Friday, August 30, 2013

One Year

Kathryn is officially no longer in her gap year. In fact, it's now been exactly one year since she began her adventures, perhaps rendering this blog retired. But despite the fact that it's been months since the last post, there were still 500 hits last month from 8 different countries, so for those who continue to read, here is something to read!

I woke up bright and early for Western Religion at 8 o'clock this morning.

I walked to class through heavenly sunbeams streaming through the trees, casting a luminous glow all over campus.

Five minutes later saw me sprinting across campus, this time oblivious to its heavenly luminosity, in order to retrieve the homework from my dorm room which I managed to completely forget in a stereotypical spell of classic Kathryn absentmindedness.

And so as I sat in religion class, quite riveted to the knowledge the professor is imparting upon my brain, I hear him speak of the purpose of humanity and the mystery of our existence and it reminds me of a story from this very day in 2012. A story that takes place in Léogâne, the epicenter of the Haiti earthquake.

I was at  a tent orphanage located at the end of a hidden back road. My attentions were suddenly captured by a little girl, standing forlorn, staring sadly into space. She was wearing a tattered pink dress, and the dirtiest little pink dress shoes full of holes and coated in dirt. Her hair was gathered in a few skimpy little braids, and it was tinted orange –a sign of malnutrition. In one hand, she held a trinket, donated presumably by some well-wishing American. It was a MacDonald's happy meal toy– a plastic action figure of the mouse (at least I think that contorted creature was meant to be a mouse) from the movie Flushed Away.

There she stood, clutching the toy in one hand, and staring with a face as sad as any face I have ever seen on a child. She was probably about three years old, but the face she had was a face only an adult should ever have. I walked over to her, crouched down and held her hand. Every single other child who I had done that to in Haiti thus far had instantly latched on and grabbed my hand, responding to this gesture with a beaming face.

This one didn't. Her little hand was limp in mine. She didn't even turn her head to look at me and see who had touched her. She just continued to stare into space. I picked her up; she smelled awful. I picked her up and held her close and kissed her sunken cheeks. I held her for a long time. We just stood there, I talked to her, and she continued to stare. I wondered what her name was; I thought I heard the kids call her something that sounded like, “Kevin”.

Then I brought her to a bench and sat down with her in my lap. Her little pink dress got caught and pulled up in the process. She was wearing nothing under her dress, and Kevin was decidedly not a girl. I could not but laugh at the bitter irony of the scene from Pixar's Up that flashed through my head... “Kevin's a girl?”... In this case, Kevin was not a girl. An irony enough to break my heart.

I continued to hold little Kevin, and he continued to be unresponsive. I tried opening his MacDonald's happy meal toy for him and showing it to him, but it was as if he didn't even see it. I placed it in his hand, and within seconds, his little hand had dropped it on the ground. Any other child I know would clearly indicate to me that they wanted it back. He made no noise, no gestures, no facial expressions. His interest was finally a little bit perked by the plastic wrapper. He seemed to actually see it at least.

Some of the kids had found a little puppy dog, and when I say little, I mean this puppy was tiny. They brought it up to Kevin, laughing, and tried to get him to hold it. Even when a squeaking, squirmy puppy dog was shoved in his face, Kevin was totally unresponsive. He didn't react at all. I can only imagine what must have happened in the course of Kevin's short life to make him act in such a way.

Shortly after the kids with the puppy left, I looked down to see little Kevin's head had fallen onto my chest, and he was fast asleep. Fleas began to gather on his face and his body. His hair was filthy. Suddenly a little girl started screeching, “pee pee! Pee pee!” I looked down and sure enough, a steady stream of it was squirting out of Kevin and onto my lap. I didn't mind it, though. I moved my leg slightly, and the rest of it landed on the bench. I held Kevin until it was time to go on to the next orphanage.

I gently woke the little boy up, and set him down on the ground. His eyes opened, and he returned to standing in the same position, gazing sadly into space. In my mind's eye were imagines of clean and glittering American bathrooms; I wanted to take him into one and bathe him and give him handsome boy clothing, and bring him to the doctor's office, and feed him, and teach him what it means to play and laugh and what it feels like to be loved and what it means to sleep in a bed instead of a US AID tent. US AID tents and tarps were everywhere. Branded on them was the slogan, “From the American People.” That phrase seemed somehow taunting, hollow, absurd. I turned and looked at Kevin one last time, standing in a patch of dirt in his pink clothing, staring into space.

One year later, I still remember you, Kevin. I wonder where you are now. I wonder if you belong to someone who loves you. I'm sorry for all the times that I do forget. For all the times when I allow my heart to become numbed to your plight and to the plight of the millions of precious souls like you. As this school year starts and as a new chapter of my life starts with it, as the chaos of college, classes, and clubs ensues, I pray that I will not forget but remember.

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me.
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity.

With "Kevin", August 2012 

Friday, May 24, 2013

To the Seniors

May 24, 2012

Well, here it is. Here I am. The last full day of high school is completely over. Forever.

Never will I ever eat lunch in the commons ever again.

Never will I ever sit and work in that library where so many conversations took place and where my book was written.

Never will I ever have a third, fourth, or fifth hour at Saline High School.

