The Best Stories are Held in the Eyes of the People Who Ride the Bus

I was exhausted when I climbed onto the bus Tuesday afternoon. I sat down next to a young sophisticated college student and zoned out, lost in my own tired thoughts.

“I like your hair style.”

I looked across the college student to the woman with yellow hair on the other side of her.

“Thank you,” I said. “It’s really handy. If I need to write something down I can just pull the pen out of my hair.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But I don’t think my boss would have liked it if I had let my hair down. I worked as a waitress you see. In those days you had to have your hair up in a bun, with a hairnet over it. There aren’t very many ways to do that hairstyle, you know, so we were always looking for new ones.”

I smiled, and nodded, and then looked back at my lap. I was tired, and just wanted to get where I was going. I didn’t feel like chatting.

The woman, however, did feel like chatting. “Do you know what’s exciting?”

“What?” I asked to be polite, trying not to make eye contact. Then, suddenly, I felt guilty. I could at least listen to the women.

“This past winter I turned 52…”

“Oh wow,” I said. “Good for you. That is exciting.”

“That’s not the exciting part.”

She talked like she was a little bit crazy, with exaggerated facial expressions, saying some phrases in a stage whisper and almost yelling others. But the actual content of her words made perfect sense, once I heard her out.

“What’s the exciting part?” I asked.

“It’s raining,” she said. “And I have arthritis. But I’m not scared, this time. You wanna know why?”

The next words were whispered, as though they were too precious to be spoken out loud. “I have my own apartment.”

“Wow, congratulations,” I said.

The college student in-between us sat back as far as she could in her seat, and fiddled with her phone.

“I have two cats,” the woman continued. “They’re gonna have a more stable life than I ever had. They may walk from the kitchen to the bedroom to the living room, but their litter box is always in the same place. I saw my cats lying contentedly on the floor of my own home the other day. And I thought, ‘if this is as good as it gets, it’s enough.’”

She leaned in close, and whispered. “I’ve never thought that before, in my life.”

“I have my own room,” she added. “And I can paint! I painted my own apartment!”

“That’s awesome! What color did you paint it?”

She beamed. “Well, I went to a garage sale and got some cans of paint. I got a rose color, and I got this really beautiful butter color, and I got an ugly blue. But when I mixed some of the butter in with the blue, it made…” her voice turned reverent, “aqua.”

She described the process of choosing trim colors, and how she mixed paints to get the exact right shade of rose for her bedroom. “There’s just enough room in my bedroom for a bed and a nightstand,” she said. “But I don’t care. You wanna know why? Because I have my own room! I’ve never had my own room before.”

“I didn’t put the TV in my bedroom, though,” she continued. “I get seasonal effective disorder, you know. If I put the TV in there, I’d just lie in there all winter. So I had this voice in my mind, like a mom, saying ‘don’t you put the TV in your bedroom!’

“People say I’m crazy, you know. But the mom voice, I had to have that, because I didn’t have a mom looking out for me. I was in the foster care system when I was four, you know, and my foster parents were abusive. They put me in the swimming pool and I was gonna drown. I knew I didn’t have a mom, or anyone, to save me. That’s when the mom voice told me to swim. Since then the mom voice always told me things, like when something was a really bad idea. Because I didn’t have anyone else to tell me those things.”

By this time she was crying, and my eyes were tearing up as well. But it was my stop, and I had to get off. “It was very nice to meet you,” I said. Then I exited the bus, my heart feeling hollow and heavy at the same time.

What sort of world do we live in, when a 52-year-old mentally ill woman with arthritis wanders the rain-soaked world, never even having a room to call her own?

She had said words which trampled my ungrateful spirit to dust and shame.

“I think I’ve made it,” she had whispered to me. “I’m scared to say that out loud, but I think…I think I’ve made it.”

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Short Bites of Thailand Life

The Bathroom

I love Thai food, but unfortunately Thai food does not always love me. At a restaurant the other day, while sampling a delicious concoction of liver, cilantro, and mint, my insides began protesting, and I knew that I had to find a bathroom.

Now.

Making hasty excuses to my dinner companions, I dashed out the door of the restaurant and around the corner to the public restroom. Alas and alack, when I opened the door of the blessed bathroom stall, I saw a troubling sight: no toilet paper.

