Friday, November 27, 2015

Loading Zone by Carolyn

I have been plagued by an excess of "loading" lately, which probably means I have been watching too much video of one sort or another. You know what I mean - that "loading, please wait" message you get when you want to watch something on the computer or on TV, and the video is not quite ready for viewing. Loading drives me crazy: I want to watch that video RIGHT NOW!! Unfortunately, the video is not ready to be watched. Whatever mysterious things all of these devices have to do in order to play a video has not been completed. It is just not ready.

Sometimes it seems we spend our lives waiting for something-or-other to load so we can experience it. When I was a child I would voice my wish for time to pass faster, "I wish it was Christmas already!" or "I can't wait until I'm 16 (or whatever age sounded appealing at the time)." My mother, wise woman that she was, would say, "Don't wish your life away." I am afraid that we often tend to consider the present as just a waiting period until some much-anticipated outcome occurs. When we are children, we are waiting to become teenagers. When we are teenagers we are anxious to become adults. If we are single, we are waiting until we find our soulmate to marry. If we are childless, we can't wait to become parents. I was talking to someone last week about how quickly the phases of our children's lives pass. She agreed and said she felt so guilty because with her first child, she was always thinking, "I can't wait until he rolls over (sits up, crawls, walks, can feed himself, is potty trained . . .)." She knows now that she should have savored each and every moment of her child's development, instead of viewing each stage as a prelude for the next. She has plans to enjoy more and rush less with her second child. Although I enjoyed being in college, I was in a hurry to graduate. (At the time I thought I would be marrying my then-boyfriend. I was mistaken.) I took 21 hours a semester, attended summer classes, and worked part time. I graduated at the ripe old age of 20, and have been a "responsible adult" ever since. What was I thinking? I had a good thing going, and rushed through it without taking the time to really savor it. I guess I saw college as something you had to go through to begin the real part of your life. Foolish, foolish girl! It makes me wonder if I am doing the same thing now: waiting for Mr. Right to show up at my front door, waiting until I retire to start doing things I want to do, waiting until I have more money to travel, etc. I have come to the realization within the last few years that the majority of my regrets about how I have lived my life are not about what I did, but rather about the things I did not do. Too much time spent loading, in the sense of waiting for the movie to play.

Maybe, however, there is another way of looking at loading - preparing for something good, working toward a goal, gathering our resources to put them toward a worthwhile effort. I've heard that athletes "carb load" before a big game or prior to running the marathon. I have no personal experience with that kind of loading, you understand, being the antithesis of an athlete, but it makes sense - being proactive by giving your body a lot of the fuel it will need to perform at its best. A student might load his/her brain by studying thoroughly and wisely before a big test. I can even envision pregnancy as an opportunity to load (no, I don't mean to gain weight!) the emotional capacity and parental know-how that will be needed in the near future. As parents, we want to help our children load everything they will need to know as they grow up so they will be healthy and happy and productive adults. Attending college should definitely be considered a time of loading for your whole future, but also a time of enjoyment and exploration. Building academic knowledge, learning how to get along with all kinds of other people, working out the details of time management and fiscal responsibility, figuring out who you really are and who you want to be - the perfect opportunity for loading. Maybe middle age should be considered a time of loading for old age, certainly financially, but we should also be gaining wisdom and tolerance and self-confidence so that we can live out the balance of our lives content with ourselves and the choices we have made, and do whatever we can to be a blessing to others. So while we live, we should take opportunities to load, in the sense of using our time and resources wisely to handle whatever the world brings us, and enjoy the ride while we do.

We should be the video, not the passive waiter-and-watcher of the video.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Entries from the Encyclopedia of Me, Volumes J-S

By Andrea

J is for Jesus
All my life I had known about Jesus.  I heard about him from my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I learned about his life in weekly Sunday school lessons and by participating in vacation Bible school during the summers. Yet it was not until 1997 did I seek sincerely to know Jesus. I prayed about questions of why my knowledge of him was not transformative as others claimed it was for them. So I studied the Bible, read books and listened to great teachers to find out who he is, why he is important and how he could change lives. The Bible teaches “seek and you will find” and that's exactly what happened. On August 17, 1997, I committed my whole heart to walking in his ways.  Seeking, believing, repenting and being baptized were just the first steps of this lifelong journey toward becoming a Christian.  Sometimes I stumble along the path.  Yet the beauty of my relationship with Jesus versus my knowledge of Jesus is I know he is with me.  He leads. I follow.  I go off track.  He brings me back- sometimes gently guiding me by the hand, sometimes by the neck with his shepherd’s crook.  Always with wisdom, true love, mercy and grace.

K is for Kai
In October, my heart was stolen by the world’s most beautiful baby boy, Kai Alexander, and I have not been the same since.  I am now one of those grandmothers.  At the most casual query as to his well-being, I whip out my cell phone to show him off. One or two will not do, I must show ALL of the pictures. People are so kind. They yield to my enthusiasm. l used to check Facebook when I had a minute to play on my phone.  Now, I stare at my baby’s little cherub face. He has the wisest eyes, a sight I have never seen on any other baby.  He’s got the cutest little nose and elfin chin.  All I want to do is kiss his sweet head full of big soft curls and tell stories or sing songs to him.  When he looks intently into my face, hope makes sense.

L is for Lexus
Anyone who knows me well will be able to tell you I'm not very much into name brand anything. I like high quality products, and I will pay for it, but I also love a good bargain as much as the next girl. When it comes to the car of my dreams, however, I would throw out all of my pragmatism, stop my eye-rolling at American consumerism and brand fandom. I have no real idea when this adoration started, but it shall not be assuaged until a milk-white ES 350 belongs to me. I've been an adult making money for a long time now, but I've yet to choose and purchase a car for myself. I think a Lexus would make a great first car for a middle-aged lady.