It's all coming to a close. It's all ending. Many of these people I will probably never see again.

The sun is so warm on me. So warm and so full of life giving light. What has God taught me this year? Or rather these four years. Four pivotal years. I have done what everyone else has – grown, learned, made mistakes, and all the rest, but the important thing is that God has been faithful.

Later –

Well all that blahity-blah stuff I wrote before was pointless fluff and forced sentimentality. I'm outside now. The sun is setting and the world from the vantage point of my bedroom looked so beautiful and I wanted to go on a walk so badly and have a beautiful, wonderful, spiritually touching experience. I had no such experience. I turned to walk west on Textile and chase after the golden beams of the setting sun, but instead of being enraptured by the beauty, I saw roadkill. It was the first thing I saw. A raccoon, all sprawled out. Bloody and gutty. Swarms of flies feasted on the rotting flesh. They gathered around the raccoon's mouth and eyes and as I drew nearer, they rose up in their disgusting masses. I passed by on the opposite side of the road, but that did nothing to stop my eyes from being drawn with a certain horrible fascination to the carcass. But I passed it, tried my best to forget it, and turned my attention once more to the setting sun, attempting to thrust my mentality out of roadkill thoughts and into deep, beautiful, spiritual thoughts.

But still the setting sun did not rivet my attention. For there was trash on the road. A milk carton. A piece of plastic. A crumpled bag. Instead of an idyllic walk down a quintessential country road, I saw trash coated in layers of dust and hurting my eyes. It was like a deep wound cutting through flesh. Ugly, festering sores on God's good earth. Not only that, but I was now walking downwind of the raccoon and it smelled positively rank.

Disappointed, I turned back. Back past the trash and the filth of the raccoon being eaten by flies. Back to my house with images of a sadly and radically broken world imprinted in my mind. But it gave me perspective, that ugly, smelly walk. Graduating high school is an occasion of great celebration. Many a person will congratulate me and lift up praise and thanks to our God for all He has done in my life these 18 years. I will feel happy, proud, content, and at peace with the world and everything in it. Yet I cannot forget that the world I was born into and the world that I will soon graduate from is not a world of perpetually idyllic, spiritually uplifting sunsets. No, it is a world of rotting roadkill and crumpled up trash. There is something so drastically and profoundly wrong with our world that no images of fly ridden raccoons could ever suffice to describe the deep wound that cuts to the very core of this world – an infected, festering, bleeding wound that is SO COMPLETELY WRONG. Even after the disappointing stroll down the road, I tried to redeem the evening by sitting in the grass with the blue sky and the singing birds and it certainly was beautiful, but a mosquito came and bit my ankle and I got hives from the grass.

I live in an imperfect world.

But there's a twist in the story of imperfection. You knew it was coming, didn't you? And good thing it came, or else this life wouldn't be worth living for a second. There's a twist in the story, and it's worth living for.

How many countless times have I heard this Good News of the twist in the story? Yet each time I witness the trash and the dead raccoons of this world, the overriding truth of the twist in the story impacts me more profoundly.

There is a twist in the story.

The wound of this world will be made right.

And when I walk out of that building at last tomorrow, I will remember and know in my deepest of hearts that I was like that raccoon. Dead. Rotting. Fly-ridden. Utterly revolting. And that is who I would have always been if it were not for the twist in the story. And so I will walk out of that building free in the knowledge that I have been washed as white as snow and that I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me. He delivered me, and He is redeeming this world of trash and road kill. All things are being made new. A chapter of my life will end forever tomorrow. In so many ways, it is just the beginning. With God, it is always just the beginning because we carry with us the hope of what is unseen – the hope of eternity.

I cannot forget the ugliness and the brokenness. I cannot ignore it. It is here in this world – literally right outside my window. Graduating from high school is not all about sentimentality, happiness, and good feelings. Graduating from high school is not about the American dream, or pursuing a glittering career, or your hard work and fantastic achievements.

Graduating from high school is not about me.

Graduating from high school is about going out into a world full of roadkill and embracing the dead, rotting, abhorrent, sickening wrongness with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength all in the name of Jesus and all for His Kingdom and His Glory. He took the rotting roadkill raccoon in me, and made it something beautiful. No, he is making it something beautiful.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chasing the Morning

This morning when got out of bed at 4:30 AM, I was convinced that I'm not anything close to being a real writer because try as I did, I could not muster up much of a coherent journal entry. But now I believe that might have something of a writer in me after all. Or at any rate, I have this compulsion, an irresistible urge to record on paper with words the events of my life as they transpire. And starting at 7:26 AM this morning when the taxi arrived, I just could not not write down everything. The result? A lengthy and detailed account of my day for anyone interested to read.

This morning I woke up very early indeed, first at 2:30, then slept for a bit, then again at 3:30 and could not go back to sleep, due to large amounts of excitement in regards to going home. My taxi driver came a wee bit before 7:30 this morning, and he was an excellent chap. 43 going on 44 with a birthday in just 29 more days, has been living in Edinburgh all of his life, thick and quintessential Scottish accent, completely bald, somewhat rotund, chatty and affable. He took the back roads to the airport to avoid rush hour, which was just lovely. The sun was casting a fresh, early-morning golden glow over the fields and behind the city and beyond the bridges and the ocean. We drove past the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland – a massive building that used to be a mental institution. Once at the airport, I gave him all the rest of my pounds, and bid him farewell, and pushed my bags through the doors towards my check-in desk.