I checked all the stalls. None of them contained TP. Many Thai bathrooms have little sprayers to use in lieu of toilet paper, but this bathroom didn’t even have those.

I looked by the sinks, in the doorway, everywhere. No TP. Not even paper towels. Nothing that could reasonably substitute for toilet paper.

I was desperate.

And then I saw that the supply closet was unlocked.

Joyfully, I thrust open the doors and went inside. But unlike other supply closets I’ve peeped into in my life, there were no neatly stacked rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. There was, instead, a couple shelves full of junk. Paint cans. Scraps of wood. There was a plastic TP dispenser, which gave me a brief moment of hope, but there was nothing inside it.

I pawed through the shelves desperately as my insides rumbled and shook. And then, buried amidst the junk, I found something.

A tiny packet of napkins.

“That’ll do,” I said to myself. And it did.

The College

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Amy’s house is North Chiang Mai University, the college where she teaches. I love hanging out there, because, well, you know. I love college, and I love Thailand, so obviously I am going to love a Thai college.

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English majors studying in the breezeway

Thai culture affects the college life in such an interesting way. Uniforms, for instance, are a big deal. Every college student, no matter what college they go to, wears the same uniform. Even the college staff are told what to wear, though Wednesdays, according to Amy, are “freestyle days.”

Amy teaches English to some staff ladies. It is Tuesday, so they all wear pink polos.

Amy teaches English to some staff ladies. It is Tuesday, so they all wear pink polos.

Another interesting thing: Thai students go to college a couple weeks before semester starts. They do a lot of activities, including learning dances and chants that correspond with their major.

(I keep imagining what these kind of activities would look like at LBCC. The mental picture of the engineering students dancing around chanting “E-E-ENG-I-N-E-E-R-I-N-G-engineering-BOOM!” just really amuses me.)

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English majors practicing their dance. I saw them dancing and snapped a pic through the window

One evening, Amy, Kim, and I were just leaving the university when we met a group of English majors on the landing. We started chatting about this and that, and then we began to ask them about their dances and chants.

“It goes like this,” said one of them. “E-E-ENG-E-N-G-L-I-S-H.” (Only the “H” was pronounced “esh,” which made me think about the fact that “H” is a really weird word. It doesn’t even have the “h” sound in it.)

“That’s not nearly long enough,” said Kim. “You guys were chanting for a long time.”

So they went through the whole chant, which as far as I can recall went like…

“Are you ready?”

“Yes”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes yes! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Boom! E-E-ENG-ENGLISH!” And on in a similar fashion.

We laughed, and tried to repeat it. “Are you ready?” “Yes!” “Are you ready” “Yes yes boom!”

They laughed. We laughed. Everybody laughed.

Amy and I hadn’t eaten supper yet. “Are you hungry?” Amy chanted.

“Yes yes boom!” I said.

For some reason we all found that really funny.

The Sink Hole

One morning, Amy and her roommate Kim were at a staff meeting, so I decided to be helpful and do some housecleaning.

Preparing to clean the bathroom sink, I took the glass of toothbrushes off of the sink and placed it on the shelf below the mirror. Then, just as I was about to wet my rag I thought, “Oh, I should clean the mirror first, before my rag is wet.”

I sprayed the mirror and began to wipe it. Unfortunately, the mirror pivoted at my touch, and knocked the glass of toothbrushes off the little shelf, and into the sink.

I braced myself as I heard the sound of something breaking. I was afraid I had shattered the glass completely. But no, it was no worse off than it had been before.

But.

There was a hole in the sink.

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It struck me as comical. Just a hole, poking straight through the sink. Then I sobered up. What would Amy and her roommate Kim think of me breaking their sink? Oh dear.

I took the chunk that had broken off, and put it on the table. Then I waited for them to get home.

A bit later I heard someone, so I went into the living room and saw that Kim had returned. She was studying the chunk of ceramic.

“Yes, I broke the sink,” I confessed.

“You broke the sink?”

I led her into the bathroom and showed her the damage. She took one look at the hole in the sink, and began to laugh.

She laughed and laughed, wild gales of laughter.

I laughed too. I couldn’t help it.

