Orphan Day Part 2

Posted October 25, 2013
Posted by Bekah

Bets are placed early on. Stolen peeks from the hallway lead to forints discretely changing hands. We are mere moments away from meeting our new mom or dad, our designated Hungarian ‘guardian’. The person who will lead us out of the hostel and into our new lives. The stakes are high.

Hajni ushers us into the lounge around 2:15. We stand in nervous clumps, trying at our best doe- eyed expressions of innocence. I briefly considered braiding my hair into pigtails and drawing on freckles hoping to ensure absolute cuteness factor. All thoughts of proper adultness out the window I want my future mom or dad to find me adorable. The Hungarians remain stone faced on the couches, unmoved by our wide grins and bright eyes.

Behind me in the clump Robert sneers, “2000 Forints that you get Mr. Grinch in the far corner.”

I chance a glance at the man loitering in the shadows by the food. He is short with a protruding gut and a harsh green jacket, unnatural in this late august heat. He does indeed bear a striking resemblance to the illusive Christmas stealing Grinch with his sagging, pock-marked cheeks, greasy receding hairline, and jagged grin he looks about as cuddly as a cactus. I shudder, that sea-sick crocodile is starting to sound like a great option.

“Yea, well you for sure are about to be calling Cruella over there Mom.” I throw back at him, nodding to the woman sitting front and center.

“Ouch. That’s cold. I bet she could skewer half the group with those stilletos.”

“And skin a litter of puppies.”

The process is simple. Hainji calls out the name of a teacher, one of us, then the name of a Hungarian contact person aka mom or dad. The two meet, shake hands, Hajni hands the Hungarian a folder with all of our important documents inside and the new family leaves the room, never to be seen again. I realize that I’m in the midst of a classic being-picked-for-the team scene. Immediately my hands begin to sweat.

“Ray.”

Reclusive Ray spent orientation avoiding eye contact and friendly conversation yet he remains a favorite among the group due to his eccentric comments.

He steps forward and is greeted by a young, sprightly woman in a red blazer. The group’s sigh of relief is audible. Except, “Shoot. There goes my number one choice.” Yes, Ray was paired with one of the only smiling adults.

“Anne.”

The group stiffens as one. Anne is the 74 year old teacher of the group. She just came out of retirement for the sole purpose of traveling, except she has a fear of flying and had to take a high dose of Valium to survive the trans-Atlantic flight. We love her but are more than a little nervous for her well-being.

Anne steps forward to shake hands with a giant of a man who appears to be mid 30s. We cringe as he towers over her petite form but he grins warmly and offers to take her bag and our shoulders relax.

Over the next several minutes the crowd thins as friends are shuffled away by strangers. Caroline and I scooch closer together, our eyes scanning the dwindling Hungarian numbers, while our palms begin to sweat in honest. We are part of the lucky few who have communicated with our contact person over the summer. Bea sounded cheery throughout all of her emails. I had hoped to recognize her the minute I saw her. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

“Which one of these ladies looks like a Bea?”

“Describe a Bea….”

We watch in silence as Roxanne is taken by Cruella. The Grinch has disappeared, confirming my suspicions that he was only here to steal the food. Just as I see Brenna exit with an old woman whose greying hair is so thin it reminds me of opaque rice noodles, I hear our names.

“Caroline and Bekah.”

We nearly shove Chas into the food table in our haste to reach Hajni. From an overstuffed armchair comes a young woman. Her hair is short and perfect in its windblown state and her clothing is light, neutral, and loose. She beams at us, forgoes a handshake, because her arms are full two gift bags and two potted flowers, and leans in with a quick, tight embrace.  

Caroline and I lock eyes over Bea’s back, “Jackpot!”

Bea is as sweet and charming in person as in her emails. She hands us our bags, full of gifts from our future students, and small potted flowers. Hustling us out and away from the hostel she explains the day’s schedule. We drive directly to our school, Aquincum Atalanos Iskola, to fill out mounds of paperwork for the immigration office trip tomorrow. We aren't supposed to head to the flat until 4 but the landlady calls early and demands our immediate presence.