I was thoroughly impressed with all the security measures taken by the Edinburgh Airport. Definitely far more than any other airport I've been through – including the immigration official when I first came through and tried to get in the country without an address of residence for my stay. Right from the start, I was interrogated before checking-in by a gentlemen whose accent I unfortunately had a very difficult time comprehending. In particular, the question, “Do you own and did you pack yourself these bags?” gave me a good deal of difficulty, but the fourth time, he repeated it very clearly and slowly, and I understood. He even went so far as to put a security sticker on the back of my passport. Fascinating.

Security lines were long, but they went fast enough. They were rigid about the rules – pulling out more bags and hand-checking them than I've ever seen at an airport ever before! They pulled out my hunk of a black carry-on, which was, I noted, larger (and most likely heavier) than any of the other carry-ons. The security guard who pulled it out seemed to notice this fact as well, remarking that I must have a dead body in there. No wonder they pulled it out if that's what they thought. Apparently, the problem with my carry-on was the large ziplock of oil pastels and colored chalks that I had with me... So it went through security all by itself, and after that they were satisfied.

In the airport – first thing to see out of security is a huge sushi bar... with chefs making sushi nonetheless. Who eats sushi at 8:15 in the morning??

Strolling through the Edinburgh airport, my gate is gate 3A. Arrive at gate 3A just as disabled persons are starting to board. Impeccable timing. I have this horrible feeling that I'm about to return to the US of A. More people are holding blue, United States passports in their hands than are holding the red European Union passports. Phrases being loudly annunciated punctuated by the sound of chewing gum being chomped solidify the American vibes, “It just SUCKS, man, like seriously.” “When my phone rings, it barks! It's great in elevators!” Girls are wearing clothes that are decidedly not the color pink with the word PINK branded prominently across the fabric. Everyone speaks with an American accent with classic up-talk intonation. And tragedy! The airport announcements are given in English, then in Spanish, then in Chinese, then French! I could cry. But still, I catch a word of French here and there, sometimes a UK accent speaks out over the crowd of Americans. But it's mostly Americans. Undeniably so.

Finally time for Zone 5 to board. Before beeping my boarding pass, I'm questioned again by security, “Have you bought anything since going through security? Has your luggage been unattended at any point since you arrived at the airport?” My boarding pass is beeped in and then two security personnel approach me, “Scuse me, ma'am, you've been randomly chosen for a security pat-down, body and suitcase.” More security measures? But I'm more impressed by the rigor than miffed at the inconvenience. Into a back room. Someone starts to check my body while the other goes through my luggage. It tickled like crazy. I tried my best to keep from laughing and squirming, but in a thick Scottish accent, “You're a bit ticklish, aren't ya miss?” Yes...more than a bit. So now they are searching through my suitcase full of books and McCropder kid art. “You don't travel light, do ya miss?” “Well, I have been gone for four months...” “Have ya now?? Four months, is that so? 'Ere in Edinburgh?” “No, France...”

Next destination: Seat 29F on United flight 7643 with hopes that a strong and kindly gentlemen will be willing and able to heave my 20 kilo carry-on into the overhead bin. There it is – seat 29F, and lo and behold I don't even need to go through my usual Struggle Dance using body language and grunts to indicate to the surrounding crowd that I could use a hand or two, for the gentleman in seat 29D offers as soon as I arrive. I warn him, “Thank you ever so much, be careful, it's terribly heavy.” and watch hopefully, a bit dubiously perhaps as this older and rotund fellow reaches down for my brick of a carry-on. But voilà. He hoists it up, pas de probleme. Super.

Being in the boarding zone 5 does have it's benefits, for once you get on the plane, it's time to go. This giant plane starts to wake up. I love the feeling of a completely stationary hunk of metal beginning to rev up for the journey across the ocean. It reminds me exactly of Smog, awakening from centuries of a deep sleep, power coming up from his belly and spreading to every particle until … TAKE OFF! The wheels come off the ground and we go up while the world drops down and the dragon is in flight.

Above Ireland... The beauty is breathtaking. The problem with traveling, at least in my case, is that the more you do it, the more you realize what you simply must see... the more you want to continue discovering the beautiful places of our planet. I gaze longingly down at rocky, wind-swept beaches, the magnificent blue of the ocean, miles of coast with waves visibly and powerfully washing up on the rocky crags. Oh it is glorious to behold and if I had a parachute, I'd jump out of this plane right now unhesitatingly and go sailing down through the clouds and onto the coast of Ireland.

The clouds – oh I love them! They are bathed in the glory of the new sunshine of the morning, light coming from the East. They are poofy, pristine, like a fairy-tale, like castles in the sky. The kind of scenery that makes you feel like you've jumped right into an episode of Planet Earth. I find John Rutter in the selection of music on the little airplane screen, gadget contraption, and listen as I look. The sky at the horizon is white blending into a strip of an almost unbearably radiantly bright blue that introduces the vast enormity of the sky. And now we fly West, always West. West and West and West, chasing the morning. Trying to catch up with the sunrise. I'm listening to 10,000 Reasons, Rend Collective Experiment... The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning, it's time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me singing when the evening comes.