The Food

Going to restaurants—even some place like Taco Bell—is a treat for me. You can save a lot of money by packing your own lunch. But here in Thailand it isn’t like that. There are little restaurants here, there, everywhere, selling meals for $0.78, or $0.93, or sometimes $1.09 if you are eating a more expensive kind of meat.

We often eat out twice a day.

The food is a wondrous array of flavors. It usually consists of some kind of savory meat over rice or noodles. And vegetables. Oh my! Carrots and green beans and onions and cabbage and many others I don’t recognize, all fried up with the rest of the dish.

“You never know exactly what vegetables you’ll get,” says Amy. “It depends on what they picked up at the market that day.”

But they don’t put sweet corn in the dishes. That, Amy tells me, is a desert around here. We passed a Dairy Queen and she showed me the sign. They were selling a corn sundae.

Right down the street from Amy’s house is the restaurant we visit most often. “Kitchen at the Edge of the North,” it is called. (The “North” bit refers to North Chiang Mai University, where Amy teaches.) We frequently run into people we know, there. Neighbors and college kids.

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The cooks in the Kitchen at the Edge of the North.

It is an open-air restaurant and the stray cats of the village wander in and out. One day, two of them got in a cat fight. It was a real doozy. The fur was literally flying-gray tufts floating in the air.

The cook whirled around in surprise and charged at them, trying to break up the fight. Chunks of meat flew off of her spoon. Amy and I laughed and laughed.

I am going to miss this when I go home. I am tasting flavors I never even dreamed of.

Today I am in Thailand

My sister Amy has a life that is far more exotic than mine. Her home has a tile roof and tile floors and tropical flowers dripping into her yard from the tree next door.

She lives in Thailand, teaching English at a hole-in-the-wall university at the edge of Chiang Mai.

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The lush garden of the house across from Amy’s.

Since travel for me takes a back seat to getting through college debt free, I had never experienced zipping through a foreign city on a motorbike or eating cheap stir-fry at an outdoor restaurant while stray cats twined around my feet–things Amy did every day.

But then things began to fall into place for me. I finally got college financial aid (yay for being 24!) and I got a harvest job that provided me with work up until about a month before school was to start.

I emailed Amy. “Hey, can I come visit you? Like, this September?”

“Sure!” she said.

So I did.

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A thick layer of cloud covered the Willamette Valley as I left.

I brought Mom’s camera along specifically so that I could take pictures specifically for my blog. Unfortunately…

A. I feel stupid taking pictures

B. I’m not very good at taking pictures, and

C. I don’t like carrying stuff around with me.

So you’ll just have to make due with the random conglomeration I have.

Amy gets gas for her bike.  How cute she looks in her helmet!

Amy gets gas for her bike. How cute she looks in her helmet!

Someone's bike cover. I like the little cartoon characters.

Someone’s bike cover. I like the little cartoon characters.

Friday Amy dropped me off at an old Mall while she went to her Thai class. “Go exploring!” she said. “It’s really cool. Parts of it are abandoned.”

The mall's entrance.

The mall’s entrance.

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How come America doesn't have lush mall courtyards?

How come America doesn’t have lush mall courtyards?

I got sufficiently lost in the place, but it was a good sort of lost. Lots of stores were jammed together at odd angles, and then suddenly I’d round a corner and see empty halls and rooms.

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I tried to take pictures of funny signs and t-shirts.

I asked them what they sold here, but they were a little vague.

I asked them what they sold here, but they were a little vague.

I found this shirt slightly disturbing.

I found this shirt slightly disturbing.

The picture on this shirt was of fashion model-ey ladies, covered in these words...

The picture on this shirt was of fashion model-ey ladies, covered in these words…

After I found my way out of the labyrinth that was the mall, Amy and I went to a coffee shop and took pictures of people we saw out the windows.

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This lady twisted the faucet around so she could wash her giant pot outside the window.

This man bought cardboard to recycle. The ladies weighed it, and then he tossed it onto the back of his truck.

This man bought cardboard to recycle. The ladies weighed it, and then he tossed it onto the back of his truck.

People keep saying, “so how do you like Thailand so far?”

I like it very much. I don’t know why I wouldn’t, or how I couldn’t. 