Neither Caroline nor I expected much from the flat. A rustic cottage on the Danube with bedrooms overlooking the serene current and a bright kitchen full of inviting smells, with white French doors opening to a quaint backyard garden with yellow rose bushes in constant bloom would suit us fine. Heck, make the rose bushes pink, no complaints here.

Ending up in a cramped flat on the fifth floor left little space for rose bushes, French doors, or the possibility of multiple bedrooms.

After hours of signing Hungarian contracts, many of which ensured my life as an indentured servant, Caroline and I sat down with a bottle of red wine (each) and toasted our new life. 

We discovered mouse droppings in the wine glasses the following morning. 

Orphan Day Part 1

Posted October 02, 2013
Posted by Bekah

The day did not begin as planned. In fact, not one of the day’s moments unfolded as planned. I am in Hungary though, what did I expect?

I planned to sleep in. To rest in my top bunk for as long as my weary, travel-worn body would remain stationary, to rise slowly with a yawn and a stretch, before plodding down the ladder and starting the day with breakfast. It would have been a good breakfast too; a warm bun paired with some specialty European cheese, a side of granola, yogurt and some fresh peach slices. I would have observed breakfast on the terrace, yes, our hostel has a rooftop terrace, while overlooking the unobstructed picturesque skyline of Budapest. I would have, no doubt, achieved ultimate Zen on that terrace, with my fancy cheese and intellectual leanings. Presumably, I would have solved many of life’s most challenging conundrums. Unfortunately, the day did not begin like this. The day did not begin as planned.

SLAM!

“Wake up! It’s 8:00am. We have to be packed and out of these rooms pronto.”

[Sounds of personal belongings being haphazardly tossed from the floor into overlarge suitcases]

I reluctantly open my weary eyes, hoping against hope I am dreaming. No. This is not allowed to happen. Every day of orientation has been hectic, every single scheduled event has been reworked. Today is supposed to be different because today, technically, is not orientation. Orientation ended last night. Today we leave the hostel and move into real homes playing the role of real English teachers. Today is the beginning of our real lives in Budapest. I roll over and peek under my bunk to see how Caroline is handling the wake-up call. We make eye contact. She shakes her head, Hungary. I nod, yea, what the hell?

I roll back over and pull the electrified-flamingo pink duvet cover to my chin. Note, not a real duvet, the hostel never actually gave us comforters. We have been shivering under double thick sheets for a week. C’est la vie as the French say. Don’t ask me what the Hungarians say, I’ve only been here a week. Since today is the big day, I might as well shower. If I’m going to get any hot water, I have to quietly race there before the other 11 sleeping beauties in my room awake.

The shower, fortunately, proceeds as planned. I shampoo, I condition, I slip and fall on the sopping floor. It’s comforting to know there are still things I can predict.

In the kitchen I arrive in time to snag a bowl of European knock-off Corn Flakes. A knock-off of an already insulting attempt at breakfast cuisine.  I mean, come on, Corn Flakes? Billions of dollars poured into advertising and the best you can feed us is a fake vegetable flake! I drown the ‘flakes’ in room temperature milk and observe the kitchen’s bustling commotion.

People awkwardly amble in and out in varying forms of undress: those who want coffee before they pack and those who can only could pack when coffee is the prize.  No one seems to know why we are awake. The itinerary, ridiculous that we even have one, clearly shows that our BIG MEETING isn’t until 1pm. We have nothing on the agenda until 1pm. I glance at the Rubik’s Cube clock mounted on the wall. It’s 8:45am.

No one has answers so I trudge back to my room. Signs of life are emerging everywhere, tousle-haired, bleary-eyed, and shivering from beneath double-thick sheets. No one seems to be able to articulate their confusion. We mutter and grunt as we search for lost socks and that “cardigan I swear I wore last night.” Three girls muse on the disappearance of all the hot water. I focus intently on my quest to find my left boot and avoid eye contact.

With my bags packed and both boots accounted for I head into the hallway for some answers as to why it is 9am and I’m already dressed and vittled.

