· To be standing up in the back of Andrew’s land rover bouncing through the Masai Mara. That feeling of vastness and expanse. That feeling of wind rushing. Seeing herds of wildebeests or gazelles or antelopes or zebras. Every now and then seeing giraffes and elephants. Watching out for warthogs and ostriches. Even finding cheetahs and lions.
To see lions drinking from a stream. To hear Sam shouting out a sighting of long lines of wildebeests migrating. To Rande cry out “Cobra” and actually seeing the darn thing. To hear the clicking of three cameras at once. To watch Brogan trying to draw while the rover is hitting rut after rut after rut. To hear the laughter. “Did you see that?” “Look over there?” “Did you see…?”
· To have a game of pick-up basketball on the playground of the Catholic School in Mukuru. 4 on 4. Kids and grown-ups. Bad shots. Good shots. Bad passes. Good shots. The handshakes at the end? Priceless.
· To wait and listen for baby elephants coming home for supper after a long day playing in the brush. All 3 years old or younger. 24 of them. And almost like clockwork, here they come, meadandering down the path right toward us. Just like typical, neighborhood kids making their way home.
Each had a room of her/his own and each just walked on in for supper. I stood outside each room just watching them. My prayers of blessing were for strength and courage and for each of these one-time orphans, a long and healthy life.
· To watch the boys during this trip. They have been incredible. They’ve been kind and respectful. They been patient beyond words. They haven’t quit ~ even after that awful-long flight late at night from Atlanta to Dubai. They were helpful and engaging. They’d sleep sitting up at a table. And they stayed interested and energized.
Their laughter fills my to overflowing. The memory of their sleeping on top of each other in the back of the rover as we bounced along just makes me want to weep.
What a gaggle we 7 were. Moving from one place to the next. Watching out for one another. Laughing, laughing, laughing. Leaning into one another. Precious time. Fullness of time. Holy time.
· To share this trip with Gamma. She was truly incredible. Every step she took with us. Stride for stride.
It was courage and grit and faith and much, much love that brought her along the way. It was apparent that her love for her family gave her whatever it took to risk all that it might cost. We had no idea what we were getting into, what the conditions would be like when we drove to the Atlanta airport. What we knew was that we would do it together. Three generations.
Gamma’s presence brought with it a fullness of spirit. Our steps were better, broader somehow (and I don’t mean this to sound corny or hokey).
It would not have been the same trip at all if she had chosen not to come. Playing cards and being in awe of Gamma’s playing. All those groups of Aces and Queens and tens…(how DOES she do it?).
Watching the boys pick up her bag, opening doors. Listening to share the stories. “Did you get a picture of that?” “Look, Sam, get a picture of this one.” YES!
· To walk along the moving sidewalk in Dubai under the palm trees (especially during a hot flash. Ahhhh…) Never experienced such a lovely, perfect breeze.
· To hear John and Rande’s laughter. The have the best laughs. And they are funny, funny. Especially during cards, they would carry on – mostly telling stories of playing in NC and how our game differed from theirs J (that’s the nicest way I know of saying that.)
I want to long remember:
· Sam’s picture-taking. Seeing Africa through his eyes…a gift….the flowers and the birds and the trees and cats in Nairobi and all along the way on the safari.
· Brogan’s courageous stomach. This boy ate his way through Africa. Sushi for breakfast most every morning, lamb, duck, more peppers than I’ve eaten in my entire life. “Never had that, I’ll try it,” you gotta love a guy who can say that.
· Linda’s amazing passion for poop. “Of course, it tells you who it is and how long ago they were here.” Of course it does.
· Gamma’s open heart ~ her desire to remember everything.
· Rande’s clicking camera. What a gift. Thank you for bringing so many moments of Africa back home with us.
· John’s love of Kenya and her people. His commitment to having us share first hand in why he goes and what’s happening there with him and because of him. His wanting to have us go-along-with-him on his next trips.
· The sunrises and sets on the Mara
· The vastness and the feeling of being on top of the rover riding all the way around and through it
· The song of the hippo (and having them for next door neighbors for two nights)
· The lavender thread from the palm tree on the patio and that orange-crested bird that listened out for us (E♭ F, E♭ G, E♭ C, C)
Memories for a lifetime. What a gift. Asante sana.
(thanks so much to Rande and John and Sam for our pictures)
“Do you speak Swahli?” He was a kind man bringing me lunch at the hotel where we staying in Nairobi. It was a very Kenyan question. It felt invitational, full of welcome. I shook my head and he responded, “No? Well, let’s get started. What’s the next word you’d like to learn?”
“What’s the word for`home?’” I asked him and put my hand where my heart is. “What’s the word for the place where our spirit lives?”
His smile was as big as I’ve ever seen. “I don’t know that Swahli word. I know a Spanish word, roha, heart. I think this is the word you are wanting. This is our home, roha, where our spirits live.” And he bowed and walked on.
