no words

Today is my brother's birthday. Or...am I supposed to say, today was my brother's birthday? Matt told me he likes the first statement better. "You'll always have a brother," he said.

His statement--that I will always have a brother--is true. I am clinging to that truth. But the fact remains that this birthday is different than Brock's other birthdays. It's unlikely that I would have seen Brock today, given the fact he lived in Albuquerque and I in Waco. But I would have called him today, chatted for a bit, told him I love him.

But you see, the last time I called him, just under a month ago, he didn't answer. I left him a voicemail, then went to bed, waking up in the dark a few hours later to receive the worst phone call I hope to ever receive.

I guess you can't know how you will react in situations like these until--God forbid--they happen to you. My reaction was, more than anything, wordlessness.

In the week that followed, I tried to write my brother's eulogy. I am the one who is gifted with words; I felt like it was the least I could do to help in a situation where help was both futile and very much needed. But I just couldn't. How could I--how could anyone--sum up a life? There are no words for that. Or if there are, I certainly didn't have them.

I did manage to write the following little paragraph, which my dad included at the end of the eulogy (that he wrote):

Brock's death is and will remain a shock and a mystery. We are tempted to
dwell on the "whys" and the "what ifs," but instead let us dwell on the man we
knew Brock to be: a fun-loving friend with an easy smile, a gentle husband, a
compassionate brother who was quick to give hugs, a faithful father who worked
hard to support his family, and a kind man who often said "I love you."

Today is and always will be my brother's birthday. But I can't call him. Since I can't call Brock today, I will think about him and the other birthdays. Instead of dwelling on "why?" I will continue to ponder the eternal question of life and death, namely, "Bad things happen. How then shall we live?"

How? With more love.

I know that sounds trite and overly simplistic; nevertheless, that is my conclusion. Our only right response in the face of tragedy is to love. But believe me, I don't think it's simple. Nor do I think it's easy--there's a reason I haven't written about this till now. Rather, it's the only way I am able to make sense of something so senseless.

Let's love when things are good and when things are bad. Let's make time in our busy lives to reach out to love. Let's encourage one another's hopes and dreams--crazy as they may seem. Let's love when it's hard and when it doesn't seem to be helping. Let's keep loving people who keep rejecting our love. Let's lean on each other and love enough not only to help our friends, but love enough to ask for help when we need it. Let's love when we are tired, when we don't feel like it, when we really don't care, when it hurts.

Most importantly, let's realize that we can never love enough, but let's keep trying anyways.

If we were perfectionists and waited until we loved perfectly the world would be a much worse place. As it is, terrible things happen because we lack love; but beautiful things--big and small--happen every day when imperfect humans reach out in acts of imperfect love.

So let's love. Imperfectly. Risking failure--and equally risking success. Let's love even when it doesn't seem fair, when we don't understand--when we have no words.


Blog-in-One: All those entries I didn't write.

So. It's been awhile, huh? That whole blogging-about-ordinary-life thing really went well for me, right? I guess I forgot about the insane busyness of ordinary life. The kind of busyness where you aren't entirely sure what is making you so busy; all you know is that you feel like you are at a constant sprint because the finish line is always in sight, but somehow you never cross it. And next thing you know, you are getting up again--far too early, I might add--to do it all again...

I would have said that, even amidst all the busyness, not much has happened since my last blog entry. Just a lot of work. A lot of biking, a moderate amount of swimming, a bit of running... Definitely nothing big or life-changing. But when I sat down and thought about it the other day, I realized that some things have happened. Fairly significant things, surely at least blog-worthy. Life changing? Well... who knows.

I think that at this stage of my life (my whole 24 years, I know) I have realized the futility of trying to attempt to predict the events that may or may not be life-changing. Any event is, in fact, a part of life, and thus has the potential to make an impact. And I'm starting to think that the course of one's life is usually directed, not in a few huge, Emmaus-Road-type moments, but in a whole bunch of small, subtle, seemingly insignificant decisions and seemingly random occurances. Who knows.