Looking through the movies – there are so many of them – OH HAPPY DAY! THEY HAVE MARY POPPINS! And the dragon is being loud enough that if I sing just a wee bit under my breath, no one should notice. Plus, there isn't anyone in the seat directly next to me. At first I was disappointed by this arrangement – I had been so hoping for either a native French speaker or else a mom with a cute baby who wanted a break (that is the mom wanting a break, not the baby). But now I am happy, because perhaps I can sing along to Mary Poppins without disturbing my neighbors while we continue to chase the morning.

Chicken with spinach and rice, a salad, a bit of bread and a dessert (which originally appeared to be deliciously chocolate and sadly turned out to be some dense, moist apple-resembling grossness) was just served to me. 9:45 Scotland time, which means 10:45 France time and 5:45 AM Eastern Standard Time – my final destination! Not sure if I've ever eaten such a meal at 5:45 AM before.

I love Mary Poppins. I started watching it when the clouds covered the ocean thick and far and wide. After going to a museum filled with a great many convincing statues of sea creatures, I love to think about all the life teeming under me at this very moment in time... gigantic squids, fish of all shapes and sizes, sharks, whales, eels, sea cucumbers (ew), star fish, sea horses, sting rays... I wonder the total number of sea creatures I will have flown exactly over will be by the end of this flight. I stopped Mary Poppins to figure out on the flight tracker which body of land we were flying over only to now discover that the fast forward button goes about as quickly as playing the actual movie. Oh well, I suppose that means I can watch all the songs again. I hope the dragon has been loud enough to muffle my singing. Thankfully, the gent on my left has been watching movies the whole time, so I'm banking on this distraction to mean that he can't hear me. I'm skipping the part when they're at the bank. I detest that part!

Made it across the Atlantic. We're still chasing the morning, although the sun must be going faster than 524 mph, because that's how fast we're going, but we haven't gotten to the sunrise yet. In fact, the Sun in the East is catching up to us. We're hurdling West and West still, and it's still morning, but the air outside now looks more like late-morning than it does early morning. When we started, it was noon in Dubai, now the flight tracker tells me it's almost noon in the Caribbean. I see on the map that the sun is now rising over the Pacific Ocean. But still we chase the morning. We're above Maine right now now. It's impossible to see any land through the clouds. I imagine the dreary, cloudy, sunless, rainy day that it must be down there, and try to irreversibly solidify the image of sun and sun and SUN that does shine, always, above the cloud cover. It really does become quite a grand metaphor for life the more I think about it.

Well, I be in 'Merica now, waiting for my connecting flight at the Newark Airport. Feels like it too, my goodness. So much English sans Scottish accents coming from every direction, Annie's pretzels with greasy pepperoni dough blobs instead of boulangeries with baguettes and tarts and macaroons. As we flew down, I saw suburban houses with that ugly, plastic-looking siding, all lined up in rows upon rows and rows. Customs was a breeze – there was an airport personnel directing the passengers into the multiple lines. As I waited, he chatted with me – “This your final destination?” “Nope, Detroit, Michigan is!” “Awwww, I'm a Spartans fan...” “Umm, oh! Cool! I am indeed from Ann Arbor where the University of Michigan resides!” If you were trying to give me reason to despise you, it really didn't work....I don't think I even consciously realized until this moment in time that Spartans are Wolverine adversaries.

Baggage claim – the thrill of realizing that I've been to every single International city in this baggage claim at the moment! Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, Edinburgh... Granted, I may have only been in the airports of the former two, but to be fair, I did walk outside the airport in Brussels to get to my plane.

Upon landing, I was absolutely parched, and after an unsuccessful quest for a drinking fountain, I bought myself a lemonade...just a bit more money for that than for a bottle of water. Absurd. I paid using a few euro pennies, but I had forgotten that here the sales tax is not included, so the lady gave me a very odd look when I gave her about 20 cents less than the total price she had stated. Remembering that they sometimes gip you with these sorts of things by putting in far too much ice and far too little liquid, I asked for no ice. I got a cup halfway filled with the frozen little cubes! Absurdities continued. All the signs are in English and Spanish making my quest for bilinguality a bit rough. As for the wifi, there isn't any except the kind you have to pay a whopping $7.95/day to use, henceforth I cannot post this blog post even though it is ready to be posted. Absurdities to the max.

But never you fear, my friends, I complain not! In actuality, I am vastly contented to be here, well, to be here in transit anyways, I would not be happy to be permanently here, that's for sure. There's a flight going out to Detroit at 1:20, in fifteen minutes. Sitting here for three hours will give the sun quite the advantage as I continue to try to chase the morning. Totally coulda made that flight too. But I can wait, and will wait, until my flight at 3:15 PM and I will somehow find entertainment in this drab little place. My impressions of Newark thus far have not been the best – rainy rainy rain, no color, nowhere near as interesting as the Amsterdam Airport, or any other airport, really. Very boring as far as airports go, actually. My clothes smell utterly disgusting, and I think I'll go change into my pajamas. Hope no one minds! My excitement has been evidenced thus far in song, dance, and lots of talking to myself and the world at large in French. Hope nobody minds that either.

