Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Day of green

I took a vacation day to get out of town and soak in some green. Most of the immigrants got off the bus at the Mytown stop. An assorted crew of elderly Spaniards remained, talking like they all knew each other. Maybe they did. Then there was me, who probably left them wondering if I had missed my stop.

The weather was gorgeous, but I forgot how long the hike was from the bus stop. I also forgot just how intense the Spanish sun can be when you’re hiking uphill. I was sweaty when I finally parked myself under a tree to revive myself with L.M. Montgomery and roasted almonds.

The park was quiet, only the occasional picnickers and the North African couples who came to do their illicit smooching (who I tried to avoid until I decided that they should be avoiding me).

Winding down the mountain on the bus ride home, I was staring out the window at the departing green when I realized that the bus radio was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” The refrain (however monotonous) was a fitting closure to a morning that had sent me back to my country girl roots.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s just another day here in Spain. It’s strange celebrating holidays that aren’t celebrated in our country of residence. The world around us zips by at its normal pace while we baste a turkey or set off fireworks and grill burgers. Once, I even celebrated Christmas in North Africa. That was the strangest of all.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so even though my team lives in Spain, we plan to celebrate. My roommate is basting the turkey as I write. The green beans and sweet potatoes are ready to cook. The pies are done. The table set.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I have an appointment at the other end of town this morning, so I won’t be around for the last minute rush before guests arrive. I’ve been delegated to pick up the rest of the wassail ingredients and new light bulbs on my way home.

But before I leave, I decided to write a few things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. A safe return to Spain last weekend
  2. Family and friends who make leaving so hard
  3. A suitcase that arrived after all
  4. Stage 1 visa paperwork handed in
  5. A smoky turkey aroma filling the apartment
  6. That despite the craziness of our world, God is in control
  7. A fluffy blond niece who asked me yesterday, “What color is your imagination?”
  8. A thrill when I think about the future and the God who holds it
  9. Freedom to get out and about even while under covid restrictions
  10. The mountains and the sea in the same view– How I missed you!

By no means is that an exhaustive list. But I wanted to give you time to write your own list. What are you thankful for?

Happy fall

Crisp fall air. Charcoal smoldering in a grill. A porch swing caught in a breeze, beckoning. Drying corn along quiet country roads. Baby giggles. Sun-scented laundry. Family wedding plans. Fresh clothes on happy babies. The steam of a busy iron. Ice cream rivers on shirt fronts. Late night talks. New honey. A church building smelling of Pinesol. Uncontrolled laughter. Spontaneous neighbor visits. Children’s books over and over.

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to be present in too many places to really be present anywhere at all. Ever feel that way? My blog updates probably will be scatter-brained over the next couple of months, but I’ll try to check in anyway. 🙂 Have a wonderful autumn in the meantime. 

Summer nights

It was a special night, not because of what happened but because it was. After a day of suffering inside a hot house like the rest of the town’s population, Friend #1 invited me for an afternoon coffee. When the 8:00 bus didn’t come, I started walking.

Meanwhile, Friend #2 spotted me along the boulevard and made her husband stop the car so she could dash across the crosswalk for an overdue chat.

Friend #1 opted to meet me in the park, laden with bghrir and harcha just because they’re my favorites. While we waited for other friends to join us, she complained that she had too many friends. Indeed, it took a good part of the evening just to meet up with everyone.

They talked. I mostly let the conversation swirl around me as I enjoyed the night coolness.

Then Friend #1 quietly told Friend #3 something about me. I tuned in at the sound of my name. “What did I do?”

She laughed. “I should give you another name, so you won’t know when we’re talking about you!”

“Shame on you. Don’t say that!” said Friend #3.

“I can say that to her because we’re friends.”

Although it was after 11, I stopped by the North African grocer on my way home. The clerk barely looked up from the phone teetered against the licorice containers on the high counter.

“It’s Barcelona,” he explained when I finally caught his eye. “Are you بارصاوية?” (Barsawia, or a way to ask “Are you a Barcelona soccer fan?”)

“No. Not at all. I am me.” But I smiled as I set my avocado and hot pepper on his produce scale. At the next break, he grabbed the cilantro from the fridge and gave me my total bill. But he forgot to give me the change.

As I finished the walk home in the dark, I heard someone’s shade rattle. Up or down I couldn’t tell. Mine always goes up at night to usher the fresh air inside. The neighbor’s cats crouched to flee before me, but didn’t. Their alert tails pressed the tile sidewalk.

These are the nights I’ll miss. Last summer was full of them. But this summer–tomorrow–I’m leaving for the States. My summer will be a different kind of full, but I know there will be special days–the kind that are not special because of what happened but special because they happened.


Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

An Illinois New Year

I could rave about my wonderful time in the States. I could post oodles of pictures that prove I have the cutest nieces and nephews in the world. (And I do, by the way. Don’t try to argue.)

It was wonderful: a belated Christmas celebration, lots of food, church and friend fellowship, a helicopter ride, little people love, morning talks at the breakfast table, evening talks snuggled in fat couches, warmth, dryers, carpet, etc.

But the truth is, it’s also good to be back in Spain. It has taken a full week of not-so-good days to be able to say that. 

I watched my friend frying donuts by the dying daylight. The banished cat made a puff of white against the patio door with each complaint. We ignored him. The air was heavy with the spitting oil when my friend asked about my trip to America. 

“Wonderful” didn’t suffice. Both the warm fuzzies and tears were part of the wonderfulness.