I open the door to an unnatural silence. Kate is already in the hallways and points to the Common Room packed with unfamiliar adults. My jaw drops.

To explain, we booked the entire hostel for the week of orientation. No one but CETP teachers have been in. We’ve had the run of the place, buddied with staff, had the pickings of food, and spent every waking (and sleeping) hour with the same 40 people all week. In short, we’ve lived the equivalent of a teenage summer camp stereotype.  To experience a strange pack of Hungarian adults invade our groovy, Ikea-sponsored Common Room is shocking.

“Who are they?” I whisper.

Jen, a second year teacher and orientation staffer turns to me with a mammoth grin, “They’re your new parents!”

“Really” I question glancing down at our schedule “but this isn’t in the itinerary.”

The American Has Landed

Posted September 24, 2013
Posted by Bekah

I stood triumphantly in the front of class, my ears ringing with the unspoiled silence that only a room of flabbergasted children can produce. I had conquered the rabble and now reigned victorious as educator extraordinaire. The English teacher had arrived.  

Hungarians schools emphasize classroom discipline differently than American schools and by  that I mean they don’t emphasize it. At all. The idea that a room of students has the potential to be silent, listen, and accomplish assigned tasks seems to have evaded the national education community.

During my first two weeks at Aquincum Altalanos Iskola my sole vocation was to observe teachers in the classroom and orient myself with the curriculum, students, and environment. With 42 hours of strictly classical observation ahead of me, I settled into the first lesson with my pen and notebook quivering in eager anticipation. I was ready to soak in, and quickly master, all of the expert teaching techniques the Hungarian education system had to offer. Unfortunately, besides receiving plenty of unabashed stares from the six year old students, the only memory I have from that first lesson is of the teacher’s voice steadily raising to compete, unsuccessfully, with the tumultuous volume of the students’ chatter.

As I rushed out of the room, my ears numb with noise, I attempted to reason myself out of shock by justifying the behavior with several excuses: it was the first week of school, they are only in the 1st grade, and my presence was a blatant distraction. However, four class periods of older students later, I had to acknowledge that it wasn’t the youth of 1st graders that kept them undisciplined, it was the lack of expectation that they should be.

That was about to change.

Fast forward two weeks to Monday, September 16, my first day of teaching. I wake up early, check the bathroom mirror twice to ensure none of my breakfast lingers between my front teeth, and don my Discipline Pants. The day begins with class 1b, my favorite group of students. I adore them because, quite frankly, they adore me and every period begins with a group hug. Unfortunately, we don’t speak a word of one another’s language. This fact leaves all of us mildly uncomfortable for a few minutes until the students remember that they CAN still speak to one another. Instant chaos ensues.

I smile to myself, reassured by the tried and tested fit of my American authority slacks, and prepare my unyielding composure.

“Class, quiet.”

Not a single student notices I’m even in the room.

“Class, BE quiet.”

A few heads turn my way.

“Class. Shhhh!!”

Nope.

“SHUSHHH!”

The final ‘shh’ echoes across the now, completely silent room. With their attention in my grasp I begin the lesson, not one word of which they understand (by the way despite my knack for bringing order out of chaos they still don’t speak English). Unfortunately, I did not take time to properly process the looks of utter confusion splattered across each and every single student’s face. I took it as a cultural difference translatable to awe and growing respect.

My mistake.

Second period arrives and with it the 3rd graders burst through my door. They scramble into seats, pushing and pulling one another and immediately begin chatting in Hungarian. This time I’m prepared.

I smirk; they have no idea what’s coming.

“Class, BE QUIET.” I don’t even begin with my normal speaking voice but head straight for the raised tone.

Absolutely no response.

“Shhhh.” I hold my finger up to my lips but the only thing that changes is that the boys have now have exquisitely crafted paper airplanes and have begun an air raid of the girls’ desks.

“SHUSHHH.”

A solitary plane crash-lands to the ground, unable to reach its intended pig-tailed target, and the room goes silent.