M is for Mommy

I am 42 years old, and I still call my mother “Mommy”.  So do my siblings.  My husband and his brothers still refer to their late mother as such.  We are not the only ones. Every black person I know, who grew up calling their mother “Mommy” uses that moniker always- even as adults.  During a conversation a few years ago,  a friend curiously said “Wow, you still call your mother mommy.”  I had never thought about it before.  Was this unusual? So I started to pay attention to how people referr to their parents, moms in particular. I asked people of other communities and found if they had used the term Mommy at all, they had outgrown it somewhere in the preteen years and switched to Mom or Mother.  We tend to view the world from our experience and where I’m from, a predominantly black community, almost everyone calls their mother Mommy (Ma is probably the second most popular).  I actually cannot think of a black person who addresses his or her mother as “Mom.”  Nonetheless, my mommy by any other name would be just as wonderful!

N is for Noni
We have already started teaching baby Kai to call me Noni and his grandpa, Pop. The latter will be easier because that's what our son calls his father. Sometimes, I slip up when talking to the baby and refer to myself as granny. I guess that comes more naturally to me because that's what we taught our kids to say to their grandmothers. I'm just too young to be called Granny. Noni just sounds cooler, more hipster. Don't you agree?

O is for Optimism
My uncle, Herman, likes to tell the story of seeing me for the first time as an infant. He recounts that my mother opened the door to her New York apartment with me in her arms and as soon he looked down at me, my face spread with the biggest gummy grin. He always ends the story with “you've always been my happy, positive Punky!” In the world of personality theories, I'm a sanguine. Easygoing, optimistic, looking for the good.  I've had moments in the past when I wished God had given me a different personality. I thought I wanted to be more serious, more ambitious, more demanding or more take charge. Thank goodness God saw fit not to grant that wish. The older I get, the more I get me. My optimism is probably the thing I like most about myself.

Q is for Quiet
It is quite odd that someone as gregarious and extroverted as I am longs for and looks forward to quiet. I raised four children and work as an elementary school teacher. Maybe it's not so odd now that I think about it.

R is for Rest
My motto used to be “We can rest when we get to heaven!” For the first 40 years of my life I was the Energizer Bunny. I lived at the speed of right now, right fast. By God's grace, I started questioning the wisdom and effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my pace and prayed to see the value of rest. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath day was established for the Jews and is still practiced today. Apparently, they needed rest. I bet the same is true for the rest of us, too. On the 7th day of creation, God rested. If he rested though he does have the whole world in his hands, I had to ask what's my excuse? Rest. It is good.

S is for siblings
Brother-sister-brother. The children of my mother. I am the oldest by eight, eleven and sixteen years. This means I was practically grown by the time they were becoming cool kids. My little brother used to answer me “Yes or No, ma’am” because he grew up with my kids and that is the required response for them. It was too weird coming from my little brother so I had put a stop to that.  They spent every summer with me and my family as they were growing up. Those times were special to me then, but the memories are more special now that they are all grown. We don't spend nearly as much time together as we did back then. I miss them and wish we weren't so far apart, in distance and time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

First Thanksgiving

By: Susan

I arrived in this country on November 26th, 1978.  It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  So I did not get to celebrate this uniquely American holiday until the following November.  By then I was a senior at Bellaire High School in Texas.  Earlier that month, the American embassy in Tehran was attacked and many people were taken hostage.  Being an Iranian was not a good thing! I escaped a lot of the harassment and name calling because most of my classmates assumed that I was Hispanic and I did not correct them.  By the time they would find out that I was in fact "Eye-rain-ian", they knew me enough to know that I did not support violence and aggression of any kind.  One of those classmates was Sheri.  The week before Thanksgiving she asked me how I planned to celebrate it.  I mentioned that I didn't know how.  She was shocked! She insisted that I must go to her house.  She lived with her grandparents and described their Thanksgiving meal as enormous!  On Thanksgiving day my mother dropped me off at their house.  Sheri and her family were very welcoming to me.  It's just now, thirty some years later, that I realize what open hearts and minds they had.  Sheri knew me as a person and did not categorize me based on what she was hearing and seeing in the media at the time.  Sheri herself was displaced.  One day she told me it was because she had been abused.  I didn't really know what that word meant.  Now I do.  Maybe at some level she understood my situation, being out of place, trying to adjust to a new way of doing things, trying to belong.

To this day, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Free from pressures of gift giving and decorating, we come together as families, blood relationship not always a pre-requisite.  I see immigrants from all places embrace Thanksgiving and add their own flavors to it.  I always ask my mother to make Shirin-Polo.  It's a rice dish with raisins, almonds and slivers of orange peel.  I think of it as a Persian stuffing for the turkey.

I usually tell the story of my first Thanksgiving at Sheri's house when I talk about the time I learned how culturally we have different notions of what an enormous meal is.  At my house, whenever we had guests, my mother would fix enough food to have leftovers for a week.  If the platters were cleaned off at the end of the meal, she would worry that she had let her guests down by not preparing enough food.  At Sheri's house, there was enough food:  a slice of turkey breast for each person, casserole sized dishes of macaroni and cheese and green beans, a basket of rolls.  Enough food but very different from what I was used to calling "enormous".  Over time though, I have come to realize that this is really a story about true friendship, about letting "your heart burn with loving kindness for all those who cross your path"*.

Thanksgiving meal at my mother's house
Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of weeks.  I am so excited to have all four of my children with us this year.  And as we sit around the table, eating whatever version of the traditional Thanksgiving meal we have made our own, I will be thankful for all the good people that have crossed my path on three continents.

*taken from a quote by Bahá'u'lláh