Refuse to Fall Down

"Refuse to fall down. If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down. Lift your heart toward heaven like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled and it will be filled. You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising. But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven-only you. It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. The one who says nothing good came of this is not yet listening.”

--Clarissa Pinkola Estes


wedding hilights

A mini-photo essay for far-away friends and family:

Bride-to-be selects most unusual breakfast food.

Last minute details: groom, flower girl and gramps collecting petals.

The Dance of Isaiah.

Bride chokes on common cup. Fr. John says (just in case anyone hadn't noticed) "Are you choking? Do you need more wine?" Evoking still more giggles.

Awesome Cake!


wedded to amazement

Yesterday I saw my first whale. I've been watching for one since December, because I've heard they come in close to the shore to give birth this time of year. So for weeks I've been standing out on the lanai, scanning the ocean, waiting.

So yesterday I stepped out on the lanai, and saw a small fountain mid-sea. Because I'd just been to the volcano yesterday, I was a little confused about how to read this and I thought to myself, "How strange--a mid-sea steam vent!" Slowly it dawned on me that it was actually a whale. "Amber, Charles," I said, "Get out here!"

Together, we watched the whale spurt and swim. It was remarkable to finally spot a whale, more remarkable to see it first with Amber and Charles, just a few hours after they'd been wed at the mission here in Kona.

There is so much to say about the experience of wedding Amber and Charles, the inexpressible joy of seeing one of the people I love most in this world enter into a fresh season. I could not resist the happy temptation of telling her at least a few times over the course of the last few days, "I told you so," meaning, I knew all along that she was going to find her way into the life she dreamed of, that her courage and honesty and searching love would not fail her.

And there was something so beautiful about coming to know Charles more deeply. We'd only met him once before, but over the past few days, he became family. This wedding was marked by so many casual graces, such a sense of spontaneity and joy. Amber and Charles didn't sweat any of the small things, they didn't plan much, they stayed focused on what was real--beginning their new life together.

When they arrived, Charles pulled a creased piece of paper out of his pocket. He said, "I was thinking perhaps we could go out for a nice meal after the wedding. Here are a few restaurants that could work."

Keep in mind, this was Wednesday, and they were to be married in four days. I took them directly from the airport to check out a few churches and they selected ours on the spot. I took them up to a cafe in Holualoa, an artsy little mountain town, and they checked out the outdoor tables and menu, "Yes," they said, "This is perfect."

On the eve of their wedding, after we'd visited the sea turtles at the black sand beach, hiked a lava tube and relaxed by the fire at Volcano house, we came home tired.

We snacked on the spiky, lovable fruit rambuton, and pulled lime soaked breadfruit from it's humble green shell and Charles suggested I read Anna's story to everyone. So I read a chapter from a Wind in the Door. Charles was on his laptop on the sofa and Amber fell asleep leaning on his shoulder, and Anna fell asleep leaning on Amber.

And for me, it was just about perfect, all of it. What joy it was to witness the God of hope at work in two lives coming together after many years of struggle. I think of a quote from Mary Oliver, and I think of Amber and Charles and how they perfected the art of the aloha wedding. I, too must stay focused on what is real, to not fritter my life away on details.

When it's over, I want to say: All my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


powered by optimism

The first people you meet in any place can have a dramatic and lasting impression on your overall experience there. Within our first few days, we met a couple, Bruce and Leigh, and their 5-year-old daughter Reese.

Bruce was brought over to the islands by Wal-Mart, as a manager, to help establish new stores. His impression of life here is quite positive, and it was exactly what we needed to hear in our first few days, when we were dazed and confused. I asked him about the things I'd feared for awhile. What about roaches, centipedes, Vog? What about crime, drugs and the public schools?

To each of my fears, he offered some kind of positive antidote. For example, about the roaches, he told me that they do exterminate here, but, should I see one, I could just apply some chemical to my home, leave and voila! No more roaches. About the Vog
(a volcanic smog generated when the lava hits the ocean) we're just too close to the ocean to be bothered by it. Centipedes? You'd have to be out barefoot and careless, or flipping over rocks to get bit. As for crime, he told me, there is almost no gun crime on the island, and his daughter is thriving at the local public school.

Now I believe his impressions are based on real experience, but I also think perceptions help shape experiences. You have to have the eyes to see what is good around you--and an ability to receive every good thing with hands and eyes open wide.

Perhaps you also need a wide view so that you don't fixate (as I sometimes do) on things like roaches, centipedes, or the fact that you currently live amongst ancient Hawaiian burial grounds, in a tsunami evacuation zone and and at the base of a volcano that is expected to erupt at an unknown time. But I digress . . .

Over a year ago, Bruce was hit by a car when he was on his motorcycle. The car smashed him against a stone wall, breaking more than 30 bones and nearly killing him. The doctors were so unsure that he would survive that they didn't set his arm or shoulder. His heart stopped three times.

And Bruce, who was a manager at Wal-Mart and both a father and grandfather, lost most of his memory, his ability to walk and communicate and work. But you should hear him talk about the accident--there's no despair in his voice. In fact, he feels the timing was just about right, if that sort of thing had to happen.

He'd recently sold his home at a profit when the market was good, and he'd put money into savings and moved into a rental. The savings has helped the family to pull through while they await the final settlement.

His wife tells me that they never let him feel sorry for himself--not even for a moment. Now he's walking, talking and swimming. There are gaps in his memory but he accepts that as part of the bargain. He is alive to watch his children and grandchildren grow. It is a fine, fine bargain, considering the alternative.

And he has a job now too, against the wishes of his doctor. He's a cruise ship greeter for the Hard Rock Cafe. When the ships come in, he rises early, goes down to the cafe, cuts up some pineapple and walks down to the docks where he greets the tourists as the come off the ship.