More than a little pleased with myself, I turn to the board, ignoring the raised eyebrows and bewildered expressions. Instead I give myself an internal pat on the back for conquering the school’s rowdy behavior issues so quickly. Man, I’m good.

This victory lasts until the final period of my second day, 6th grade. Now I know this group to be a tough bunch because they are the most fluent of my students and also the most headstrong. It will take nothing less than a full blown artillery barrage to get through to them. Before the bell even considers ringing the chaos begins. I don’t waste my time with preamble. I’m going to come out strong and snatch that respect up before they have time to know what hit them.

“SSHHUUUUSHHHHH!!!” (The extra syllables assure them I mean business).

A millisecond of tranquility and then, an eruption of uncontrollable laughter. Chairs fall, books scatter, and several students have to excuse themselves to the bathroom to avoid, well you know….

Finally, after inhalers have been put away and poor Oskar is resuscitated, I ask Zsombi (that’s his actual name) what had happened. With tears streaming down his face he generously explains that ‘shush’ is the Hungarian word for eagle. We play hangman for the remainder of the lesson.

I hadn’t trained my students into submission. I had not gone head to head with disobedience and come out the victor. I hadn’t even entered the battlefield. I meandered around the sidelines solidifying my eternal place in Hungarian primary school mythology as the teacher who shouted eagle. 

my dad's diving post

Posted January 16, 2012
Posted by Bekah


This is my Dad's commentary on our recent cavern diving experience.

I love SCUBA diving. I haven't dived for eighteen months. I've missed it.

My wife Carla, my son Jonathan, and my daughter Rebekah decided to take a long weekend in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, partly for vacation, mostly for four days of diving. My son and I live for diving, my daughter loves diving, and my wife goes along with me, occasionally.

We arrived Friday night. The hotel had messed up the room arrangements. After an hour and a half and a couple twenties, we get a great room, we eat dinner, and we go to bed.

Day One, Saturday.

It rained two and a half inches. No sun and no diving. 

Day Two, Sunday.

Strong winds, big surf, the harbor is closed. No diving.

Day Three. Monday.

The harbor is still closed. We are persuaded to try cavern diving in a sink hole an hour inland and south. Our guide is a Spaniard named Juan Manuel. Really. He is a Cave Dive instructor. I like him. He provides verbal training, and some stern warnings. I wonder how my wife is doing.

We gear up and walk down a trail to the sink hole entrance. I've never dived this way. Normally we jump from a boat and sometimes we swim from the shore. We've never driven inland and hiked to the dive spot.


That's me (my back) in the foreground, and my wife and daughter by the water.




We jump in, get flashlights and one last briefing, and under we go. I've got to admit, the scenery is lovely.

Diving deeper, we are now forty feet under water which is another thirty feet under rock; altogether we are seventy feet down. I again wonder how my wife is doing.

Our guide points to some warning signs which form a picket-fence before the next bend. The first is amusing and to the point: Stop. Prevent Your Death. Go no Farther. It includes a cute little picture of the Grim Reaper.

The next sign is for the less literate. 


Our guide nods at the warning signs as if to fulfill some inner obligation. Then he swims on past. 

Like lemmings, we follow.

And let me tell you, it is worth it. We enter a cathedral-like cavern and all the travel hassle and dive delays are worth it.

Closest is Jonathan, next is Rebekah, and farthest is Carla. I love this picture. Just love it. And I am so proud of my wife and kids. 

I love this kind of adventure, and doing it with my wife and kids made it even better.

Below is my family after the dive, and below that are some more photos.












After all of it, my wife said she'd been fine. But I think she was glad to go back to the hotel.


Last Memo of the Semester

Posted December 03, 2011
Posted by Bekah

The problem with being a kid and going off to have adventures is that you always have to answer for them when you get home. It is imperative to have learned something unique, impressive and intellectually/spiritually moving during each and every adventure as if it is some type of agreed upon price you have to be for being a kid and for being fun. I know the inevitability of family questions when I get home will sound like this, “What did this semester teach you”, “How have you grown”, and my personal favorite, “How will this experience shape your future?” Despite the repetitive nature of these types of questions, I know they are well intentioned and, for once I actually HAVE learned something, so I am not completely dreading giving an answer—mainly because I won’t have to make up some tear-jerking answer. Here it is. Here is my 4 months in the making, unique, impressive, intellectually/spiritually moving answer: I’ve learned to wait.

