Thursday, September 24, 2009

L'Abri One


I’ve been in Greatham, England for about a week and a half, but it feels like I’ve been here for months. Not in a way that’s good or bad—I just feel like I’m in the rhythm of it, I’m learning the place that I’m in and I’m learning it quickly. When I wake up, I expect to wake to a light breeze coming in the window, a dampness, a morning whose grayness brings out the thousand shades of green that we’re surrounded by at the Manor House.

There’s too much to say to tell it all. We work: laundry, gardening, cooking, cleaning, etc. We study, which for me means reading Marilynne Robinson’s Home. We discuss and debate, and the discussions and debates have depth, and weight.

Yesterday, we had a work day. The apples were ripe, and the workers were worried that if we waited any longer, we’d lose some. So we spent the whole day picking apples, peeling them, chopping them, rinsing them in salt water, and packing them into bags to be frozen. But then, some of the apples went to Louise and she made a streudel for the coffee break; and then Edith used the red parts of the peels to make jelly.

The food here is amazing. Every single meal thus far. All of it’s cooked by the workers and helpers, who are from Hungary, South Africa/Holland, England, and Sweden, with us helping them in the kitchen.

One of the workers from Sweden said that she doesn’t understand why anyone ever buys bread, as opposed to making it. Just thinking about the implications of that statement delights me to no end.

Most of the meals are served and eaten in the homes of the workers. And the whole place speaks of hospitality, of welcome.

It hasn’t been without its difficulties, which I think will become much more pronounced as the term goes on. You live in a house with 30 people or so. You eat every meal with them, you live with them, you debate with them, you work with them. You see them all day, they’re in the room with you as you go to sleep, and they’re there when you wake up. There’s a lot of room for discord.

But at the same time, there’s a grace in it all. It’s hard to explain.

It’s going well, I suppose, is the best way to say it all. It’s going really well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Country Roads

To say that things have changed over the past weeks would be a vast understatement. Right now I'm sitting in my parents' home in Knoxville, reflecting on the few short weeks I've been in the US. Tomorrow, I leave for England.

There's a lot to say, but I think I'll leave most of it unsaid. I've enjoyed so many cups of coffee or tea, so many important conversations. I've shared so much life with people, really, since I've been home. I don't think I could have asked for more. Thank you all for your kindnesses. Ultimately, for your love.

For a long time, my heart hadn't been in a very good place. Many were praying for healing. Be glad to know that their prayers, like mine, have not gone unheard.

And being here--something about this place still commands my attention. A country road. Horses standing against a fence. A line of trees on a hill, perfectly straight, across a meadow. Forests that swallow your car whole, sending down only speckled sunlight. A broad lake. The mist that rises from it, the life that moves inside it. And all those same things by the different light and scent of night.

There is something significant about knowing a small, winding road. How your hands move the steering wheel in anticipation of a curve. How your body articulates a reaction before your mind knows to need it. And how it can be this way with not only roads but people, not only routes but communities. And somehow, in a way that's difficult to describe, they become home, and seeing them feels like pulling into your parents' driveway.

I'm ready to see the life of the English countryside. I'll be glad to learn to live within it. And hopefully I'll have time to share here a little about the new roads I'm learning. Far away, yet again, from the ones I know.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Strange Purposes of Winds

Today I saw an elderly man with a cane, standing among piles of rocks near a construction site. He was looking around in melancholy, almost as if measuring what had been lost. 

As I watched, the wind picked up pure green leaves along with the dust, and they all hung suspended in the air around him. 

It was like a hole had been opened in him, one that the sky swept down to fill. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Good Morning

"Sometimes I wish that I could sing or dance or paint or compose symphonies or build cathedrals to express somehow what all of this means to me. I wish I were a priest or a robin or a child or a sunset."

-Robert Benson

Yesterday I went home a little bit early. Threw the windows open to a strong wind, in spite of the layer of dust that it would inevitably leave in my house. Laid on the couch, made a cup of coffee. And waited for a storm that ended up passing us by, listening to my doors slam open and shut in turn and the wind howling around corners and through cracks. I watched the Princess Bride, which I hadn't seen in years. I couldn't help giggling throughout the whole movie like a delighted child, just like Justin talked with me recently about doing. I made some chicken noodle soup for dinner. Read late into the night.

This morning I woke up early. Or, earlier than I had to.

I got up, made a cup of coffee. Put lots of cream and sugar in, which is a little unusual for me. And I had some local snacks like graham crackers to accompany it--half covered with roasted sesame seeds, the other half with pieces of peanuts. I sat looking out my window at the still-white sky, before the afternoon's blue. Just quiet, still, but feeling something leaping inside me that just might be life. I prayed off and on. Drank slowly. Ate slowly. Just slowly enough to be late for work.

The waitress was sitting on her bike waiting for me when I got here, wearing a yellow jacket and the perpetual black head covering. When she saw me I made a face, and she laughed. I threw open the sliding metal door over our glass entrance, and walked in. The shop always has a sour smell when I first get in, so I turned on one of the fans upstairs to help it air out.

I swept the coffee shop barefoot this morning. Danced around to old 90s songs while I worked in the upstairs, while the waitress scrubbed dishes in the kitchen. Sang along to the best parts.

When I swept the narrow band of tile outside our storefront, a woman looked at my feet, and looked up at me like I was some sort of savage. Maybe I felt a little savage this morning--I was dreaming of running barefoot through soft grass.

Maybe I was dreaming of childhood. Maybe I was remembering a piece of some sort of home I had once. Or maybe I was looking towards what is ahead, a different kind of existence than this one. It was one of those moments that you snap awake and remember the deeper life whose streams flow generously under the small paths we walk. Their waters run underneath all the cities we've seen, and will see, through the course of our lives and ever after. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baby Panda Dive-Bomb

As many of you know, my dear college friends Rob, Michael, and Amy visited me in March.

While they were here, we took a trip to Xian, which ended up being pretty much perfect, from Michael dancing with a noodle which we later ate, to a sing-along of '90s pop songs while riding bikes on top of the city wall. 

Much of it will have to be cherished solely in memory and photograph, but thankfully the following was captured on video for posterity's sake, and for yours.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Place to Stand

I wrote the following last winter, in an e-mail to a friend.

"Today I went to the park, and the lake was frozen. Something about it really surprised me, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is. I thought about how lovely it will be to someday go ice skating again.

"There was a woman there, standing with her eyes closed against the sunlight. It was cold, even in the sun, but she stood unmoving for the thirty minutes that I was there, as if gathering strength for the rest of life. I understood, because I feel like that sometimes. Except, most of the time I don’t have any really good place to stand, if that makes sense."