Baby Mangoes

March 2012

Image

We will change time this week to set the clock back an hour.  (This, here happens two weeks later than the rest of the world because We. Will.  Not.  Conform.)  It’s not only the time that is changing.  The sun is rising earlier.  A few weeks ago the mango trees all lost their flowers.  Now it sounds kind of romantic to have everything covered with mango flowers—it wasn’t.  The sharp winds stripped off the dried buds and scattered them all over our sidewalks and floors and laundry.  They settled like little dry spiders on every surface.  Micah crawled after them, pinching at them with his chubby fingers and I’d scramble after him so he wouldn’t eat them.  All around us was the scratch, scratch of brooms, a neighbourhood sweeping, sweeping.  Then from the flowers’ place sprung green balls like marbles.  They inflated like balloons, warping, curving as if to protect the pit of them the way an embryo does, curled around its heart and guts. 

And yet, for as many mangoes are growing, there seem to be as many falling.  Little green “baby” mangoes (as Lucas calls them) scattered over the walkways and on the staircase leading up to the roof where we hang our laundry.  These fallen mangoes gather in little groups, some of them the size of the pits of plums, others like walnuts still in their shell, others just big enough to cup perfectly in the hollow of your hand.  They smell like mangoes at the base with a top note of pine, perhaps the sap that glistens, congealed on the little stub of stem.  A handful of them all at once smells earthy and spicy and sweet—delightful. 

But I can’t help but feel a little sad; it seems such a waste.  I can spread them out in the sun, hoping they’ll ripen but to split them open is to find the beginnings of a chocolate coloured pit surrounded by hard, bitter flesh.  They will eventually wrinkle and blacken and rot. 

I shield my eyes from the midday sun and study the tree.  I am surprised to see that already the mangoes there have swollen to the size of navel oranges.  Some are catching a purple hue on their outside edge which will soften to red.  The green will brighten as they grow and ripen and the flesh will soften sweetly. 

These mangoes got me thinking.  How often do we face the strong winds of life with sadness and stoop to collect handfuls of baby green mangoes?  We mourn for what they’ll never be all the while missing what is growing right above our heads. 

The reality is that some things flower and wither and scatter like dried little spiders crunching and swirling.  These are the things that die to make way for the real growth.  We may lament the lack of beauty in the blossoms unless we realize their purpose is to prepare the way for something else.  These may be the menial tasks or the relationships and routines that could adorn but have shriveled and seem to cause more work then anything.

Then there are the things that really are mangoes.  Some look right.  They have the right shape, the right smell.  They even have sap to them.  But come a strong wind or a weak branch or an agile cat and they fall.  They fall with a pling and a few quick thumps onto the roof with a rustling, rolling crash into the plants.  A bird chirps and a truck rumbles down the street.  Two blocks over I hear the whistle and shout Panadero!  the bread man with his cart of crusty French bread, Panadero!  It fell and the world moved on. 

Of course it did. 

Yet I grieve sometimes for the things that blossom with less beauty than I hoped, the things that dry and scatter.  I grieve for the things that sprout.  The things that smelled right and looked right and fell anyway.  I grieve for what should have been sweet and was bitter instead, the things that could have nourished but were black on the inside.  I grieve the sweet things and the beautiful things that were apparently not to be.  They fell.  And the world moved on. 

It is okay to grieve these things that could have been—the relationships that broke up, the job that didn’t materialize, the baby that wasn’t born, the sickness that gets in the way of what we really want to do, or on a smaller scale: that word that stabbed, that day off that didn’t refresh, that moment we can’t get back.  Things that didn’t turn out how we thought they should.  We feel sad for those little mangoes that could have been.  No matter how big or small, they fell.

Then we sweep them up because scattered in the walkways and stairways of our daily living they become treacherous.  They wrinkle and pucker and reek, tripping us up as if we accidentally stepped into a room full of marbles.

So we scoop them up and put them back into the soil from where they sprung.  That way, the things that weren’t to be feed what’s yet to come.

But in these gentle acts of grieving the fallen, the unripe, the dry, the nots, and in the reaching-broom-handles-into-dark-corners kind of soul cleaning, we squint up into the bright mid-morning sun and start to count.  Lift your eyes!  Count what is growing, what is juicy and sweet!  Watch the things that are ripening, ripening even now.  It’s enough to make your mouth water.