I’m the youngest of four. I have always been the one to be waited on; waited on to pack, to put on my skis, to grow up enough not to cry when they use me as a human punching bag, to reach a certain age where they could tell particular jokes around me. Basically, I haven’t had to do much waiting in my life because I’m always the last sibling. I’ve always known waiting to be negative.  But this semester had taught me that there is a vital difference between waiting on and waiting for.

Waiting on implies impatience; a duty not a choice, a fear, an annoyance, an aggravating process and a lot of watch checking and toe-tapping. You wait on people because you have to, because, for whatever reason, they are necessary for the next event of the day and, whether you like it or not (which most of the time you don’t) you’re stuck with them.

Waiting for is a choice: a consciously considered process that had led to an amiable decision to sit and trust, enjoy the time in which you wait. I’ve learned this mostly because at the OE there is nothing but time to sit and enjoy. We don’t have the opportunity to wait on one another because there is never a situation in which being punctual is necessary, even if there is such a situation, nothing at the OE is more than a 20 second walk from wherever you are.

Waiting for is like days when you can’t tell whether it is mid-morning or late afternoon. Not that time doesn’t exist but that all time, any time, is a good time to start. It is an acknowledgement, a submission that my schedule isn’t the most important consideration. I’m sitting in the end of November waiting for Michigan to land at my feet. I’m waiting for my two new nieces/nephews to be knit together and placed in my arms. While I’m waiting the sun prickles my cheeks and I watch bluegill flirt in the seaweed. If I was waiting on home or my young relatives to arrive I could curse the sun and ignore the fish.

I’m waiting for the Ebersole’s to let me be a live-in friend. I’m waiting for a walk with Doug when he visits Calvin in the spring. I’m waiting for Talia to live in the Midwest, to see her and her art and her garden. I’m waiting for Alyssa to become a world-famous psychiatrist. I’m waiting for Katherine’s first book of poetry book to come out- I want to brag that I shared a cabin with her. I’m waiting for Ellie’s infamous Shenk-style letter full of drawings and inside jokes and her raw, beautiful thoughts spilled across the page.

                Not only am I the youngest, but I am also the only girl, which means I live in a male-dominated family, which means that in our household Die Hard is validated as a festive Christmas film. Every Thanksgiving night is centered on putting up wreathes, plump Santa dolls and watching Bruce Willis fight bad guys. My brother, knowing I was upset about being away for the holiday, sent an email assuring me that the family missed me too, and that they are waiting for me to get home to watch Die Hard.

When we wait on we believe that whatever we are waiting on is not ready, not good enough. We say I’m prepared; I’ve got my shit together (even though we don’t and never will). Waiting for is space. Space to nap, read, and play the ukulele. I know I am waiting for when I blink slower- holding in the gentle darkness—because I know that the world will still exist when I open my eyes and that there is no need to rush. 

The beginning: The King of Risk

Posted November 18, 2011
Posted by Bekah

Sharks are the worst. I’ve watched enough episodes of Shark Week and reruns of Jaws to know the precise motion of a shark attack. I’ve often been told that the best way to fend off a shark is to punch its nose.  This advice bothers me for two reasons. One: so many people have given me this advice, I must have a sign taped to my back stating “Bekah will be attacked by a shark during her life, do what you can.” And, two: a shark’s ‘nose’ is only inches away from a shark’s mouth and the shark’s mouth is the very thing I wish to avoid.