But now Hard Rock Cafe would like to put him into management, which would be way, way, against the wishes of his doctor. And while he does have extensive experience, he's not sure how handy it will be because he keeps drawing a blank about those Wal-Mart years. "But at least," I said, "You can remember that you were a manager. That's something isn't it?"



I'm usually grappling with fear to some extent and am sometimes nearly paralyzed by it. I'm mostly at peace, however, when engaged with present realities, such as loading the dishwasher, writing or rolling my cart through Safeway. For this reason and a few others, I genuinely enjoy most mundane tasks.

But give me a few idle hours and fear sidles up on the couch next to me, and if I'm not focussed on anything in particular, I'm easily sucked into the conversation. Perhaps I'm especially vulnerable now because we're in a transitional time full of unknowns.

It helps that Anna is addicted to the Chronicles of Narnia and we have been reading through the series for a year now. She's memorized entire paragraphs and corrects my pronunciation on names like "Silenus." Anyway, although I would welcome a new book into our reading routine, Narnia helps me more now than it ever did when I was a kid.

We almost always come across something ticklish, comforting or beautiful during our nightly read. Tonight we read a chapter from Prince Caspian, in which Lucy sees Aslan and he asks her to follow him, but her siblings all deny his presence and refuse.

Later on, Susan is full of guilt about her denial, and she doesn't want to face Aslan:

"Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, 'Susan.' Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. 'You have listened to fears, child,' Aslan said. 'Come let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?'"


Our Diver

So there was another part to the ocean blessing story, and I wanted to tell it but I think I was having a bit of heat stroke last night after too many hours in the sun. My head was pounding so I had to be brief.

Anna has been really struggling with church. Our community is wonderful, but there are no other kids and no church school. She aches for her Chicago friends.

But this weekend as we were driving to church, Fr. John explained to Anna that Paul (a tropical fisherman who scoped out beaches for the service, made the cross and found the beloved chameleon on the road) had called and asked if he knew of any girls between the ages of 4 and 7 who might be willing to dive into the ocean for the cross.

From the backseat, Anna chimed in, "I could do that!"

When we arrived at Vespers, she wanted me to tell everyone that she would be our diver. It was as if she had finally found her place in the mission community.

The night before the dive, she cried out to me in the middle of the night. I ran to her room and she said. "I had a bad dream. Are we safe here?" I reassured her that we were safe, but brought the holy water into her room and gave her a sprinkle as well. And then she said, "Tomorrow, I'm going to dive for the cross."

I'm realizing that we need find ways to make a role for her at the mission, so that she doesn't feel like we're just dragging her along, but that she is as essential to the community as an any adult--which of course, she is.

So the next day, during the many readings beside the ocean, Anna stood and waited for her turn. Finally, when Fr. John threw the cross into the water, she waded out for it. She brought the cross back to her dad, and for the first time, I think she felt that she is beginning to belong.


ocean blessing

So today we blessed the ocean, which my husband thought was a wee bit ambitious--but, he said, "It might be a big ocean, but God is still bigger." While we were praying, a few locals were fishing nearby, and frying the fish right behind us. During the blessing, we watched them tug one fish after another out of the sea. At one point, the fisherman hollered, holding up his fish. Pat turned to me and help up five fingers--mouthing, "That's his fifth one!"

After the prayers as we made our way past the family and they asked about our faith and what we were doing. Fr. John explained that we were blessing the ocean and that we enjoyed watching their incredible catch. "That was 'cause you were praying," the man said, turning to flip his Sunday lunch.

coffee hour

Did I mention yet that coffee hour is a whole lot different out here on the Big Island? First of all, we have a tiny community, so we pot-luck on a few tables in the center of a large room without walls, the breezes washing through, surrounded by banana, papaya and avocado trees, overlooking the ocean.

The Catholic church where we meet is on a windy road through a neighborhood, and many of the locals keep chickens, so all morning long the roosters crow, dogs bark, and cats prowl about the parking lot.

Today's coffee hour featured a special treat--a visit from a very slow moving, dinosaur-like lizard, a Jackson Chameleon. Anna was delighted to hold the creature, which did hiss and open its gigantic mouth, but did not (perhaps could not?) bite. As it became increasingly agitated it began to turn black. Can you imagine being able to change colors when in a temper?



Back when I was a kid, I remember the "end of the school year syndrome," which basically meant that it became almost unbearable to drag myself to school--the end of the year was in sight, but oh how slowly those final days would go.

As a parent I seem to be affected by the opposite syndrome--and it has to do with school vacations, which seem to drag on and on, most especially when they are nearly over. This Christmas break has been delightful and trying in turns, and I know that I am about done with it because in a final act of desperation I've locked myself in the bathroom with my laptop so that I can blog.

Ever since I've been in Kona, this blog has been a lifeline. It allows me to process, to connect, to be part of a network of friends which has helped keep me afloat as each day here is filled with new people and experiences.

Thank you, friends, for your comments, which I treasure--and thank you fellow bloggers for putting your life out there and helping me feel less alone--Oh, no, Anna is on to me. She's at the door. "Mama," she asks, "Where are you? And why are you on your computer?"

So that's it for now. And yes, we did go snorkeling. I'd like to do it everyday. It is wondrous to be underwater, among the oblivious fish and coral. One of the larger effects of being on the Big Island is that so much of my daily reality forces perspective, from the surprisingly vast underwater view, to the infinite starry nights, to the lava fields which go on and on and make the sky open up. I'm caught in the paradoxes of nature--how birth and death, creation and destruction seem so tangled together in this place and in my own body.

I came across this quote on a card at Kona Health foods, and it seems to express something of my experience here:

"Wisdom tells me I am nothing.
Love tells me I am everything.
Between the two my life flows."

--Nisargadatta Maharaj