Anyways, back to the point: what's been going on since the last time I wrote? Well, enough that the events would have made quite a few nice, short, manageable little blog entries. But since I don't want to overwhelm you too much with all the humble events of my last few months, I'm going to revert to good ol' list format. And I'll try to be brief--with the knowledge of how my attempts at brevity usually go...

Bearathon: My first half marathon. I mostly signed up for this to ensure that I would start running again. Since running is part of triathlon. But I wasn't sure how I would feel about this race--or about such a looong race. Well, it was shockingly fun! I couldn't walk normally for a week after--meh, small details.

Austin to Shiner: My first century (100-mile) bike ride. Another attempt at triathlon training. Thought I should get some base training on the bike since I am completely new at it. So, why not do a century? And how to choose which century? Well...which one has the best after party? The one that ends at the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, TX, obviously.

Re-enchanted: My family's spur-of-the moment trip to New Mexico. This obviously could have been its own post. The mere fact that I'm an aunt again could have been its own post. Anyways, Mom, Dad, and I took a very short road trip to NM to see my brother and his (now bigger) family. It was really nice to spend time with them. Mom and I also got to ride our bikes for a few miles of my friend's cross country biking trip! Pictures, here:

Bisiklet Shiprock (for Haiti)

Lifeguards don't just sit in charis: My first (two) saves. I know you all thought that my main job description as a lifeguard is to model my super-duper-stylish fanny pack. But there is so much more to my job. Namely, saving lives...

Who needs a wet suit? My first triathlon. In early May, Mom and I did a sprint triathlon north of Dallas. The water was cold and we were among the few participants that didn't have wet suits. But we survived. Moreover, I have become another statistic: I am addicted. (Note: since the time I started this post a month ago, I have done my second tri. Yesterday, in fact. Olympic distance this time--it's a whole different animal.... Yep, still addicted, though.)

Old friends, new town: My first trip to Seattle. I decided way back in January that if I was going to stay in Waco all spring, I deserved a vacation. My friends Christina and Jeff decided to get married, partly with the intention of giving me a great excuse to go to the Northwest--somewhere I have always wanted to spend time, but hadn't gotten to experience yet. It was fun to see some friends who I hadn't seen in years (literally) and to run (literally) all around Seattle. I also got to see Ali and do the things we used to do in Viet Nam (talk, drink tea, talk, eat, talk, etc.) but not in Viet Nam. Not that I was really worried, but it was nice to know that we like each other as much in the USA. :)

And there are, of course, the less tangible things that have happened. The ones that don't fit into nice lists. Like feelings and relationships and frustration and growth and learning about life and silly (and serious) conversations with my parents. The things that are always there, no matter what is "happening." Maybe I'll try to be better about this blogging thing, because more frequent blogging allows better for inclusion of those intangibles. And isn't it the intangibles that are really the point?

I mean, don't hold your breath. We all know how it went the last time I said I would be better about blogging. But...Hey, I've missed you guys. :)


decisions and commitment

Those of you who know me may have laughed upon reading the title of this post. Or said, "Oh no. Not Calah and decisions again. She really needs to learn that they just aren't for her."

Or maybe you just thought, "Wow. Calah finally wrote on her blog again! It's been a long time. She must have something interesting or exciting to say again."

Well. All of the above responses are probably valid. Although the latter person might be disappointed, so I'll just clear that up right now: I'm not in a foreign country working in a cholera clinic or chopping my fingers off trying to cut mangos in front of my host family. Actually, many would probably find my current activities the opposite of interesting and exciting. However, I am of the mindset that even the most ordinary of lives can be interesting and exciting; or, to modify that statement, that we can derive interesting and exciting tidbits from the most ordinary lives. Thus, I have decided to write again.

So, why did I stop writing? Well, it might sound weird considering that much as the last few years of my life has been more transitionary than stable, but I must admit that I don't always deal with transitions that well.

