Hindsight is not 20/20

Hindsight is not 20/20. At least mine isn’t, especially my hindsight of past conversations. My hindsight compiles a list of things I should have said and didn’t or shouldn’t have said and did.

“I should have invited her up for tea when she asked if this was my street.”

“I should have complimented her on how nice she looked; I noticed she made an effort.”

“I shouldn’t have made that comment about Islam.”

That’s what I focus on. How I should have made better use of the conversation. As I turn with a finger poised to shake at the past me, my hindsight narrows to tunnel vision. 

Because, more often than not, I’m forgetting the other factors involved. 

It could be that I already had plans with a neighbor and only when the other plans were canceled did I remember the interaction on the street.

It could be that our interaction at the noisy gathering was so brief that I only had time to ask her about the exams she had been studying for when I last saw her.

It could be that after my friends spent twenty minutes complaining about Muslim men, they ganged up on me to marry me off. And I made that split second decision to speak directly rather than lose the moment in the rush of conversation by taking the time to formulate an indirect response.

I want to learn from my mistakes. However, when I get analytical about what was said or not said, I need to pause long enough to remember the other factors involved: the distractions, the mind noise, the body language of the other person, etc. 

Then slowly, a shameful, paralyzing memory is seasoned with grace. Only then can I step forward because remembering truthfully is the best way to learn from mistakes.


Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

Memories, tears, and such

A great man passed away today. It shouldn’t have stunned me; we saw it far off. Yet, facing the world and knowing that he’s not here facing it with us…

I have so many memories tucked away, memories I pull up regularly. Words I use because he used them first. Foods I love because he introduced them to me. 

No one who knew him can pretend they’re not mourning. He created community wherever he went. He gave and gave, not piles of dust-collecting trinkets, but himself. He was hospitality both at home and away from home.

And he’s gone.

I only had an hour before I left to visit a friend and her family. After five months of being apart, she and I had a lot of catching up to do. I even met the family’s feisty Siamese kitten. 

The daughters were trying to get their 20,000 words in for the day and I learned all sorts of things. Oldest daughter said her classmates bought bags of suckers and sawed off the sticks. They could eat them behind their masks during class. “What happens if the teacher asks a question?” I asked. Younger daughter was feasting on my fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies when she announced that she didn’t really like chocolate. In fact, she preferred peas. Next time should I bring cookies with peas in them? She giggled.

The girls begged me to resume English class with them because of their “fatal” English grades this year.

We looked at pictures of my sister’s wedding. “And you? Did you find a husband in your country?” My friend leaned in close, wanting every juicy detail. But just then, her daughters noticed the Christmas tree of lights along the boulevard and called us to the patio door to see.

Slowly I walked home, winding my way up the flights of apartment stairs, smelling the aromas of the various apartments until I entered our quiet space that still smelled like biryani–the lunch I had made shortly before I heard the news and the food that will forever remind me of him. Unmopped floors and overflowing trash cans demanded attention, but I sat down with another round of tears. 

Just this week, someone told me that when we reach eternity, we will look back at the gulf between missing a loved one and joining them. That gulf will be a tiny blip, inconsequential. I agree, but today feels bigger than that blip already.

Oh, God. What were You thinking?

It’s not a fair question, I know. But that’s where I am today: grateful God is big enough to listen to unfair questions.


Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

The lightning bug prayer

One of the childhood memories I treasure the most is the summer evening I found an injured lightning bug. Its wings were bent and useless. 

Heartbroken by this poor creature’s dilemma, I carried it to where Mom was working in the flowerbed behind the garage. I cried as I showed her the bent bug. 

Instead of some glib remark about it being “just a bug,” she stopped her work and examined the lightning bug with me. She has always had a tender heart for the suffering, and she probably glimpsed herself in her daughter’s tears.

There, still kneeling beside the flowerbed, Mom prayed with me for that poor little lightning bug. She prayed because she knew God cared. That’s why I still remember.


Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash

Lose your life for my sake: Remembering Grandpa

What does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake?

