason—especially when we’re gut honest and still raw.  I write of the familiar and lonely—like playing Santa solo for twelve years as I placed gifts under the tree.  Or of the frustrating and embarrassing–like when I didn’t know how to tie my son’s first real necktie.  While I cried, cursing my ineptness as a parent, he emerged from his bedroom with a perfectly tied knot.  Thank God for youtube.

But mostly I write of the joy I’m finding on the path not taken—that place I landed when derailed from the life I imagined, the L.L. Bean or Southern Living picture-perfect family I so desperately wanted.   Truly God has made “all things work together for good,” and He is still conforming me to the likeness of His son despite the fact that in the words of one of my favorite hymns, I am weak and “prone to wander.”  He never gives up on me.

And so I write… of playing volleyball with Italian friends in a pool at midnight, of walking through a fishing village in Ireland, and of leaving Montmartre with my daughter, all lit by the same gigantic moon. I write of riding The Hulk with my son at Universal Studios—teeth clinched, tears squeezed out the corners of our eyes as we held on for dear life…literally…under a hot July sun.  I write of feeling alive and blessed—even when the virtual mob of Guitar Hero World Tour shuts me down because my kids, though unhappy,  don’t kick me out of the band.

I write about the absurd—trying to find a social scene somewhere between the Senior Citizens Center and the haunts of hot pants herds.  And then finding it.

2008 was full of surprises, so I write…
Of a new passion that left me addicted…but never so free.  As sleep-deprived as when I nursed infants…but never so fully awake.  Though my old friends say I’m MIA, I no longer feel invisible.  I’m immersed in a foreign culture…but I’m so completely at home.  Maybe because I’m NOT  one of the twenty million American women sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars. Instead I’m dancing under them.  With friends from Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, India, Peru, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, and Syria. In Nashville.

Of the closest of friendships between a conservative suburb/girly girl/ teacher/soccer mom and a liberal urban/athletic/ folk singer/dog rescuer.  (Sure to come in 2009 is the continuing salsa saga of two Renaissance women with gypsy souls whose quest to become Dancing Queens often turns Monty Python.)

Of a baby girl whose finishing her last year of high school and moving to college made her mom very sad.

Of her brother whose getting his permit and doing well his first year of high school made his mom very happy.

And, no surprise, she’s proud of them both.

I look ahead in 2009 and look forward to fun with my mom on her first trip to Europe.  Wish my sister were going.  She’s been listening to me ramble since we were kids.  Oh, and Christmas Eve rocked!

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