So when I got back to Texas from Haiti and my post-Christmas festivities, I must admit, life did not feel particularly interesting or exciting, although in this case the lack of excitement was actually a welcome relief--I was beyond ready for a break.

However, along with all that lovely down time came the realization that I had no idea what I was going to do next. Decision-making--more commonly known as my worst nightmare--came to haunt me. In fact, I actually did have nightmares, as I feel entitled to classify dreams such as the one where worms came out of my nose, or where I had to cast my ballot in an election with a Hitler-esque dictator literally breathing down my neck. Or, worst of all, the one where I was getting married.

In other words, there was nothing particularly wrong with me, other than that I was an emotional wreck. And as I thought about my decisions even when I should have been sleeping, I didn't particularly feel like spending time writing about them too.

Anyways, to make a long and not THAT complicated decision (made VERY complicated by me) short: I have decided to stay in Waco for now. How long is now? We'll see. Enough time to get back on my feet and figure out what's next. In other words, NOT forever.

Part of this decision was based on the fact that I haven't been in one place for more than 2 months in the last 6. Another is that, though I don't plan to settle in Waco long-term, my parents seem to be here to stay for a while. So part of my time here is an attempt to get past my dislike of Waco and maybe not love it, but at least grow to like it. I want it to be a place I am happy to come back to, whether to stay for awhile after another adventure, or just to visit my parents for a weekend.

So this is where the commitment comes in. As I decide what to do next, I am often torn between the desire to settle into a community I can really invest in and revulsion at the idea of "settling down" when I am so young! In the case of Waco, it is hard to really invest in a place where I don't plan to be long-term. But, I am trying. One of my former professors said it this way, and I like it:

"I think you are too young yet to be settling into a community forever. But that's not to say that you won't invest wherever you are for as long as you are. I think that's what we're called to do. Live fully in the moment, giving ourselves away to other people."

As far as living fully in THIS moment is concerned, I am feeling better about myself (and having less nightmares) now that I am a bit busier. The main things I am staying busy with (and that you might hear about if you continue to read my blog) are the following: my new job life guarding at the YMCA and training for a triathlon. And of course, someday you might hear about what I will have decided to do next...


hope for a new year

No one can deny that the people of Haiti have had--only barely metaphorically--one hell of a year.

On this day a year ago, the country's capital and surrounding areas experienced a shaky start to the new year with an earthquake that many Haitians heralded as an apocalyptic warning. The country could hardly be said to have gotten back on its feet when, in October, the country was hit with a cholera epidemic for which it was not at all prepared and which spread rapidly to all areas of the country. In the midst of this unprecedented illness, Haiti's citizens prepared for and participated in a highly disputed and unpredictable presidential election, the results of which led to riots and roadblocks in its major cities.

On my recent trip to Haiti, I experienced, in some way at least, the repercussions of each of these major events: I saw the sprawling tent cities which, in many cases, are becoming more permanent rather than being dismantled; I worked in a cholera clinic; and I saw the lines of election posters, heard the pre-election rumors, and experienced the frustration of people stuck in the post-election roadblocks.

Throughout my journey, I experienced a gamut of emotions that I know was only a drop in the bucket compared to the emotional roller coaster that the Haitian people rode this year. But the feeling that emerged on top, somehow, was admiration.

I spent time with many Haitians of different classes and witnessed in all of them attitudes better than the ones I have on my bad days--days which, even if strung together at their worst would create a year that could not begin to compete with the year the Haitian people just experienced.

For many Haitians, their good attitude is based on hope: hope that the earthquake's destruction could be an opportunity to build a better infrastructure; hope that cholera could spur someone to promote better sanitation methods and education; hope that this election could bring about a change. Along with all these hopes, the Haitian people cling to a traditional hope--a hope in the proverbial new morning, a hope that this year will be better than the last.


calebasse: a conclusion

As anyone who has been reading this blog from the time we left for Haiti knows, our trip did not turn out exactly as we had expected. But just because the trip was not as we thought it would be does not mean it was bad; in contrast, it was better than I could have ever planned it myself!

Before we got the surprise call to Ebenezer Clinic, I was writing a lot about Mom's calebasse project. Needless to say, the cholera epidemic put our calebasse plans on hold for three weeks, but when we got back to Port, we jumped right back into the project. And just like the rest of our trip, this project turned out differently than we expected, but was still successful, as far as I can tell.

Originally, Mom thought the main part of the project would entail giving classes at a local art gallery. She hoped that she would also be able to spend a little time at her friend Caroline's school. Well, classes at the art gallery fell through, but this just meant that our focus shifted to the school. Considering that we had less time than originally planned (due to the three weeks we spent in Limbe) it was actually a blessing that we could narrow our focus.

So, as I wrote in a previous post, I spent one day teaching kindergarten kids to make calebasse ornaments. After I came home and showed Mom the pictures of the kids and their ornaments, she was rearing to head to the school the next day to work with the older students.

On our second day at the school, we met the art teacher, Hans Francois. He is an accomplished multi-media artist who has even done a little work with calebasse. Furthermore, he has previously been involved in organizing community art clubs and would like to start an art club for interested students at the school.

Before we went to Haiti, Mom had collected tools and supplies for calebasse art
that she had intended to donate to the art gallery after she taught the artists there how to use the tools. Since that was no longer an option, Mom was happy to find an excellent alternative: she left the remaining calebasse and all the supplies with Hans Francois. He plans to apprentice a few interested older students, teaching them new methods and how to use the electric tools.

This is only one example of the interest Mom raised with her calebasse project. The family we
were staying with--who had no interest in calebasse art before Mom introduced it--grew increasingly interested as they witnessed her process of collecting and drying calebasse.

After seeing her students experiment with calebasse art and hearing the art teacher's plan to start a school art club, Caroline invited Mom back to participate in the club. She also suggested that Mom plan a visit to Haiti that would put her in Port-au-Prince for the annual fall art show at the Petionville Sugarcane Museum. Attending this show would give Mom an opportunity to rub shoulders with many Haitian artists and to spread awareness about the possibilities of calebasse art.

But even the Haitians who were most interested in calebasse art were highly realistic--I guess this is where Haitians get their reputation as masters of micro-enterprise. Thus, throughout our trip, Mom found herself continually challenged by the following, very fair question: "Where is the global market for calebasse/gourd art?"

I once heard that the goal of the best teachers is to leave their students asking more questions
at the end of a lesson than they had at the beginning. If this is true, Mom's calebasse project has been a successful lesson--it has left her with some research to do.

So before Mom makes any more plans to spread the possibilities of calebasse art throughout
Haiti, she is interested in looking into exactly what its possibilities might be--not only from an artistic standpoint, but also from a marketing standpoint. As she brainstorms the answer to the Haitians' question, Mom is open to collaboration. If you have any ideas about this subject, she would love to hear them!


haiti conclusions to come...

For those of you who don't know, I'll put your minds at ease; The abrupt lapse in my posting was not due to any major problem--whether political, health-related, or airline-induced--with our Haiti trip. In fact, Mom and I made it safely home ahead of schedule and--other than the shock from the sudden climate change--unscathed.

Rather, my lapse in blogging was due to the typical busyness of the holiday season, which for me included participation in my cousin's beautiful wedding on New Year's Day. So I apologize for the rather ungraceful halt to my Haiti articles. But on the other hand, I suppose that most of you were just as busy as me over the past couple of weeks and wouldn't have had much time for reading anyways. So, if you are still interested, I have a few more stories about and reflections on my trip to Haiti that I would love to share (and my mom has some input, too!)--even though I am not there any more.

So stay tuned for some conclusions about our trip--I'll try not to leave you hanging this time!