Well this past week seems positively prone to travel problems. I'm currently stuck at the Newark Airport. For a very long time. My flight from Edinburgh got in half an hour early at 11:45, and my flight to Detroit is delayed by 2+ hours because the flight crew apparently isn't here. I'm so close to home and I want to go now! I'm afraid this will mean that not everyone can come to the airport – including Josiah who has to be at his orchestra rehearsal at 6:30! Very upsetting indeed. It is quite aggravating. I've been on the lookout for an adventure, for something excited or interesting, but have thus far been more or less unsuccessful. I did indeed change into my pajamas, and brush my teeth too. I'm on the look-out for anyone who needs a friend or wants to have a conversation, you never know, but so far I'm coming up dry. I read all the stories from Daniel to the Three Kings in my French Jesus Storybook Bible. I read some on my kindle. I listened to French music on my computer. I got a job offer for the summer from a lady who works with kids who have autism. She was impressed with my gap year. I think I might go listen to my favorite Reluctant Dragon story (even though that's normally sacredly reserved for the night before Christmas Eve only in the Wong Household...) since it's on my computer and it is ever so entertaining and since the next dragon I'm boarding does seem to be very reluctant indeed. Two more hours of waiting in Newark. 9:32 PM France time, 8:32 PM Edinburgh time, 3:32 PM EST with a flight to depart (I think...) at 5:30.

Now instead of chasing the morning, it'll feel more like chasing the evening...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Edinburgh update!

Sorry about the absence of posts these past few days. I can assure it's not for a lack of stories!

Edinburgh's not quite like any of the other cities I've visited this year. It has a flavor that is all its own, and I've had a grand time exploring it with the lovely Aunt Di as my tour guide. The buildings are all more or less the same color, and the whole city feels centered around this castle that overlooks Edinburgh perched on a volcanic plug. The weather hasn't been half bad - definitely a bit colder than Southern France, but that's to be expected I reckon. 

Standing in line at immigration, I met a chap with a U of M sweatshirt. Not exactly what I was expecting to see, but a nice reminder of home nonetheless. Getting into the country was a bit difficult since I didn't have the address that I'm staying at, but I must say I did appreciate the seriousness of the immigration official who was interrogating me - she wouldn't let me in until she knew that I wouldn't be "sleeping on the gutter tonight." Which meant that she went so far as to call my Aunt and if she was "happy with what your aunt has to say" she would let me into her country. Every single other country that I've been through immigration since January - in Germany, France, Austria, and Belgium - hasn't asked me a single question, or even said a single word to me. Austria didn't even stamp my passport, which I'm still a bit miffed about.

But I made it into the country eventually, and there was Aunt Di, waiting for me with the very same facebook Happy Birthday Kathryn blue and green sign! One of two bags was also there waiting for me, but the other was not there waiting for me. First time to have a cancelled flight, and first time to have lost luggage. Not bad after the year of traveling, I suppose! And then it was into our taxi with the driver on the wrong side of the car and off to Tipperlin Road. 

Since then, again thanks to Aunt Di, I feel like I've traversed more or less every street of this city! Soon I must go get myself ready for church (at a church where Eric Liddell taught/attended, nonetheless!) So enjoy these pictures and wait in breathless anticipation for more stories to come including haggis at a soup kitchen, the Scottish version of boot camp, a trip to the castle, a misadventure to the park, and a Scottish ceilidh with lots of old Scottish men in kilts and real live Scottish music playing.

The castle from the perspective of the famous Greyfriar's church.


So awesome.

They had medieval dress-up clothes at the museum... for adults too!!!! Score!!!!

Watching the cannon go off from the castle at 1:00 PM sharp...though not this cannon with my feet perched on it...

Inside the castle!

Oldest chapel in Edinburgh - 12th century!

Lovely, lovely water!

This cannon can shoot a cannon ball 2 miles.

In the castle dungeon...sooooo spookily awesome.

More castle awesomeness...

And lots of cousin awesomeness too...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stranded Person - A day full of sadness and the unexpected.

Sadness because this happened:

But it was the good kind of sadness. The paradoxical kind of sadness that actually makes you happy, because you're sad for very good reasons. Sadness because you're leaving a place that you have come to love. Sadness because you're leaving people who have made your life richer and more full and more good.

Unexpectedness because I'm not in Scotland after all. I'm still in France.

This morning I woke up before the crack of dawn and made one more pilgrimage up to Conflans. It might have been a lot more satisfyingly sad if I didn't suffer from a good deal of trouble in transport. But since I was still rather sleepy, I managed to get myself into more than one slightly problematic situation such as running into trash cans and falling off of bikes. Once I was back, there was less than an hour left. Mercy and Sarah were bricks and helped me with final cleaning and eating and packing necessities that had to be taken care of, and then I was overjoyed/doubly sad to find that all the McCropders still in Albertville (that is all minus three) woke up to walk me to the train station... I was overflowing deep down inside with thankfulness for those wonderful people who saw me off and waved until I could see them no longer.

Resolving to not cry when saying goodbye to people whom you love very much is a very silly and ineffective thing to do. My resolution was poorly carried out, and it was a teary-eyed, runny-nosed Kathryn who got on the bus this morning. The bus was nearly full, or at least I couldn't see a single free seat through my clouded eyes, and after walking all the way to the back, I finally found a place next to someone, sat down, and continued to cry, much to the fascination of the two little kids sitting in the seats in front of me. I have to admit, I felt unfairly resentful towards these two pudgy little faces for not being McCropder child faces. 

The tears kept on coming until we arrived at the next train station, at which point the girl sitting next to me said in somewhat concerned tones to her crying neighbor, "Ça va?" I had rather forgotten her presence. I caught myself right before the sentence, "Non, ça ne va absolutement pas" came tumbling out of my mouth and after that she engaged me in conversation, henceforth quelling the tears to an extent. 

At Chambery, I was the dead last person to lug my baggage out from the bus, and I was profusely thankful that my train was coming to Voie A. Which meant that I was not compelled to drag my suitcases up and down two flights of staircases. Truly relieving. 

My train's final destination was Gare de Lyon à Paris. I was one sorely tempted little girl when my stop came to pretend I didn't understand the announcements and just sit on the train until the train got to Paris. But I made myself step off à l'aéroport. I was the only person walking from train station to airport, and so I had fun on the succession of moving sidewalks seeing how fast I could run down them with my two suitcases, trying different interesting methods as I pushed and pulled and lugged my two fifty pounders all the way into the airport and to the departure board. 

Found my flight. Instead of a gate number next to my flight, all it said was "Annulé" or "Cancelled". Slightly disconcerting to see that word written next to your flight, but I figured that particular departure board was probably just malfunctioning. But all the other boards I found seemed to indicate the same thing. Odd. I asked the information booth man to point me to the Lufthansa check-in desk. He laughed sympathetically as he gave me instructions. An abnormal reaction to my question, to be sure. I've never heard a French laugh at me quite like that anyway...

At last - the Lufthansa check-in desk! And not a moment too soon, for my arms were aching with the luggageness around me. A long line. Bummer. And then slowly it dawned on me - the long line wasn't moving. And then I put two and two together, talked to a few people, and by the end of our conversations, I was 99% sure that all Lufthansa flights across the continent had been cancelled. It seemed like such a radical statement though, and since this was, after all, explained to me in French there was certainly room for error. I repeated the words in my head two, three, four times... Tous les vols de Lufthansa sont annulés.... That sure did seem pretty stark clear, French or English. A certain thrill went all up and down my spine. I had never had this life experience before, and it felt so terribly drastic. It was a full hour plus some more time on top of that before we inched forward a bit in the line. 

I ate my sandwich.

I ate my orange.

I read my book.

I read my book some more.

I texted my mommy.

I counted floor tiles.

I speculated on the cause of the cancellations.

I chatted with the elderly French gentleman in front of me who was going to Japan to do a "stage" which I thought meant internship, but maybe I was mistaken this whole time on the meaning of the French word "stage" because he seemed to be pretty ancient for doing an internship.

I read my book some more.

I ate my bread.

I looked at France pictures on my computer.

I missed France people.

I figured out the most comfortable way to sit on a suitcase.

And then at last it was my turn to talk to the lady at the desk! And my flight was rebooked...for tomorrow! This presented a slight problem and I did not care to further inconvenience my devoted friends who had already offered to come via car and pick poor stranded me up...I could buy another train ticket back to Albertville, but I had less than 1 euro in my possession, thinking I wouldn't need any euros anymore... until she offered me a hotel room! Voilà. Super. 

And so that hotel room is where I now reside, here on the eve of my 19th birthday. I have a sneaking suspicion that lots of people who are irate about flight cancellations come here, because plastered on the cups, on the desks, on brochures, on the walls, on the elevator doors, on the mirrors are tacky sayings like, "The glass is ALWAYS half full." and "A SMILE could change your day." and "This is your home away from home, so smile, you're in good hands." and "I've seen a lot of faces, but I've never seen a smiling face that wasn't beautiful..." 

Well whatever they might say, this sure don't feel like a home! It's very nice, very painfully clean, it smells like a hotel, the shampoo bottles are colorful, the beds are poofy and warm, all-around very hotel-ish. And hotels always did have an element of excitement for me. Perhaps not so much when they are spontaneously sprung on you in this manner, but on second thought, perhaps also more so when they are spontaneously sprung on you in this manner. After the initial interest of exploring a new place, the novelty wore off pretty quickly, and I just wanted some toddler to go tearing through that deathly quiet lobby with it's pristine floors and shiny table tops.

Later, I would find out that Lufthansa workers went on strike for the day, and that my flight was one of 1755 cancelled today leaving many "stranded persons"... and also creating many "stranded person expenses" for Lufthansa. I do rather feel like an expensive stranded person. First time in my 18 going on 19 years I've ever felt that precisely that way, but stranded is a good way to put it. There's not a whole lot of civilization around the Lyon airport. Just factories and fields is all I've discovered thus far. And so to Scotland tomorrow (je crois...j'espère...) Il faut voir.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring is Here

Je suis ici, au-dessus d'Albertville, dans le jardin de Conflans. Everything is in riotous bloom. Each direction I turn I see beauty made manifold in new life abounding. And it is time to go home.