This roha place, it companions us from the beginning. And except for a very rare few, we are given this one heart for life until our last breath.
It beats for us, keeping time, marking moments. More than a beat a second. Steady most of the time. Reflecting our pace in the world. Our heart pushes and pulls our life-blood from the tip of heads to the tips of our fingers and toes, and back again.
It’s said to be the place where love lives; the place that holds our connective tissue (seen and unseen). It is the place that breaks at our deepest losses. Breaks…but somehow lives on with the loss.
Here in this place of round-abouts and new words for “Good morning” and “thank you” I long for seeing bigger than what I’ve seen before. There’s energy to pay closer attention ~ to not miss the beauty- and the compassion-threads that hold us to God and to one another, while always holding God and one another to us.
Here in Kenya, I’ve already felt a very different rhythm and pace than the one back in Atlanta that sometimes feels like continually going round and round the perimeter. Here in Kenya most of the roads are pretty straight (if you don’t count the round-abouts with their own lifestyle). Here in Kenya my understanding of what’s normal and routine would not be translatable. Here there are new words for places I’m wanting to see again or maybe for the first time: a new language of Swahli and Spanish mixed in Roha. Heart. Home.
(thanks to Rande Allen for this amazing sunrise picture from the Masai Mara)
(Mom died in 2005 and a couple months after she died I heard her say, plain as day, “time is different here.” I’m still waiting to hear what comes next…)
You know, Mom I can’t honestly say if I heard you actually say these words or if they have become one of my companioning phrases.
Duncan was driving Gamma, Linda and me to Mukura settlement where John works with the folks from Emory’s Public Health School. We were going to meet the folks and to hear about their work.
Driving in Nairobi is not for the faint of heart. Being a passenger in a moving vehicle on the streets of Nairobi is an act whose main purpose seems to check where you are with the Lord. Kyrie Eleison.
We were halfway to Mukuru and the trip had pendulumed from air whooshing into the backseat window to the other side where we were dead-stopped in traffic. My mind had been racing. Mostly I was listening for Duncan’s soft British-accented voice telling us of the city. I could see hundreds of people walking along the road and stand after stand after stand along the way of wares for sale. Everything was bright and alive.
Somewhere along our drive, Mom, your phrase filled my heart: “time is different here.” With these words came an understanding and somehow I found myself leaning into what was coming at me in all directions. I felt like you were with us on this drive ~ and for that I was fully and completely grateful.
You would be in constant awe of Africa, Mom. You would be “inhaling” all the time ~ the people and colors and flowers and sounds and smells and birds and trees. You would never sleep ~ there wouldn’t be a chance to do that.
Feeling your presence in those words brought a loving perspective. With it I felt able to relax into all that was so brand new around me.
And your words bridged me back to the Holy, the Eternal. To the one who was, who is and who will be. Here.
Thanks for your words, Mom. They truly were a gift. Asante sana.
For as long as I remember when I’ve heard people talk about “planting their flag” in the sand, it was talking about places they would stop. It was as if they were staking their claiming, saying, “This is it.” Like the ending of an exploration, it marks the spot. `From here, I go no further’.”
Peace poles open up that image in whole new ways (see The Peace Pole Project).
My first experience with a Peace Pole was back at Central Congregational with a gentle man in our congregation, Cecil Hess. Cecil was a “retired” Christmas tree farmer and one of the hardest workers I’d ever met. He carved a peace pole for the church, first shaping the pole, then adding to it one letter at a time until it proclaimed a new symbol for community’s envisioning peace.
Linda built one as part of the pond-space beside our side porch. And she, too, carved letter-by-letter peace in four languages. In English it reads, “May peace be on the earth.”
Much of my life seems to have been moments of planting my flag in the sand or on the hill. Marking a spot. Claiming a spot. So often what I was saying was “I go no further.” Camped out. Standing firm. Immovable. Moments that seem smaller now (blue jeans to school) and not so small (falling in love with Linda, working with folks who were HIV+, being ordained) ~ these were places where I drew my lines of conviction and planted my flag. And in many ways, I would stand firm for those things again. But these days I’m wishing that somehow I had marked them differently.
Seeing Peace Poles now as I go for walks and seeing one (literally) in my own backyard bids me to stop these days. What would have been different for me, if instead of planting that flag and claiming a place, what would have been different if I’d chosen another symbol? There’s the act of planting a flag…and there’s the act of raising a Peace Pole.
Can’t go back. Only here and now and what’s next.
For now I’m choosing to carry with me this peace symbol. It’s a bit heavier, bulkier. It will take more effort to dig its spot. But by its definition it is an invitation, not a declaration. It’s a four-sided piece, so the truth is ~ there’s always more to see, and there’s always something that isn’t seen yet. It’s a message in languages I don’t even speak, so with it comes humility and the reality that more will come that I (literally) can’t even bring to words. The possible. The broader. The universal wisdom that is beyond what I know or can control.
Both mark a spot. For me, while one says, “it’s mine,” the other recognizes “its way bigger than me.” Peace poles bring the recognition of a greater whole, a fuller future. It matters that I bring something bigger for these oft mind-boggling and still tender days, for these hectic and once-in-a-lifetime days in which we are living. It matters to live into the notion of seeing beyond ourselves towards what’s next for us all.
(P.S. We’re heading out on our family vacation. Linda and her mom, the boys and the dads and I are going to Kenya. Daddy John has been working there with Emory’s Public Health School for the past four or more years. He works with HIV education and we want to see some of what he does. It promises to be the trip of a lifetime. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks. In the meantime, “Paz. Shalom. Salam. Peace.”)
When Buzz joined our family 8+ years ago, she was welcomed by our Alpha dog, Maddie. Maddie a big-boned, black lab was pretty easy-going and it seemed that she quickly took Buzz under her wing. Over the first few weeks Maddie seemed to pretty well explain the "order of the household" ("All elimination is to happen outside, not in," "Begging for food is frowned upon," "Only bark when there's something to bark about [i.e. folks who aren't "ours" coming into the house]", and "Please, let up on that jumping up on the humans. No, they really do NOT like it. They DON'T think it's a game"). Years passed and as the young boy humans grew, so did Buzz ("down") Lightyear. She was the cutest little cropped and therefore tailless girl, an Australian Shepherd. She was a born herder. She came by it honestly. Her favorite "herdees" seemed to be the grown-up humans, especially in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom (dog gone it).
About 5 years ago, the oldest boy human desperately needed his own dog to sleep with him on the foot of his bed. So after jumping through hoops (the boy human, not the dog), Emma came to live with us. We were (suddenly, it seemed) a 3-dog family.
It was a lot.
Our older lab began to sigh. A lot. Mostly all the time (she'd been with me and Linda before "those crazy boys" joined our brood). It seemed that if there were any mentoring of the newest 1 year-old Red Bone Coon Hound Pit Bull, it was up to Buzz. Maddie officially passed the torch onto her.
Here's the thing about middle children: we're reconcilers; we're bridge-builders; we're peace-keepers. We are simply not-wired-Alpha.
Emma, being the smart dog that she is knew from pretty much the beginning to "follow Maddie's lead, but ask no drawn-out questions and stay the heck out of her way." And she did pretty well. Pretty well. It probably never occurred to Maddie to explain to Emma DON'T EVER, EVER, EVER chew on the furniture. (Maddie probably remembered doing that same thing as a puppy and was obviously well-trained, cause she put it in the sea of forgetfulness). So Emma spent the next several years (until the last couple of months, honestly) tasting ever piece of furniture AND Gamma's homemade pillows in our house. YIKES.
After Maddie's death, Buzz and Emma became pretty good sisters and I think dear friends. Hanging out together all day while the humans were working or schooling ~ watching movies, playing cards. Eating side-by-side. Walks together in the evening. Going on adventures. They became a pretty good pair.
And so today I'm worried about Emma. In less than 24 hours this past week, Buzz went from being a little lethargic when we were having dinner on Monday night, to being put to sleep the following evening. Linda took her to the Vet (Dr. Adkins, who is an angel on this earth) just before noon on Tuesday and she never came back home. We were blessed to have her family and her buddy, Sarge with her when she died and for that I will be always thankful. But when we all came home, silent and teary-eyed, Emma just couldn't figure out what to do. She sniffed all of us and kept watching the door. And she made her way around the house, sniffing and seeking out her friend. But she never came.
I'm one of those humans who believe in talking to children and to pets (well, maybe I've learned it doesn't do much good to talk with the chickens...). So I sat down on the floor and told Emma that Buzz had been very sick and she just didn't let us know. And that she was going to be in a lot of pain. And we didn't want that. And so we let her go, and it was my best hunch that Maddie was waiting and had met her at the door, ready to teach Buzz the next thing.
I know that Linda and Brogan and Sam have all told her something as well.
But I'm not sure when, if Emma will ever quit looking for her. For all of Emma's time in our family, Buzz has been her companion, her co-conspirator, her goofing-off buddy, her sister.
As I'm typing this, I wonder if Emma came to know something we didn't know on Buzz's last night. I wonder if Buzz shared it with her (or bravely kept it to herself). I wonder if Buzz gave Emma some life-advice on Monday night, while we were having dinner. I hope that there was encouragement somewhere and gratitude, but maybe that's a human response and for dogs it's a whole different thing.
See, that's the tender place for me as the hours are now days, and knowing that time will continue to pass. I wonder what it looks like now through Buzz's friend's eyes.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.