Last week when I was writing the article about my salad days and Joni Mitchell, I looked at some cloud photos I’ve taken. Below are several of my favorites.
Tom and I have been taking road trips together since 1971: fifty years in and we still love them. We went on another road trip from September 1 to October 2, 2021. This trip could be fairly summarized as: nine family members, three great lakes, two pleasant peninsulas, fourteen states, and 4,500 miles. Also, Tom and I went on six hikes where no one shared our trail; we saw old growth trees including giant, healthy eastern hemlocks and hundred foot birches, and we learned to love the bluffs of the upper Mississippi and the river itself. Our trip was balm to our societal-disintegrated and pandemic-battered minds, souls, and bodies. We mostly took short 3 to 5 mile hikes, punctuated with longer hikes (11+ miles at Sleeping Bear). Still, I was happy to see that my hiker’s leg muscles came back.
I have other photos (see below) and stories: happy times visiting brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and great-nieces; plus eating those delicious camp meals again–hummus, chips, carrots, local sausage, and Amy’s chili. Once we got to the Upper Peninsula, we left the poison ivy behind and found ferns, flowers, and fungus galore. On part of the journey, Tom and I traveled along the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. We had never heard of this road and, now, we have another part of the country to love. A young bald eagle soared near us as we stood on the bluffs above the Mississippi River at the Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Other Parts of the Journey Tom and I–fully vaccinated since March–both contracted the Delta variant, probably somewhere in the Upper Peninsula. Also, three of our loved ones died. This trip, even with its aftermath of illness, death, and mourning was fabulous. My major struggle lately has been trying to write the words about the ones who have gone away.
Randi Tom and I camped in Pike’s Peak State Park in Clayton County, Iowa for three nights. Yes, this Pike’s Peak was also named for Zebulon Pike who explored the upper Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains in the early 1800s. The park was an unexpectedly lovely oasis and one of the highlights of our trip. On the first afternoon at Pike’s Peak, we pitched our tent and headed out for a walk. We headed to a lookout point high above the Mississippi. We took a hike to see (and to feel) the Bear Mound (a ceremonial burial site constructed by indigenous people of an earlier time) and to take a look at the Bridal Veil Falls. All of it: the forest and the sun and the clear air and the whiff of fall caught us up into a perfect afternoon. Chinkapin oaks and hickories and butternuts had already been dropping their acorns and nuts. Hearty and vigorous squirrels crashed through fallen leaves with, it seemed, some delight. I had a strong vision of Randi (our daughter Sarah and son-in-law Mike’s dog) and how she would love this forest. Randi, a beagle/basset, likes nothing more than smelling squirrels, barking much louder than her weight class. I didn’t say chasing squirrels: Randi just loves smelling the squirrely trails; she doesn’t need the squirrels themselves. I thought of Randi at least twice on that walk and mentioned to Tom how Randi would love this high forest near the great river. The next day an early morning text came from Sarah. Randi, who had been suffering with late stage kidney disease had died. Through tears, I told Sarah about the prior day’s thoughts about Randi in the forest. The sun and air had been special–as it can be in a cathedral forest. Sarah and I agreed; maybe before Randi left this particular reality, we think maybe she stopped by to share our perfect afternoon. What do I know? I am an old woman crying in a Panera as I write this. One thing I am pretty sure of is that all dogs go to heaven.*
Will I didn’t know Will Bagley very well, but I did love and do love him. Will married my lifelong friend, Laura in 2003.** A few years after that, I was going to be conducting professional development workshops for adult English as a second language (ESL) teachers somewhere in the west–maybe Montana. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that I had a stopover in Salt Lake City where Laura and Will lived. They said they would pick me up at the airport and drive me down to Zion National Park. I was exhausted from my workshops and I slept part of the way. We reached Springdale in the dark of the night and I woke in the morning surrounded by my old friend Laura, my new friend Will, and my red rock refuge for the first time in twenty years. We three walked and talked and I bought a pair of socks at the Zion Lodge gift shop. I haven’t been able to throw away these worn-out holey socks because they remind me of friendship, love, and refuge.
Paraphrasing Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web: It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Will was both.
Tom and I got back to Arlington on October 2. In Arlington we tested positive for Covid-19, which was no surprise. In the latter half of September, I had felt like I had the flu with a little cough and aches and chills. At first, it was a little difficult to tell what I had because we were tent camping and a few aches and chills go with the territory. Tom followed with similar symptoms. A couple of day after we got home, we got the call that my brother Dan had died of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dan I have a lifetime of memories of Dan: from early years in Detroit and Milford to the middle years in Ann Arbor, Dodge City, Kansas and Lemoyne, Pennslyvania to the later years on our Deep Creek family reunion weekends. For all his brilliance–and he shone brightly with style and grace and rock and roll songs or poetry ever on his lips–it is Dan’s kindness I remember most. Circa 1970, when Dan and his wife Jeanne lived in Ypsilanti they watched over the baby sister–me–eight miles away in Ann Arbor. They hosted my 21st birthday party in their small apartment. A few years later, Dan and Jeanne’s home in Dodge City was my beacon as I crisscrossed the country between Michigan and the Intermountain West. I could go on, but I I don’t know if I can trust my own words to do justice to this good brother. A couple of months ago, on this blog, I dedicated Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill to Dan. While not exactly a prince of our apple town, he was the fair-haired and bold youth with the golden ’36 Ford with the corvette engine. Enough. Let Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey say the words.
*Maybe you caught it: I wasn’t quite able to write all of Randi’s verbs in past tense. Not yet.
**Laura is not exactly a “lifelong” but since our teaching fellow days beginning in 1973; close enough.
This summer–like all the other summers I’ve known–seems beautiful.* Even with the loss, the sickness, the uncertainty, the worry, the fires, the floods, the wars, and all the rest of it, I am trying (fitfully, I admit) to see some good in this world. I do see it in my stalwart family and friends and in the sky, plants, and animals. I don’t have much to say, at least much that is new, but I hope you enjoy the photos.
*Sometimes I find it difficult to be hopeful without sounding like some superannuated, prissy Pollyanna. I really don’t think I am a Pollyanna; I think I am more of an inveterate idealist. Whatever I might be, I still find myself sad and angry quite often. For example, yesterday I discovered that someone had ripped out the two pink fuzzybean plants off a trellis in Hillside Park. I had transplanted these plants from Arlington’s native plant nursery last fall. I watched the plants as they came up in late spring and cheered them on as they grew up the trellis and spread wider and wider flinging out their green leaves to the wider world. Did someone think they were getting rid of noxious weeds? Was some person or persons just wreaking a little casual cruelty on the park? I don’t know, of course, but I was sad and angry. It was a petty little anger amid the current sorrows of the world and of humankind. However, the hopeful part of me is wondering now whether the plants will grow back from their roots in another season. I wish them well.
I tried to write a post before the summer solstice in June, but that didn’t work out. By July 4th, I wasn’t even thinking of writing anything. Because Labor Day is coming up in a little over three weeks, I am shaking the dust off my mind and heart and trying again.
Please don’t get me wrong. Things are okay for me. This summer Tom and I met up with family members and ate lunch in Milford, Michigan, my hometown. I walked in sunny meadows and shady forests with Tom and with friends. I heard frogs, barred owls, and other birds. Day after day, I have listened to Tom play Mozart sonatas on the piano. I saw the dragonflies by little ponds, but they moved too fast for me to photograph. Many of the native plants Tom and I planted last year in Hillside Park are thriving (blue mist flowers, New York Ironweed, golden ragwort, blazing star, forest stonecrop, and pink fuzzy bean). We ate lunch at the Bayou Bakery today and Tom is making paella for dinner.
Still, I am older than I was before the Trump administration befell us and the pandemic began. I miss my brothers and my mother and father. I tell myself to live for the day and to be grateful while I spend more than enough time in reverie of earlier days–of sun on the lake where I grew up, and on the snow, and on the ponderosa needles at the North Rim.
For the last few days, I have been thinking about Dylan Thomas. Although Thomas is not one of my favorite poets, I have always liked him well enough. Today, I remember one who loves poetry and, I do believe, may have once declaimed “Fern Hill” for me. Today, I send the poem back to you, my dear one.
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
I started writing a post in early April–it is still in my drafts file–but I got annoyed by WordPress’ new publishing format and let my words and photos dangle in the airless vault of the Internet. Even though “technology” was featured in two of my most recent job titles, I am somewhat of a Luddite. However, I do think that as programs, platforms, applications, and what-all become more streamlined and standardized, it is possible that creative work can become overly lockstep. Enough of my carping excuses for my procrastination: I want to write about spring before Memorial Day!
I might have shaded the truth a bit (above) about the reason/s for my procrastination. What is slowing me down is that I keep thinking about the almost 600,000 people who have died of Covid-19 in the United States and the millions more around the world, and about those who loved and cared for them. Also, I live 4.5 miles away (by foot) from the U.S. Capitol and I was under curfew on January 6, 2021. That spooked me and saddened me. Before the Inauguration, Tom saw an armed gunboat patrolling the Potomac River near Georgetown. When the celebratory fireworks began on Inauguration night, I worried that our country and its institutions were under attack again. I continue to be gobsmacked by lies, disrespect, viciousness, and what-all. Also, I feel somewhat discomfited about how lucky I have been through all this mess and about the–mostly–good spring I have had.
- I have been wanting to tell you this for awhile: For months, I got through each day by getting the next day’s coffee ready ridiculously early, like at 1 p.m. I wasn’t sure I had the emotional energy to get the coffee machine ready before bed, let alone the next morning. Not a solution to any problem, but, and this is the truth now, having the coffee ready to go helped me feel ready for whatever might be coming the next day.
- I don’t usually pray, but I do try to send good thoughts and love to our children and their families every night. Some nights, I fall asleep before I finish my good thoughts.
- It has been almost nine weeks since our second vaccinations. Tom and I have been lucky to see and hug many family members and friends. We have been to Shenandoah National Park, Williamsburg, Pittsburgh, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. We have more jaunts in the works. Now, we are staying fairly close to home. Later, we don’t know where we will go. We are still waiting to find out which way the wind is blowing.
- We have had a beautiful spring here. I think we always have beautiful springs wherever we are, but this season has been another one. On April 26 on Theodore Roosevelt Island I noted these flora and fauna: Carolina wren with oak catkin in mouth, another C wren?, another wren or warbler???, mallards, heard red-winged blackbird, several birds I couldn’t identify, turkey vultures, robins, sparrows, lots of minnows from bridge by the marsh, cabbage butterflies, other butterflies–slight possibility of a zebra swallowtail?, pawpaws-no flowers, tall meadow rue, lots of garlic mustard, Virginia waterleaf, Hartford fern?, horsetails. As usual, I had a few questions about what I observed. I can report that I have now seen some blooming pawpaws and that the tall meadow rue is going into flower. Note: All these nature words aren’t just small items on a useless list; they keep me close to the ground where–even in difficult times–I feel safe.
Spring did come after that difficult winter and now summer is about to follow. The 17-year cicadas are tuning up around here and the roses are coming out. I hope to see some of you soon. So long (as my Dad would say) and best wishes.
I started this article a week ago during Arlington’s small bout of snow and ice. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to effectively reconcile my homebound (from weather and pandemic) current self with younger versions of me who always loved to be out in the snow and ice. I didn’t want to have to find the words for all those winter feelings I didn’t feel this year. (See Winter: January 1, 2019 for some of my words about winter). Today, I realize that I don’t need to dig for those words and feelings anymore. I have received my first Covid-19 vaccination, I have walked five miles today, buds are plumping up on the witch hazel in Hillside Park, and spring is coming soon. Before spring arrives in earnest, I want to share some words and photos about my favorite refuge during this winter of our pandemic and social disunion.
This winter, I have been walking often on Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is 0.8 miles from our condo. It’s not the ponderosas on the North Rim or the slickrock in Canyonlands, but I do love this tiny little bit of the national park system, just as I love the other parks.
While TR Island is only 88.5 acres, heavily visited (over 160,000 people visit yearly), and cheek by jowl with our hyper-urban Rosslyn, Arlington neighborhood, when I am on the island I find respite from this distressing time. I would have thought that walking here on this island–a little over a stone’s throw across the water from the Kennedy Center–would be much different from walking on the North Rim or in Canyonlands, but, somehow, it feels much the same. I glimpse a red-bellied woodpecker, I see the mallards paddle around the marsh, and I marvel at the fungus on the stump. I want to hug the beech trees. The underbrush all mixed together with water, snow, and leaves reminds me of the lakes of my childhood. I find solitude on the island’s Upland Trail. Seeing the Paul Manship statue of Theodore Roosevelt lifts my spirits. None of the U.S. presidents have been without flaws, but, still, on every trip to the island, seeing the statue, of Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, eased some of my pain related to the presidency of Donald Trump. Time after time in these last months, while my mind and heart were filled with worry and sadness, my feet headed toward the island where my body, mind, and heart revived.
I keep meaning to go to the island early in the day with my binoculars. I want to sit on a bench on the boardwalk and listen to and watch the birds. I think I will go next week. Soon enough, I will be hearing the frogs.
I hope you are vaccinated or will be soon. I hope you will be able to visit loved ones soon. I hope spring will come soon for us all.
At least by my personal reckoning, we didn’t have real winter this year here in Arlington, Virginia. There were a handful of cold days and some smatterings of snow, but that was it.* Missing winter, spring began earlier than usual. Maybe that was a foreshadowing of catastrophe that I shouldn’t have missed.