I was sitting on a park bench, feeling the warm sun just under the gentle breeze of a perfect day.

Florence, Italy. My sister, my friend, and I had been planning this trip for months. Flights, buses, trains, shuttles, airbnbs, tourist sites.

But there in the park, I was thinking about losing life. Because while we were still in Madrid, Grandpa had passed from this world to the next.

“Dad, should we cancel our trip?” I would not have been able to travel back for the funeral anyway, but being on a belated 30th birthday trip while my family mourned…

“Absolutely do not cancel your trip!”

So here I sat in Florence, pondering Matthew 10 on the day of Grandpa’s visitation. Have I found life by losing it? This familiar passage wasn’t making sense anymore.

The late cappuccino (we had defied the culture by sipping our cappuccino after 11 a.m.) was still taking effect. Just over the mesh-lined fence, tennis players swung rackets at a yellow ball. I could barely see them, but I heard them. Grunt. Thwack. Grunt. Thwack. “Out!”

Am I worthy of Christ? Do I love Him more than family? Have I taken up my cross?

In Italy—in a world so different from the one I grew up in—it was hard to understand that Grandpa was gone. But I let my mind drift through memories.

Hours and hours of reading “Burn-stin Bear” books and “Dead-Eye Dick.” Patiently teaching us grandchildren (his “coochtie boochties”) to play 42. “Honda” rides. Issuing drivers’ licenses for the golf cart. Constantly wanting to tape record his little grandchildren singing songs. Sketching maps that directed us past where this or that “used to be” as if we had been born in his generation. Chanting “Cumbine coorn and cumbine be-eans,” as we pulled ourselves up to sit with him in the combine. Giving us “bubble gums” from the door pocket of his F-150, the one that had the automatic window buttons in little blue and red bubbles that I would run my fingers over while I waited for my gum.

Letting Grandpa serve you something from the shop was always exciting because it was fascinating to watch him prepare something from his stash of snacks. (Did you know you can make hot chocolate from microwaving chocolate milk? Or a “roastin’ ear” by microwaving an ear of sweet corn wrapped in a wet paper towel?) Sunday night at Grandpa and Grandma’s typically included helping Grandpa get the ice cream out of the “shed” and hiding a pickle or an olive under the heaping scoops in Dad’s ice cream bowl.

And then Grandpa began to get older and frail. Some of his stories came out confused. His tall body began to shrink. His blue eyes got watery. But those watery eyes always brightened when he talked about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When I told him goodbye last summer, I wondered if he would remember that I was going back to Spain.

Grandpa had dozed off while Grandma and I were chatting. “Touch his shoulder,” Grandma said.

I touched his shoulder and his blue eyes opened. Instead of watery, his eyes were clear as they stared up at me wordlessly.

“I’m going to go Grandpa. And I wanted to tell you goodbye.”

The clear, blue eyes continued to stare for several long moments. Had he heard me?

And then, “Kiss on the cheek!” So he remembered that my goodbye was longer than a “see you later.” I leaned over to hug him, kiss his cheek, and let him kiss mine.

My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you here again, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

He smiled. I cried. He was silent as I hugged him again.

That goodbye felt like a closed chapter in my life. It was one that I mourned, not only that day but also when Grandma passed away in November. And now again while sitting on that park bench, trying to register the reality of Grandpa’s death.

Death is real. It’s ugly. It hurts.

But what does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake? My mingling thoughts that late Florence morning brought me here: It isn’t until you die that the greatest potential for life is set before you.

Grandma

Grandma imagined a pump of cold, running water in heaven. She told me so as we sat side by side on the couch just before I left for Spain.

“What do you imagine?” she asked.

Heavenly mansions were on our minds, not the frailty of human life.

When I said goodbye, I hugged Grandma and then Grandpa. My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

They both smiled.

But I couldn’t control that rush of grief. The memories, joys, sorrows, and love just landed in a heavy heap on my heart. I started to cry.

Like I am now.

Today is Grandma’s funeral and I’m an ocean away.

Grandma spent her whole life quietly serving others. She inspired almost subconscious admiration and love; she was the rock that we all leaned on but sometimes forgot was there. She always had time for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (and even our pets too!).

And yet, she loved to be alone, content to be still while the world marched by. She enjoyed life without needing to partake of all its luxuries, and contentment made her life richer. Her faith in God, her love for others, and her hobbies—collecting, organizing, couponing, gardening, reading— strengthened her for the hard things life threw at her.

On Friday, the hard thing was emergency surgery with very little chance of success. The family was stunned. We knew she was ready to meet her Maker, but we weren’t ready for her to meet her Maker.

And then she was gone. Before most of us had the chance to say goodbye.

It’s as if the book of some of my best memories has closed. No more melting plastic game chips on the threadbare carpet. No more sleepovers on crinkly pillow covers. No more poring over stacks of Berenstain Bear books. No more Keebler cookie snacks. No more tiptoeing around in the forbidden basement with cousins. No more strict “with soap!” hand washings. No more maneuvering the golf cart between the fragile fir trees at the risk of Grandma spotting us from the living room window. No more Grandma stories from when Dad was a little boy. No more of her French silk pie or other outstanding desserts and dishes. No more talks on the couch. No more phone calls or quirky, Grandma-style emails.

Her last email came the middle of October:

“Think I swept my time under the rug and now need to reverse that. All kind of things collect there under that cover up. That’s why some people insist on hardwood floors. Do you have hardwood floors or rugs with secrets?”

Her emails always put a smile on my face, no matter what kind of day I was having. Especially when they ended like this one:

“We don’t sweep love under the rug so you’re safe! Grandpa and Grandma”

On Saturday, I sat on the lonely beach, staring at the sea and trying to swallow the suddenness of her death. There’s just no easy way to say goodbye. No easy way to hurt. Friends from here and there and everywhere have decided to hurt with me and my family. Thank you.

Today we are grieving the loss of a beloved grandmother. And we’re also celebrating Grandma’s gain as she welcomes eternity.

I hope there’s a pump of cold, running water.

What leaving feels like

I leave tomorrow. I’m excited and almost ready. But right now, Spain seems far away. Maybe life as it is now will go on forever: me almost leaving, a surgery here, a new job there, a new baby a state or two or three away.

To not be part of this ever-changing cycle at home is unfathomable. And when I do fathom, I burst into tears. My nostalgia remembers the days, weeks, and maybe even months that used to pass dry-eyed.

The other evening, I stretched out on the carpet with my head next to Clark’s. I stared into his bright face and could not cherish the moment. Neither could I reject the moment to protect my heart. The moment just was and I watched it pass.

Later as my nephews were leaving, Albert got zipped up in his too-big, puffy coat. Soon he will fill up that coat and I will not be here to see him do it.

I made gingerbread cookies. My sister made coffee. We hung out with Christmas music. And at night when I crawled into my own little bed, all I could do was cling to the ghosts of those memories and cry my tears of regret that I hadn’t experienced them more fully. Or sealed off my heart from loving.

And I cried out, “Oh God, why do I have to follow You?” There was no answer. I knew, and He knew that I knew. There was no warm, fuzzy peace either. Just a calm that felt more like resignation as I braced myself for more goodbyes.

I hope tomorrow things will look different. But this is what leaving looks like today.

Living memories

People
Are living memories of all you’ve
Seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt
With them.
You wake up one morning
And find you married
The reality you love.
And before you go
You must have that
Last walk to school
Last taxi ride
Last cup of tea.
Then you close the door behind you,
Taking only lifeless photos
And stale words in worn journals.

Living in the everyday

Passing moments startle me when I realize I never took time to embrace them. It’s as if my best emotions hover above reality and I plod along below, waiting for the intersection of the two paths when I will feel again.

It’s not numbness; at least, I don’t think so. Maybe simply a sensory overload that leaves me incapable of processing what is unessential to everyday life.

It’s a little like not having time to journal because life is happening. Life is not something I want to chase away. I just wish I could experience it fully before now is just another yesterday.