Ten Books that have Stayed With Me in Some Way

In no particular order, the 10 that popped into my head are:

1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Peter_Pan_And_Wendy_3_by_GiacobinoPicture credit: http://giacobino.deviantart.com/

2. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

It was a bit of a serendipity, the way I came to read and love this book. It happened like this:

I was 19 years old and living in Virginia when I decided to take my SAT. I signed up to go through the four-hour ordeal on a Saturday, the day before a big trip I had planned.

The most interesting section of the SAT (and of course the part I did best at) was the reading comprehension bit. I opened the little booklet, and there was a full-page excerpt of a book called The Moonstone. I read the little blurb at the top, which went something like:

This is the story of a stolen diamond that was inherited by Rachael Verinder, a young English woman. The night of her 18′th birthday, the diamond was stolen from her.

A little thrill went through me at the words “stolen diamond.”

Then I read the excerpt. It was narrated by a man named Gabriel Betteredge, who was Miss Verinder’s butler. He was such a funny character, and had a strange obsession with the book Robinson Crusoe. He said, in essence, “I’m going to write down how the diamond was stolen.” And then, having come to that conclusion, the excerpt ended.

I hurriedly tried to remember the name of the author, Wilkie Collins Wilkie Collins Wilkie Collins, and got on with the test. The thing is timed, see, so you have to be careful about dawdling over fascinating excerpts.

By the time the test was over I had forgotten both the author’s name and the title of the book. Not that I had time to think about it much. I was too busy getting ready to leave on my trip, sleeping, boarding a plane, and flying to Colorado.

When I got to Colorado Dad and Ben met me at the airport with our van. They had driven out to help me gather all the belongs I had left in the area from when I lived there, and then we were all going to drive to Oregon together for Ben’s graduation.

That evening we got a motel in Canon City, the town I used to live in, and settled down for a bit of a rest. I sat in a chair. Dad relaxed on one of the beds and opened a book.

“What’s that you’re reading?” I asked.

“It’s a book Amy picked up somewhere,” said Dad. “It’s called The Moonstone.”

3. Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

 stargirl_by_inkyfridays-d4oj5n7Picture credit: http://inkyfridays.deviantart.com/

4. Howl’s moving castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

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Picture credit: http://yenefer.deviantart.com/

5. The blue castle, by L.M. Montgomery

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Picture credit: twogranniesandanaxe.tumblr.com

6. I capture the castle, by Dodie Smith

I guess I’m just really drawn to books with “castle” in the title. This book is about a dirt-poor family of fascinating characters that lived in a castle in 1920′s England. The cleverness and humor of this book astounds me.

7. Love of Seven Dolls, by Paul Gallico

seven

8. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

I can’t even explain why I like this book. It is dark and weird but absolutely enthralling. I think it stuck with me because it was so different from anything I had ever read before.

9. The Personality of a House, by Emily Post

personality

I found this book in the library at Bridgewater College, and couldn’t put it down. It’s somewhat outdated (it advises that you decorate in colors that complement your skin tone) but also the most timeless book on decorating I have ever discovered.

I ended up buying my own copy for more money than I have ever spent on a book before.

10. Once on a Time, by A.A. Milne

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Picture credit: http://odelialeaf.com/

What books have stuck with you?

 

My Grandpa is so Beachy

My Grandfather has been living with us this summer. At 97 years old he still enjoys the occasional adventure. On that note, we went on an outing to the beach Saturday.

GmpaOcean

The boys and Dad were busy, but Mom, Grandpa, Jenny and I packed a picnic lunch and took off.

It was a beautiful sunny day, until we actually arrived at the ocean. There, a shivery misty breeze hovered over the water and along the sand. I got out of the car and immediately hopped back in, chilled to the bone.

Mom and Jenny looked at me questioningly. “Why didn’t you bring a coat?”

“Um, I thought this long-sleeved shirt would be warm enough.”

They rolled their eyes. How could I have lived in Oregon for so many years and not know something as basic as “always bring a coat to the beach?”

Mom helped Grandpa into his coat, and the three of them began the slow shuffling treck across the sand to the water’s edge.

I stayed behind in the car for a while. Then I got a brillient idea. I could wrap up in the picnic blanket to stay warm!

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Mom

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We didn’t stay on the beach for long, due to the aforementioned chill. Before long we headed to the Marine Sciene Center, where we perused various exibits and saw a film about dolphins that Grandpa really enjoyed.

Fish

We had a bit of a dilemma about our picnic. How could we have a picnic when the beach was so chilly? We decided to go to the south beach, hoping the jetty would shelter us from the cold wind.

Unfortunately, we had underestimated how long of a walk it is from the parking lot to the beach, and how difficult it is for an elderly man with a cane to walk up and down sand dunes. Eventually we decided to settle between two little dunes along the path. It was nicely out of the wind, but all the tourists visiting the beach or the jetty walked right by us and stared. Jenny spent some time on the far dune, hiding from their prying eyes.

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We set up a flimsy camp chair for Grandpa, and the rest of us sat on the blanket. Midway through the meal Grandpa’s chair began tipping sideways, slowly but surely.

I reached out a hand to try to stop him, but it didn’t really do much good. He tipped all the way over and landed in the sand. Not a bit of food had fallen off of his plate, and he hadn’t spilled a drop of his tea.

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Me: Did you really stop and take a picture while Grandpa was falling over?

Mom: No, I took a picture while you were pushing him back up.

With Jenny pulling and me pushing, we managed to get him upright again. Then the four of us laughed and laughed and laughed. I have never seen Grandpa laugh so hard.

We did a bit of shopping, and then came home. During supper Grandpa said, “I really enjoyed that film we saw about porposes.”

“It was about dolphins,” said Jenny.

“Oh. What’s the difference between a dolphin and a porpose?” asked Grandpa.

None of us really knew. Ben said, “I think dolphins have a slightly longer nose.”

“Oh,” said Grandpa. “Well, that film reminded me of when I was on a freight ship headed for Paraguay. I don’t know if it was dolphins or porposes that we saw, but they would go to the front of the ship, and play, and play, and we would all watch them.”

He smiled at the memory.

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Photo credit: Dorcas Smucker

A Possible Return to Blogging

I love the internet.

I love looking at the list of people who “like” something I post on facebook, because it’s always such a strange conglomeration of people. Old friends and new, liberal and conservative, old and young. I like to imagine that we are all at a party together, laughing at the same joke.

I love peeking into internet corners and finding funny articles and bogus life hacks and beauty and humor.

I quit blogging over a year ago, and I realy liked it. I liked the anonomity. But I find myself wanting to create again, to add to the beautiful side of the internet that I love.

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The most frustrating thing about not blogging was when I had opinions. I would lie awake at night, blogging in my head. I wanted to tell someone my opinion because it was RIGHT (obviously) and if only everyone in internet land would know the TRUTH, well, the would would be a better place.

Wouldn’t it?

But since I wasn’t blogging, I didn’t share my opinions with anyone besides my mother. And the strangest thing happened. The world kept spinning. Seasons came and went in their usual way. The world was fine.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, but freeing at the same time:

The world does not need to know my opinions.

I think I’ll try blogging again, for a while. I’m going to try to make it about stories, not about opinions.

That’s what I like about the internet. I like the stories, the beauty, the humanity. But I dislike the opinions. On the internet, people can become a faceless opinion, devoid of humanity. I don’t like that.

This Is Goodbye

I have decided to, for a while at least and maybe forever, stop blogging.

You may wonder why someone who has faithfully blogged for eight years and twenty-three days would suddenly decide to give up on the craft. I’m not sure if I can explain, or if I even want to explain. But I will try, briefly.

I always valued transparency, honesty, openness, and realness, and thought I had nothing to hide. I wanted my blog to be a reflection of that. However, I underestimated the power I was giving the world to hurt me.

Also, I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the way I have acquired a sort of “fan base” on my blog. I want to be a blessing to people by my life, and by letting Christ shine through me. But I don’t ever want to feel like I’m  the important one with the story to tell, and you’re the fan who needs to listen.

My blog makes me feel that way.

I want to be the one listening. I want to hear your story.

That is why I have decided to stop blogging. Because….

I need a holiday. A very long holiday. And I don’t expect I shall return. In fact, I mean not to.

-Bilbo Baggins