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The Big 3-0

The other night we went to a neighbourhood pizzeria.  I found myself alone at one moment with my sleeping baby beside me.  On the far wall there was a big flat screen television with a loop of pre-recorded music videos.  It was an eye-opening experience since I’ve never been one to watch music videos, in English or in Spanish.  Aside from the random additions of Fergie who can indeed sing, all but one of the Latina singers left me unimpressed.   They sounded like digitally altered chipmunks singing over a provocative dance beat.  Yet, in common, they all had this luscious shiny long hair and perky… well perky everything.  The outfits they wore ought to have made those dance moves at least a little uncomfortable.  A good voice seemed entirely optional.  Call me a cynic but if I want music, I want music, not an experience that includes false eyelashes, hair extensions, a great bra and gobs of professional help.  It isn’t even real. 

I know it isn’t real.  Really I do.  You know that too.  And yet we walk away tricked thinking, “Oh gosh, what is wrong with me???”  How do you compete with something that isn’t even real?

The big 3-0 is just around the corner for me.  I hadn’t given it too much thought until I started to realize that many of the voices around me are saying I’m past my prime.  It’s all over.

I say Meh.

Bah humbug.

I’m just getting started.  I’m just getting past the part where you let go of the baggage.  I’m just scratching the surface of character and patience and beauty and wholeness.  I’m just learning how to say no to the right things.  I’m just learning how to be angry at the right things.  I’m learning how to really forgive.  I’m just figuring out now who I am, what I want, what it is I’m made for. 

I don’t want to spend my life acting and striving to appear like I am 20.  There have been a lot of things I’ve learned in the last decade that I’m not willing to give up for all the dance moves in the world.  So I will dye my hair.  I will buy an anti-wrinkle cream that I will religiously forget to apply and I will exercise. 

I am getting older.  I accept that.  So what? 

There are, however, a few things that I will not accept.  I will not tolerate a spirit that wrinkles.  I refuse to let hope be stretched out and sagging.  I am not okay with patience that has lost elasticity.  Optimism will not droop. 

I oppose an arthritic sense of adventure or a paralysed point of view. 

Give me hearing aids if need be, but I will not stop listening.    

I don’t even mind if I forget today’s date as long as it means I’m really living in today.

You couldn’t pay me enough to squeeze into one of those music video outfits but even if you could, I have enough sense to stand very still and not jiggle anything.  I don’t have their dance moves and frankly, I don’t want them.  I know with a shimmy and a shake that I can have my little dudes laughing while the dishes soak and while those pending files…pend just a little longer.  I know where I’ve been.  I don’t know exactly where I’m going but I like the path I’m on and the company is good.

30?  Bring it on.  I’m just getting started.

 

 

Protein Pancakes

My 4 year old stood expectantly on his step stool, cup measure in hand.  “I like pancakes,” he declared.

“Me too,” I replied as I tore open the bag of flour. 

Uh oh.  I peered into the bag.  The smooth surface of the flour was punctured by a few little holes. 

“What’s wrong Mommy?” he asked.

“I think we have a problem,” I said as we started to sift.  Sure enough, as the flour sifted into the bowl, the sieve revealed wriggling beetles.  “We’ll just strain them out,” I said until I realized that, worse than the pile of beetles was that the flour was full of larvae, just the right size to worm through the holes and fall into the powder beneath.  White on white.  So subtle you could almost miss it.  Protein pancakes, indeed.  I set the bag aside in case it became my only option for flour.  I’d sift through another day.  Maybe.

It has been that sort of week. 

By and large, I like my life.  It is not easy but I am in a good space.  Yet, as the last few days have sifted my thoughts, I find discontent, fatigue and impatience burrowing deep.  Maybe it is the problem of early January with a whole string of new expectations; maybe it is a cumulative effect of too much work and pressure and too little rest and play.  Perhaps it is the blasted blessed process of sanctification that pulls things down off the shelf to sift through, one small bag at a time before baking something new. 

These kinds of days, especially a string of them in a row, drive me crazy.  I feel shallow and scattered, brittle like the ice on a puddle in early spring.  Someone missteps, I shatter and all the murky water bubbles up, muddying their boots. 

When I have a quiet moment, my mind is crowded with a tumble of sharp words and images in shards.

Even as I write this, my baby has woken up twice from his nap.  Usually he sleeps well but for whatever reason today, he is off too.  He wakes up wailing and the minute we pick him up, he goes right back to sleep. 

Anyone who has had a baby recently, or anyone who has had a baby not-so-recently and is fortunate enough to come out of the experience with memory intact, may recall holding a sleeping baby in a public place.  The baby has a magnetic force.  People stare.  They oogle.  They coo.  They say wistfully, “What a little angel.  I wish I could have someone hold me and rock me so I could fall asleep in the middle of all this noise.”  We wish, on our bad days, we could wake up wailing, stretch out our arms and have someone hold us while we go back to sleep, shushing away the noise.