So I told her and she listened.

In that sacred moment, my two worlds married, reminding me that who I am in America is who I am in Spain too. 

Birth certificates and cookie crumbs

It took 45 minutes to walk to town hall. Naima had told me she would meet me there. She was so slow in coming that I almost gave up. But it was a pleasant morning. There was shade and a nice breeze.

Suddenly she appeared, three children in tow. Only Curly Top, the littlest, was her own; the older two belonged to a neighbor. The younger neighbor girl gave me a grin so big that it took up the bottom half of her face.

Naima had tried to call me to change the meeting place, but I hadn’t answered, she said. We left it at that and walked together to a little building on the end of town.

“What do you need here?” I was the designated interpreter. But that could only happen if I understood what I was supposed to interpret. Naima tried to type the unknown Arabic word into my translator, but didn’t know how to spell it.

We entered the building, just large enough for a few offices that didn’t look strikingly official.  A sign said to ask for a number, so I snagged a wandering employee. “A number please?” By the time he found a number and brought it to me, it was my turn.

But I still didn’t know what Naima needed.

I sat across from a gruff man at a desk. “What do you need?” His voice matched his expression.

“I don’t know.” I handed him my friend’s family book and he paged through it.

“What do you need?” he asked again.

“My friend needs two of something for her daughter, but I don’t know the word in Arabic, so I don’t know what to say in Spanish. She is trying to call her husband now.”

The gruff features twisted. “A birth certificate?”

“Is that what you have here?”

“Yes, and that’s all we have for her daughter.”

So while he printed the documents, he asked if I was evangelical and then launched into a one-sided discussion about Mormons. Mormons?

BANG! went the rubber stamp. BANG! BANG! BANG! He signed the documents with such scribbled flourish that it may have looked more natural had he been using a crayon on a coloring page.

“Where are you from?”

“The United States.”

“Trump. A lot of people angry that he doesn’t like immigrants.”

I sighed. Yes, but didn’t every country have its problems and weren’t there any problems in Spain?

Another one-sided discussion ensued that gave me a vague sensation of having made my point. He walked me to the door, still talking, and watched our little gang leave the odd little office.

Naima invited me up to her flat where I tried to translate a medical questionnaire that dizzied my brain. Naima sat on the arm of the couch and swatted away the little girls when they reached for the papers in my lap.

“Is it normal for your child to have high fevers?”

“No. She only has fevers when she’s teething. Have lunch with us.” Naima got up to start lunch preparations.

I couldn’t, but thank you. Another time, Lord willing.

“In my culture, when a guest comes to my house it’s shameful not to give them any food.” Naima packed up a container of olives she had brought back from her country.

I joined her in the kitchen area and watched her carefully wrap the container of olives in a plastic bag.

Curly Top was walking around the floor on her knees, sprinkling bread and cookie crumbs wherever she went, like a miniature Hansel and Gretel. Big Smile was claiming ownership of everything that wasn’t hers—my bag, Curly Top’s toys, a plate of cookies. I watched as she carefully stuck her foot into a pair of Curly Top’s pants, only about 3 years too small.

Naima took me to the elevator, leaving the flat door wide open and crumby children sprinkled along the hallway. I hit “0” and the elevator door closed.

When a day starts, I never know what to expect. But I kinda like that.

Permanence

Barf bag? Check. Peppermint oil? Check. Ginger? Check. I wasn’t going to jeopardize the rest of the trip by getting sick on the first of my three flights.

Now for the distraction. I plugged in earbuds and cranked up Handel’s Messiah.

The plane taxied. The engines roared. And we were up, up, and away. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” boomed the bass soloist.

Forty-five minutes later, the wheels touched the runway. “Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God in the hiiiiiigh-eeeest!” the choir shrieked.

Amen. Flight #1 was done. But flight #2 was the doozy: Chicago to Madrid. I glazed over after hours of my seatmate’s flickering screen through my closed eyelids. When flight #3 came around, I couldn’t keep my eyes open during the safety demonstration but drifted to sleep on my seatmate’s arm.

Traveling to my new home took less than 24 hours, but it’s going to take me longer than that to adjust. As I walk the familiar streets, I’m continually surprised when I realize that I’m a Spanish resident, not just a visitor.

For years, I have been longing for a sense of permanence. Now I have it and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Not yet.

But Someone in my life understands permanence better than I do. In fact, He has never changed. And He is the best part of the permanence in my life right now. “The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deut. 33:27a)

Proud to be an American?- Part 3

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 and Part 2. Continuing the discussion of stereotypes other cultures have of Americans, and why I’m still glad to be one…

Freedom of speech.
Some people may abuse this, but I for one, and glad we have it. It’s wearing to be conscious of everything you write in light of a government’s definition of acceptable and unacceptable.

Our government.
Despite political corruption, it is important to realize that we still have a relatively uncorrupted government compared to much of the world.

A diverse country… in more than just scenery.
I love being in the city where I see a variety of people groups. I love trying out ethnic restaurants. I love those moments when, as a white American in American, I feel like a minority. Rather than feel threatened to be outnumbered, I am honored to be a part of America’s diversity.

Access to [almost] everything.
Sometimes it means you have to pay dearly, but it’s almost always there. Exotic Asian fruit. Aromatic African spices…

English
Do you realize that learning English as your mother tongue means that you’ve already learned one of the most useful languages in the world?

These, of course, are not exhaustive lists. What are some stereotypes you have or have heard of Americans? What are some positive aspects to being an American?


Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash