To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Transformations and Appalachia

Six months ago I was mired in a grief so deep and dark that I didn't ever believe I could claw my way back to the light. For no apparent reason, our baby died. And when he did, it felt like something inside of me snapped in two. I felt broken. Grief is an isolating and all-consuming thing. When you experience that much pain, you turn inward. And I did that for many weeks. As the condolences and the comforting words came from friends and family, I cocooned. I learned a lot about myself during that time.
After a while, I got tired of the grief and the pain. I couldn't bring my son back, but I could choose how to react to his death. I decided that looking outside of myself and immersing myself in something new might be just what I needed. So when the pastor of my church asked me to help chaperone 15 teenagers on a home repair trip to Appalachia, I jumped at the chance.
The hills of Appalachia are beautiful. Every day we wound down a road that showed us the magnificence of the region. Our work site was so remote, I gunned my minivan through two small creeks just to get there. If the hills were beautiful, the extraordinary poverty we saw was not. The trailer we were working on was broken down. There was so much sulphur in their drinking water that it smelled like rotten eggs.There was trash all over the yard and the children were barefoot and dirty from playing in the creeks and woods around the hollow where they lived. A lot of the people we encountered either had no teeth or their teeth were in the process of rotting away. In a place where Mountain Dew is cheaper to buy for your kids than milk, they chose the soda. The sugar took its toll.
On first impression, all of that poverty is mind boggling. But by the end of the week, all of that didn't matter. Eventually, we stopped seeing the living conditions and started seeing the people. And the people were phenomenal. Each one of them had their own unique gifts and talents. Every one of them was friendly and hospitable. It was an honor to get to know them. We helped transform their living conditions by giving them a solid kitchen floor, something they hadn't had in a while and something we all took for granted back home.
If the people we met in Appalachia impressed me, so too did the teenagers who went there. They worked hard and really connected with the families whose homes they were repairing. For many it was a transformative experience. You could tell that their eyes had been opened to some new experiences that would change how they perceived the world. I liked having a ringside seat and watching those transformations take place as the week progressed. But if there was a transformation taking place in the teenagers on the trip, there was also one taking place in me.
For a solid week, I didn't worry about the grief or the darkness. Instead, I focused on the work in front of me and the people around of me. Problems arose in the work we were doing and I helped find solutions. I built relationships both with the family we were helping and my fellow team members. And when I returned home, that brokenness inside me didn't feel quite as broken as before.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A walk in the rain

The rain seemed like it would never stop and then suddenly there was a break in the clouds and the sun came out. After days of rain, it felt like a revelation to see the sun again. My six-year-old daughters and I decided to take our new dog, an energetic beagle mix, on a nearby walking trail. Surely the rain was over and being the optimistic type, I didn't carry an umbrella. About a mile into the trail, the rain began again. It wasn't a light drizzle or a slight sprinkling. It was a small downpour or as my country people say, a gully washer. And we were smack dab in the middle of it. The rain plastered our hair to our skulls and our clothes to our bodies. We were drenched and had to cross a major intersection at rush hour to get home.
Standing in the rain waiting for the crosswalk signal with the smell of wet dog wafting up at me, I noticed the people in their warm, dry cars glancing over at us and smirking. Which is when I began to dance. And whoop. The girls, thinking this was great fun, began to jump up and down and dance and whoop with me. The grins in the cars became larger. That was okay. I'm sure I was a quite a sight. On that street corner, I pulled out some dance moves that hadn't been seem since the mid-nineties. As my grandma used to say,, "In for a penny, in for a pound." Because it didn't really matter to me what all the people in their cars thought. In that moment what mattered most was what the girls took away from the experience. I wanted them to know that it was okay to dance in the rain with the world watching. I think they understood that and they enjoyed it.