But reality, many times has us instead standing in the kitchen, hungrily staring at a bowl full of bugs, thinking, “What is the point?”

 

So how do we get from one image to the other?  How do we move from protein pancakes to peace?  How do we trade in the wriggly, unsettled thoughts for the ability to rest?

Sifting.

I sift, first for the bugs, second for the worm-y things, then again and again to be sure.  I sift, to understand what my thoughts are, what I’m feeling.    I try to pull out the beetles before they breed lies like larvae, concealed deep.  I sift again to see where they come from.  I sift out truth from lies, reality from perception.  I sift to see what needs to change.  And when I’m tired of sifting and feeling desperate, I do a really hard workout or smell a sleeping baby.   In the fog of the glass shower door, to quiet the clamor, I write Fight and watch the letters run in rivulets down the door.

This is my current strategy.  What remains to be seen is if it makes things better in the long run since occasionally in the short term it feels worse. 

What do you do to quiet the noise?

Nightlights and Snuggles

January 2012

When it rains, it pours.

A friend sent me an email a few weeks ago.  “Does it ever feel like everyone around you is suffering?”  she lamented, sharing stories of those around her.

Yes, yes it does.

I can’t do the simple things these days without it being complicated.

You see, I start to cook for the three of us.  Scratch that, the four of us.  Baby Bear has decided that anything we eat, he should eat too.  (Wow, having a baby results in Maternal Attention Deficit Disorder where you can’t have a normal conversation without the baby topic sneaking in there.  Yikes.  Where was I?)  So there I am cooking and it isn’t just about feeding us and the little ones anymore.  I start to think of Miriam, the pint-sized grandmother who had the handle of a pot of boiling water break as she picked it up.  The scalding liquid spilled all over her arms and  legs.  She probably isn’t eating properly, I thought.  I need to bring her food.  I think of my friend’s mother-in-law who is about to go through her second round of chemo.  They’ll need a meal in a few days too. 

When I change the baby I think of Lorenzo in the hospital and how the poor man is so ill he needs adult diapers but there aren’t any and maybe I should send more wipes.  When I feed Micah, I think of the week-old baby whose single mother is comatose and I wish she was closer so we could help.  I shower and I think of Paulita and how in her final days of cancer with all systems failing, she is insecure about her odor.  That’s just a few.  That doesn’t even touch on the reality of living in a country where poverty is part of daily existence—poverty and a poverty of hope.

“You know,” a friend said to me this week, “what you guys are doing is great.  Here, more than anywhere except for maybe some parts in Africa, people need hope.”   

Part of the suffering is due to place, certainly.  Some places of the world have undergone atrocities and horrific ordeals.  Yet I don’t agree with her.  Everyone needs hope.  Anywhere you go, anywhere you look, you can find suffering.  No one is immune.  And the suffering starts to sneak into your daily routines.  It shows up in the places that used to be safe, or at least neutral.  No matter how many meals you pack up, how many head scarves and diapers and prayers, they don’t outweigh the suffering.  It can start to feel pretty dark. 

Darkness is a funny thing.  It takes the familiar scenery of our days and drapes it with threat.  Nothing in the architecture shifts and yet we walk into walls.  Things haven’t moved out of their pace yet we fumble for our glasses.  The squeaky toy was there in the middle of the floor all day long yet we step on it in the middle of the night.  Darkness renders the familiar unfamiliar.  Suffering makes even our most minute routines feel wrought with anguish. 

This morning, my son and I were talking as he tried to climb on wrought iron garden table with its chipping white paint.  “Sometimes I’m scared of the dark,” he stated as the table tipped him backwards.

“What helps you feel safe?” I asked him.

“Praying helps,” he said “a little bit.  My nightlight helps a little bit more.  And snuggles are safer than anything.” 

Prayer, nightlights, snuggles.

Part of me wished he would have changed the order.  Night lights, snuggles, then prayers.  But then I would have been spiritually smug and wouldn’t have asked myself the same question—“what makes me feel safe when things are dark?  What helps others?”  Praying helps, yes.  I don’t ever want to downplay that.  Yet what does James say? (Keep in mind that, according to the Message Remix, James was nicknamed Old Camel Knees for the way his firm commitment to prayer disfigured his knees.)  He says that real religion is reaching out to the homeless and loveless in their plight…

It just made me ask the question:  do we sometimes hide behind prayer, throwing words at the heavens because we don’t know what to do with people’s pain?   Maybe they really need is something tangible, something human, prayer with skin on, like maybe a snuggle.