Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Friend

Dear friend,

You know who you are. Yes, this post is for you.

Although we live a thousand miles apart, I can hear the gentle cadences of your voice, the way your smile comes through when we talk. How does it work, this digital world we've grown old in, your voice beamed through unimaginable miles of cold space from where you stand to a silver satellite we cannot see between us and into the waiting curve of my ear?

We are not really 62. We are 16, standing outside the classroom door, watching the boys. We are 16, on the front lawn of the school eating lunch with our circle of girl friends, the lunch bags spread out in a patchy brown paper tablecloth in the center between us. We are 16, driving to Taco Bell for lunch. We are 16, sprawled across your crocheted bedspread sharing the things we thought might be true, the things we could tell no one else, the things we trusted to no one else. We dared to think and dream those things together, yes we did. We are 16, walking the beach near my house while the moonstruck waves lap at our feet and the stars tug at us to sail somewhere out over the far dark horizon.

We've seen each other how many times since that June night when all the seniors rode the bus to Disneyland? Not enough. A handful of times, no more. You married young, and so did I. You moved east, I moved south, then farther north. Since we left our parents' homes behind, our paths almost haven't crossed, and when they have the time has been brief, too brief, and yet. And yet. It doesn't matter, does it? There might be an awkward hug, a cliché to begin our talk, and suddenly we've slipped into the old familiar way of being with, of listening to, of trusting one another.

There's a kind of muscle memory to our friendship, a sureness in the moves, a thread of laughter that winds its way south along the Cascades, up and through the Siskiyous, and gently between the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Range through your valley, and then back north again. A thread, a current, a drumbeat, mostly quiet, but sometimes insistent like that time you called last year because you knew, you just somehow knew, that I was sad.

To you, my friend, I hold these outstretched hands, cupped, trying to hold on to what? Cupped hands as useless as a sieve while time slips through, and here we are: hanging on tight to this beautiful blue spinning planet, and all I can say is happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. I'm so glad that our times and places on the planet coincided enough that we are who we are: dear friends. Peace to you, and love.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sign Language

*Another reflection on our trip to Antigua in 2004.

Little things you notice:
            Three different times, as I walked past the church called La Merced, I saw a man cross himself as he passed in the other direction. This was not the same man, mind you, but three different men, and one time, the man I saw was riding a bike as he crossed himself. It was a small motion, private.
            On another evening, the son of our dueña came to visit. He wanted to introduce his nine-year-old daughter to us, and he called her to him with an outstretched hand. If it had been me, I would have cupped my hand upward, ready to catch rain perhaps, or a gift. But he was Guatemalan, so he called her with his hand cupped down as his fingers motioned. His hand was the perfect shape to curve gently over her head.
            Then on the plane ride home, we chanced to sit next to one of our former students. This really happened. Eric had been in my literature class last year, and Mark’s homeroom class his freshman year. Eric should have graduated last month, but somewhere between the lit class and graduation he dropped out, and completed a G.E.D. instead. This plane ride was his first one ever, and he watched the landscape below his window with wide eyes. We chatted, and he told us of a summer visit to his mother, where she is a student at Gallaudet University, the university for deaf people. He was a coda he said, and he must have seen the question in my eyes, because he explained that CODA means “child of a deaf adult.”   He told us about working at Gallaudet, as a counselor at their summer camp for deaf children and codas, the challenges and the rewards he experienced. “You just fall in love with the kids,” he said, and his eyes glowed.
Now this is where your heart breaks, because this kid didn’t do well in high school, but he’s obviously bright and eager, and you wonder where the system let him down. Here he is, bilingual in ASL and English, loving working with kids, and yet he doesn’t know what he wants to do in the future. I didn’t know any of this when he was in my classroom last year; I only knew of his interest in skateboarding. I enter my classroom with the intention of being an insightful, caring, helpful adult in the lives of my students. How could I have missed so much?  Eric tells us a funny story about checking in at the airline counter in Baltimore. He had been waiting in line with his mother and her boyfriend, conversing in sign with them both. When it was his turn at the ticket counter, the agent had called in a sign interpreter to help, not realizing that Eric could also hear and speak. He chuckles again over the humor of the moment, and the flight attendant stops by to offer us soft drinks. As Eric accepts his cup, he thanks her, and out of the corner of my eye I notice his hand flick away from his chest, thumb extended, saying thank you twice.

A few small signs, caught with peripheral vision. Who can count the signs I miss every day?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Antigua Mornings

*My friend Liz Jorgensen is currently studying Spanish in Guatemala. Her posts and pictures trigger so many memories of the study trip that Mark and I took in 2004. Here's what I remember about the mornings.

            Sometimes the roosters begin first, sometimes it’s the empty trucks rattling over the cobblestones, but morning comes early in Antigua.  At 4:00 a.m. it’s still pitch-black when the roosters begin.  One fellow sings pretty well, but the rest of the chorus must be teenagers:  cocka-dooka-rawka-rawka.  Sound carries well up to our third-floor room, perched on the roof of the house where my husband and I are home-stay guests for three weeks.   We are intimate with the roosters, and their neighbors the geese.  Year-round, the temperature is in the 70s, and the windows are always open.
            We hear street noise equally well, and we deduce that at 4:00 a.m. the trucks are empty.  Their empty trailers bang down the cobblestone streets with the sound of someone throwing trash cans around.  One morning the sound is even louder, and the next morning, louder still.  One of the stones in the street has come loose, and the hole grows deeper with each passing bus.  Antigua buses!  This is not Tri-met.  Guatemalans import broken-down U.S. school buses, paint them in bright and wonderful colors, and drive them for thousands of miles after their northern rejection.  We live on a street which has been designated a truck-and-bus route.  Before we arrived in Antigua, I imagined that the cobblestone streets, the calles empedradas, would be quaint and tidy affairs like the cobblestone drives I had seen in picturesque settings in the U.S.  The cobblestones I had known were uniform rectangles marching in neat rows.  Antigua cobblestones are stones of all shapes, placed in holes in the street, and occasionally held in place by cement.  When the cement wears away, there is only dust, and then the stone rolls itself out of the hole.  Bang-a-bang-a-bang! Another truck on its way to a load.
            With a sigh, my husband rolls over in his small bed on the other side of our small room—this furniture is not designed for romance—but before he settles into sleep again, he reaches for the bottle of nasal spray to combat his allergic reactions to the constant dust.

            If we are lucky, we will sleep until 6:00, when the church bells will begin their insistent call to mass.  One time we asked a shop owner what the Spanish word is for the noise of the bells.  He looked at us quizzically.  “Ding dong,” he said, leaving us unsatisfied, for these bells are much noisier than a simple “ding-dong.”  “Bong-a-bong-a-dong-a-bang-a-clang” is more like it.  Nearly every morning before the church bells we hear a string of firecrackers, signal that someone in a neighboring family is celebrating their birthday today.  The geese chime in, roosters make a chorus, the bells sing out, and it is a new day in Antigua.