I’ve heard that when a shark attacks not only is your body being shredded by steel jaws but you are also drowning: water invading lungs, seeping into all vitals and suffocating your brain until it’s a floating raisin bumping against the inner curves of your skull. I knew this when my dad and brother Jonathan conned me into going on a shark dive with them. My dad is always eager for new dives and Jonathan—unlike me—will never turn down risk and danger. I’m sitting on the boat retracing every shark fact that has ever entered my brain: sharks can weigh over three thousand pounds, sharks have several rows of teeth, sharks can smell blood over a mile away, the bull, tiger and Great White are the most hungry for human flesh. Sharks-- huge muscular killing machines--have existed for thousands of years, plenty of time to perfect their attack strategy, whereas I’d only existed fifteen years and had no strategy whatsoever. Any possible strategy I may have had was dead in the water seeing as I was strapped to a forty pound metal oxygen tank with another twelve pounds strapped to my waist and was about to jump into shark infested waters. 


My rental wetsuit is well past its prime. Originally purple, it has now faded to a splotchy pink vomitesque color and chunks of it are missing, no doubt old shark puncture wounds. Yesterday, in preparation for the dive Jonathan researched sharks. He eagerly conveyed each new fact to the family while I hid in the bathroom trying to drown out his voice with the faucet. As I sat shaking on the granite counter, he disclosed that the scene in Jaws in which the shark rams through the boat—a scene I had conveniently chalked up to the dramatic antics of Hollywood—was actually possible. He had also found that punching a shark in the nose or gills will only probably stop it from attacking: “Guess you’re out of luck Bex!”

I finger the holes in my wetsuit and considered the strength of my right hook.

Brock, the lead instructor--tall, tan and twenty-something—is making an announcement to the boat: “The most important thing to remember is position. Once you reach the bottom rest on your knees, keep your arms crossed. NEVER allow them to hang loose. When a shark knocks into you, which trust me they WILL DO, and you begin to fall, do NOT put your arms out to catch yourself. Allow yourself to fall, one of the instructors will come by and help you up. If you put your arm out the sharks will assume you are feeding them. People, these are hungry sharks, they will bite.” He made an obscene snap with his jaw while one of his fellow instructors pretended to be shrieking in agony, clutching at the fake stump of an arm. They obviously find the entire scenario comic and laughable. I want to punch them both. I look at Jonathan; casually reclining, soaking in the sun (and a few girls’ admiring gazes) without a care in the world while I feel like pumping my inhaler in case of hyperventilation. Brock sees that I’m not laughing so he winks, trying to get some humor out of me. I consider fake laughing for the benefit of his ego-- he is, after all, tall, tan and twenty-something--but am too afraid that the vomit, which has been creeping up my throat for the past half hour, might escape, so I settle on a quick nod and smile. 

Writing excercises

Posted November 08, 2011
Posted by Bekah

It's project week again! Here are a few samples of writings I've done. Raw and unedited. 

Profile of a man in a green suit

Two rows ahead of me across the aisle sits a man in a forest green suit, mint lines checker his right shoulder softening the suit making it supple. He reaches a hand up to adjust the airflow. Softly his brown hands cradle the knob, twisting it open freeing cold air to cascade across his salted black curls. His hand lingers near the console deciding whether or not to turn on his reading light, weighing the possibility of the light disturbing his sleeping neighbor; and elderly woman with wrinkled skin like soft butter and shockingly died flame red hair so thin that I’m afraid it might fall off if we experience any turbulence. I am struck by the beauty of his hands. Wide palms, fingers thin stretched skin that wrinkles near the middle knuckle. He decides not to turn on the light and his hand descends to his lap, to the worn corner of a thick leather journal. He begins to write and because I can still see his right hand, stationary between the sticky seat tray and journal I realize he must be left handed. Sitting up in my chair, exposed skin squeaking against the cold pleather, I crane my neck attempting to discover more about this man. My eldest brother is left-handed and has always been a fervent believer (and preacher to his younger siblings) that left-handers are more brilliant, creative, and extraordinary than the biologically dominant right-handers. Hearing this endless rant during my formative naïve years, I became a secret believer of the left-handed doctrine and am always on the search for lefties. Finding that the green-suited man, an intriguing man who cared for his sleeping neighbor, was left handed heightened my interest in him. I felt like we were in on a secret alliance, I a sympathetic rightie and he and brilliant leftie.