The River is an angry rush of turbulent waters, snow from the peaks is melting, beginning as a thousand tiny trickles, each trickle meeting the others to create this massive force. And it is time to go home.

The perfumes of spring hang heavily in the air: the thick scent, rich and deep of freshly plowed earth; the fragrance of spring flowers in bloom; the sneeze-inducing, nose-tickling sensation of freshly mowed grass. The whole world is beset by layers of pollen. And it is time to go home.

In the mornings, the birds sing their songs, song after song after song, melodies that usher in this new season.

The mountains that were just a week ago still coated in the solemn gray of winter are now flushed with the yellow-green of baby leaves just now starting to show themselves on the trees up above. Each day, a more vibrant green color deepens on the previously barren mountainsides. Layers of greens begin to form. In between the clumps of trees, what were dry, muddy, brown fields have transformed into pastures of florescent green new grass. The world is alive with the newness of spring, with the goodness of life.

Each morning, I wake up to see a little bit less snow on the peaks. Peaks that have become familiar to me. I know their curves, I recognize each with its splendid majesty. Each has a unique character in my head, personified to the extent that they have become my friends, but my friends are changing. The green is coming, creeping up the mountain walls, the snow is disappearing, melting off the mountain tops...

A year ago, I never would have been able to conceive of the adventures that God has brought me on, the people whom I have been honored to meet, the new beauties in life that have been revealed to me. 

To the missionaries studying at the Centre - you have all become a part of my great cloud of witnesses. Your stories, your faith, your sacrifice and joy in following God's calling have made a deep impression on me.

To Abby & Ally, my two piano students, you girls are amazing. I wish we had started piano lessons together earlier, but I am so glad that we had at least some. You have both blessed me beyond measure.

To the McCropder children - each of you has claimed a part of my heart...

Anna who is my piano student, my little companion, my melodramatic and precocious friend who is 7 going on 17, fearless and (recent) lover of shots, so packed full of personality, you are going great places in life, my friend. I can't wait to watch and see how you grow more and more fully into the beautiful young woman God is making you to be.

Elise: you are the sweetest little girl, brimming with imagination. I love the two wispy little braids that frame a face so precious that it could melt the coldest of hearts in an instant. How I adored all the time I spent with you. I love the way you call me "Mrs. Kathryn", I love to watch you grow and learn more each day. You are such a good big sister to your two little brothers. You are a gem, a princess, full of love and beauty.

Abi: how I love everything about you. How I love your unabated, unmatchable, inconceivable enthusiasm, joy, your attitude of taking life head-on, all the way, non-stopping... with a laugh that I adore to hear and a smile that's to die for. I can't say I've ever met a four year-old, nor do I ever expect to meet one, who can and will consume every type of food this planet has to offer no matter how vegetably-green, how spicy, how unappetizingly basil-flavored it may be. Please don't ever change!

Micah: you are something else. I love the earnestness of your expression, the imagination that flares up in an instant, your way of explaining things, your whole perspective in life that has opened up mine more to childhood wonder. I love your sense of good and evil, your burning and sincere desire to beat those bad guys. I love how quick your smile is to come, and I love how big and full and bright that smile is.

Maggie: I remember quite distinctly one of the very first things you ever said to me. We were outside, it was a Sunday and your first full day back in France after Christmas in the U.S. so you were a bit sleep deprived. Even though you really didn't know me, you held out your arms to me to be held because you wanted to "see da mountains a yittle bit better." After gravely staring at one mountain in particular for a bit, you solemnly announced, "I wish I could yive there, on dat mountain, way way waaaay at the very tippy top in a yittle house wif you." I wish that too, Maggie. Since then, you have never failed to bring a smile to my face and laughter to my heart. I love your perspectives on life, I love how observant you are, how your brain memorizes whole books as easily as a dry sponge under a running sink becomes wet. I love how independent you are, an independence exhibited at my birthday party when you calmly announced at the beginning of each game that you would refrain from playing. And after those games when we were eating our cake, my heart just about melted into a great big puddle when you came up to me and said, "Miss Kafwin! Do you know why I picked a plate wif a heart? It's because I LOVE you SO much!" Let me assure you, the feeling is mutual.

Ben: you are a curly-headed veritable ray of sunshine. I can't help smiling every time I see your face. One of many wonderful memories I have of you is when one day you heard the words "cookies" and "make them" and "eat them" all arranged nicely in the same sentence. You immediately broke out into dance and song, twirling around and around, waving your arms in the most endearing fashion. You have grown and changed so much even since I came here, and even though it makes me sad to know that you will continue to change and grow and I won't get to see it, I feel blessed that I was able to for this short time. Thank you for bringing me so much joy!

Sammy: this kid is full full full of life overflowing. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a child your age who can waddle/run/move quite as fast as you do with those two little legs of yours. It'll be hard to forget the very first time I saw were getting into the cleaning supplies, and after locating the toilet plunger, you found out that your face fit perfectly right into that hole. Ever since then, a whole slew memories have followed of you getting yourself into funny little scrapes, of you screaming/yelling/shouting with impressive gusto down the hallway at whomever cares to listen, of you laughing and laughing and laughing with the laughter penetrating every part of your sweet little face. Thanks for the cuddles on Saturday.