As we left the plane and waited for luggage I searched the crowd for his suit. I found him; his face was exactly as I had imagined, wide and slightly delicate with beautiful lashes and a small nose. Quiet grey sprinkled his chin and upper lip and when he smiled his face looked like a wreath of hand-spun frosting

Thoughts on Memories

Posted November 03, 2011
Posted by Bekah

This is another Memo from my discussion group. Not super edited and not entirely thought out- more like gut reaction writing


Why I don’t want to talk about memories

                Last week Kent asked my discussion group whether or not we had any ghosts. He asked in the context of Beloved; Sethe’s memory given limbs, flesh and voice. I wondered about my past; what images and moments have stuck with me; what memories have I kept to be reminded of my past. I thought of a few key experiences, the ski accident, the surgery, the month spent in Ethiopia, they have all fermented to become powerfully intoxicating. Experiences that have altered and shaped me into the Bekah you now see sitting next to you. But I’m not going to tell you these stories- I have no desire to give them flesh or voice because then, ultimately, they are no longer mine.

                In my experience memories are finite, they come in limited supply and every time I bring one to surface I am stripping that memory of its richness and fullness and if I resurface it enough times it becomes nothing more than a vague blurred recording of indistinct colors and sounds. I keep memories to myself not because they are painful but because they are beautiful, they created me and if I let them go will I wonder if I will disappear as well.

                I’m flying to Vancouver tomorrow, leaving the OE for the first time in months to reenter an old chapter of my life. I know I will be asked to explain my experience of Oregon- do I like the people, are classes difficult, do I really have no internet and while I know these questions are asked with genuine interest and concern, I don’t want to answer them. It’s selfish but I don’t want to give up my memories of this place; John’s drawings, Shane’s narcolepsy, or Barrett’s laugh. I know that this semester is one of those key experiences that is shaping me even as I sit reading this. I’m afraid that if I look the experience in the eye, if I explain OE life to the outside world, the shaping will stop and I will be left with an unfulfilled memory of these months and you wonderful, beautiful people.

                Okay. I know I can’t lock my memories inside my brain. I can’t shove them into a darkened corner in hopes of keeping them safe because even if I never speak them away, they will diminish, become sickly and pale in that dark corner, lose their richness, lose the very vivacity that I love- the very reason I want to keep them alive. I know that as a human being if I don’t share my past, if I never open my mouth and explain to you about the time I skied blind, ran into a snow-maker and lacerated my liver I lose some of the vivacity that makes me me.

                I’m sorry that this memo has been circular in its logic and I know you are probably checking your watch, wondering when I am going to stop blabbing and get the point. Don’t worry, I’m on the last paragraph. Here is the point- I’m terrified of losing my past, of forgetting the steps that have led me here. I’m scared of forgetting past people, past laughter, past epiphanies. Memory is like sugar water cupped in my hands, slowly leaking out, slipping through the cracks, leaving only small sweet tasting nuggets of my past behind. I’m learning that I have to trust those around me to cup their hands beneath mine, catch some of my memories- help me keep them alive.  When I refuse to share my past I am refusing to trust that anyone else can love my past enough to hold it in their hands. When I don’t trust, I put myself in a dark corner and become sickly and pale. I lose the vivacity that makes me me. It may have taken 21 years but I’m finally realizing that that is not a risk worth taking. 

Weekly Memo

Posted October 08, 2011
Posted by Bekah

each week, on Friday, we present a one page memo to our small group. It can be written on anything we have been thinking about the past week. Here are some of my thoughts. Let me know what you think


Memo- Social Thought Week

What did I think about this week? To be honest, not much. I spent most of my weekend recovering from suffocating social constructions and my own inability to look and really see the world around me.  I thought about George Michael and Anne and how I hope to never be invisible. I wondered why I had become so suddenly aware of the lack of physical touch I had received in the last month, and why, for the first time in my life I missed it desperately.

 I wondered about death and if hell is a place of the invisible and untouched. In the Last Battle, C.s. Lewis depicts a scene of the gardens surrounding heaven, beautiful meadows where you can run and never grow weary. There is a group of dwarves who are in this garden, they’ve made it through the wood shed and are sitting in splendor, however, they are unable to see where they are. They continue to live as though they are seated in the back of a musty stable; they see only black shadows and only smell mold and donkey. They have entered the physical realm of the heaven but are too wrapped up in their own expectations to notice. They’ve allowed themselves to become too tainted with the promises of the world to recognize the promise land.

Was this the situation of the rich man? Was he actually seated at God’s table, goblets of fresh water surrounding him, was God bathing him with soft cloth while he imagined himself to be being licked by the tongues of hell fire? Was Lazarus holding the rich man, desperately washing the man’s wounded and calloused eyes in the hopes of giving him sight while Abraham silently wept? I think so.

Hell is not a land of leaping flames or icy rivers, but hell is the rich man standing before the face of God but only allowing himself to see a mirror, dwelling on the identity of riches he had built for himself and seeing it shattered. Hell is the choice, when the given the option, of anything but God. The rich man never asked to get out of hell.

God is not on a pedestal miles above our reaching fingertips, he is washing our skin of filth and oozing sores. He is the beggar approaching us in the streets. He is the woman reaching out to touch our robe, to be noticed and spoken to by us. God is desperate.

When I was two, I had surgery on my eye to remove a tumor that was expanding back into my brain; it was on a set path of destruction. I was either going to have severe brain damage or become blind in my right eye. After the surgery (and being a two year old) I believed that the doctors had made my sight invincible. I used to look directly at the sun to prove to my brothers my superiority. Yet, over the years I have become aware of my human blindness, the ways and situations in which I choose not to see anything but myself. Daily, I choose hell over heaven and God when I choose blindness to anything but a mirror. I sit in musty stalls and curse any God who could allow hell to exist.

It was hell for God to watch the rich man sit at the royal table and not even know. It was hell for God to watch humanity sit and stare at a mirror instead of his own face. It is hell for God when my eyes glaze past him, when I don’t reach out my hand to touch him. Hell for God is being invisible and untouched. 

A lot of catching up

Posted October 02, 2011
Posted by Bekah

It has been a busy two weeks. Though, busy in Oregon is of a different flavor. As a celebration of finishing our first segment of classes, our group went on a hiking trip. We split into 3 separate trips. 

My group went to Yosemite and hiked 45 miles. 'How lovely' you might find yourself thinking or 'isn't that wonderful' and while I am sure your heart is in the right place, these comments do not reflect my experience. WE woke at 3 am Sunday morning, drove 8 hours to California, grabbed a quick lunch, and began hiking at 12:30. My professors wanted to assure us that, although we were going a mere 8 miles on our first day (nothing compared to our upcoming 14 mile days), this day would be the most difficult. After looking around at my fellow students, wondering which one of them had scoffed at the 8 miles (figuring out who to push off a cliff later), I realized that none of them had been the scofferes. A few were already looking faint at the idea of 8 miles of flat walking which wasn't even an option. Nope. We had 8 hours of honest straight uphill and switchbacks. We gained an easy 3000 miles in 2 hours-note: I used the word 'easy' as a modest substitution for other  four letter words I would rather have used. 

In the midst of this death march during a water break, George, a fellow student, began casually doing push ups with his backpack still on. Had there been a breath of air in my severely weakened lungs I would have casually commented to him (using more of those choice four letter words) my opinion of his behavior and perhaps may have even suggested he go on a long walk over the side of a cliff. However, I was lying flat on my back shaking, drenched in sweat, and spontaneously convulsing and was unable to attain a breath of air. 

Arriving at camp that evening (on George's back, my legs having given out around mile 3) we all settled comfortably into warm sleeping bags. I, being one of the few students with previous backpacking experience, had thought ahead to these long cold hours before sleep. Naturally I brought a book to pass the time. Sadly it was not Mcmanus. It was, however, a medieval romance novel of such quality that it is hard to compare. Uncle Pete, you would be proud. 

Unfortunately, this said George character just sat down next to me and I can't finish this post now. I will soon. 

Love from Oregon. 

Bex