Baby Toby: I can't say I feel very well acquainted with you yet, but I can say that being here in Albertville when you were born was one of the highlights of my time here, and I look forward with great anticipation to see how your little personality unfolds. I've no doubt that it'll be just grand, like your siblings.

To my teacher Anne - vous êtes incroyable!!!! Merci beaucoup pour ta patience, ton travail, et tout les choses que tu fais pour les étudiants. Je suis vraiment reconnaissante pour toi.

To the whole McCropder Team - thank you for welcoming me with open arms to your life in France. I had great respect for you before, and now after actually really spending some time getting to know you, that respect has only increased tenfold. From being with you, I have learned much more about what it means to live in community, about what it looks like to be a missionary, about what it looks like to prepare to be a missionary. About what it concretely means a team of missionaries with a vision. And I've also picked up a number of random medical terms and concepts to boot. I plan to tenaciously follow the remainder of your time here in France and the grand adventures that are yet to come, and it is with great anticipation that I look forward to reading the stories of life in Burundi.

And so after a week long detour in Scotland, it'll be back to life in Michigan. New adventures await - a summer at good old Knox Pres full of awesomeness, trips to Detroit and Nashville, quality time with friends and siblings, and then... another bend in the road.

Goodbye to the dark, echoey, grey-tiled hallways with noisy lights that switch off automatically; goodbye to the terrace with two sturdy chairs and a lot of flimsy ones; goodbye to the France Asia grocery store with the short-grained, sticky rice and kikkoman soy sauce; goodbye to La Mie Caline, representing the plethora of baked goodness that is now closely associated in my head with the culture and country of France; goodbye to the cemetery that overlooks Albertville and that has been a wonderful place to sit and read and contemplate life matters; goodbye to Conflans with your quaint little museum and your beautiful garden and your nooks and crannies filled with imaginative potential and your awesome chateau with a fun climbing wall; goodbye to all the charming little pathways in the mountains that lead to many wonderful places; goodbye skiing with all your harrowing precipices and shaky ski lifts and pristine beauty and breathtaking views; goodbye to the outdoor markets, the smelly cheeses, the grocery stores that have a lot of dairy products, a lot of meat, a lot of sugary cereal, a fine selection of wine, and not much of anything else. Goodbye to my big friends and my little friends. Goodbye Mountains.

Au revoir, Albertville.

Spring is here, and it is time to go home.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beaucoup d'amour

The year 2013 is the first year since 1994 when I will not celebrate my birthday with the comfort and tradition of home. Relative to my life, that is a very long time indeed making this birthday quite the monumental one. Although I will be celebrating the actual date of my birthday in Scotland, the birthday celebrations have nevertheless been underway here in France, and I feel thoroughly loved.

Tuesday night the singles plus the most fantastic Lee and Violette went out for kababs and had mint chocolate chip ice cream cake (Wong family birthday classic) on the terrace afterwards (merci beaucoup à Alyssa. Le gâteau était SUPER!) Mercy gave me earrings (shocking) but they are really quite pretty, and she made them herself, and I must admit I do rather like them. Afterwards, we stayed on the terrace while the sun said goodnight, talking about all sorts of things, and as I sat there I marveled at all these heros of the faith whom God has placed in my life during this chapter. Then Sarah and I fell asleep while watching Despicable Me. Good times and sweet memories.

Interspersed with birthday celebrations have been meals with the families one last time. A dinner with the McLaughlins (I got to hold baby Toby!!!!!!!!) last night, a lunch with the Cropseys today, a potential dinner with the Faders tonight although due to another birthday celebration after school today, I was full beyond belief until past the Fader girls' bedtime. I have come to greatly admire these people over the past few months - and I already did before, viewing them as nothing short of Knox Celebrities. But more on that to come in another post.

The other birthday celebration alluded in the previous paragraph was just grand. Warmed the cockles of my heart. The participants were primarily kids. The McCropder kiddos plus the Kim's plus the two Farver twins whom I've been teaching piano to. There were beautifully crafted cards that are coming back with me to the US of A, posters that made my heart smile (and my face too...), and all sorts of fascinating games. Such as a game in lieu of Pin the Tale on the Donkey that was dubbed Pin the Earring on the Kathryn. Delightful. I am now pierced in all sorts of flattering places. Each of these dear little people with their personalities and smiles and laughs and love will be sorely missed. 

And so now I must turn my attentions once again to packing. My room is currently in absurd upheaval and I am going to endeavor to restore some sense of order and decency before tomorrow comes. Thank you to everyone who helped make me feel so special.

This sign (interpreted below) with pictures of fond memories surrounding it contributed greatly to warming the cockles of my heart:

K id at heart (and everywhere else too)
A miable, adventurous, author, admirable, affection, almost died.
T alented, tender, trespasser, tujours vivant
H appinesss, happy generator, heureuse
R ighteous, rockin', rule breaker
Y acky, youthful
N ot dead yet! Nice, N'tertaining, N-thusiastic, N-ergetic

Happiness abounds.

....piercing time....