I last went to a museum on March 11. We had two of our children over for dinner on March 13. We went camping March 14. Things were changing and then they were changing more.
March ended and April came–sometimes with its showers–always with sadness and worry. It is May now and we do have flowers. I still have few words worth sharing, but I thought I would post some May flowers from now and from other times. I wish you well; I hope you will be safe.
* I admit to wearing my long underwear quite a bit on my walks even without the winter, but that’s just because I am such a bona fide sweater-wearing old person now. This from one who used to pride herself on running out to the mailbox barefoot through the snow!
I have been doing it again. Ideas for stories rattle around in my head, but I don’t write them down and see where they take me. For example, for a couple years now, I have wanted to write about sycamore trees. Why didn’t I hardly notice them for most of my life? I think I will write about sycamores in a week or two, Another possible topic: I want to write about socks I have known and loved. Tom wondered why I would want to write about socks. I guess that is a bit hard to figure, but I think it is about where I was when I got the socks and where I walked in them. Not an epic topic, I am quite sure, but it is true that is what I have been thinking about. I also have had a draft about doughnuts in the works for three years. A fourth topic is the one I choose to write about today: my observations about living on the edge of the (so-called) swamp of Washington, DC.
First, I want to go on the record to say I love swamps. It would be hard not to do so growing up on a lake in Southeastern Michigan as I did. My brothers will remember the small swamp off Driftwood Drive with the beautiful dead tree and also all the frogs we used to hear. I love Congaree National Park–even though the wild pigs frighten me. I love Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park–even though I am wary of (and thrilled by) the alligators in both parks. My point is that people who might say that we (or they) need to “drain the swamp” here in the capital city are not using an effective metaphor for this water-loving native born lowlander.
Anyhow, our country is in such turmoil that I–like almost everyone I know–go through bouts of anxiety, anger, and despair. However, here in Arlington, Virginia (just across the river from DC) and whenever I go into the city, I see, hear, and feel hopeful signs. I want to write some words to convince myself–and maybe you–that the glass (possibly cracked) remains half full.
My husband, children, and I first visited the National Mall in 1978, when we moved to Arlington. We enjoyed the museums and, especially the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.* We didn’t have much extra cash then and everything (but the food) was free and wonderful. Currently, Tom and I go to the Mall almost every week and everything is still free and wonderful. Now there are more museums, more gardens, and the museum food, while still not free, is much tastier than it used to be. Often, a gloom settles on me as I read my morning Washington Post and New York Times. Then, Tom and I hop the Metro to the Mall and my faith in the strength, resilience, and fundamental democratic spirit of our country is restored.
Every time we visit DC, we see people thronging to the museums, the carousel, the gardens, the memorials, and the parades with the same happy enthusiasm as always. People also attend and speak out at marches and protests with the same idealistic passion as always. I believe that authoritarian despoilers are threatening our democracy. However, on Mall days, I feel like we, the people, can (and I hope, will) protect the our people, our land, our Constitution, and our democracy.
*I thank the founder of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, S. Dillon Ripley, Smithsonian Secretary from 1964 to 1984, Ralph Rinzler, and many others for the festival,** the carousel, and for helping me feel at home and welcome in the capital city.
**In the past many years, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been less well-funded than it was in some years. I hope this will change. In fact, it does look like there are plans for a longer festival this year than last year. This year the festival will be June 24-28 and July 1-5. For more information see the festival webpage.
We live in Arlington,
We live in Arlington,
Right next to Washington, DC!
These lines come from a little song that our children learned when they were (at various times) in about second grade in Arlington Public Schools. Our oldest child, Sarah, started public school Montessori at Hoffman-Boston School in 1978. Our youngest child, Billy, graduated from Yorktown High School in 2005. So, you can see we spent a goodly amount of time in Arlington. There was a stint in Denver in the early 1980s and then in 2006 Tom and I moved to Charlottesville. There we gardened, we walked everywhere in town, we drove those back roads (Old Plank Road, Poorhouse Road, Hebron Church Road…), we listened to music, and we loved our neighbors. During this era, we did another stint in Denver and we also traveled many roads (55,000 miles’ worth) in our camper.
Now we have come back here, right next to Washington, DC. We plan on more road trips, from our new/old base of Arlington. Here, too, we will garden, we will walk, and we will listen to the music (Jazz last weekend). We will go to Shakespeare, lectures, museums, and hang out with our children and friends, whom we love.
Below are some of the things I like about Arlington.
Actually, I am struggling with this writing. I want to tell you about how Sarah and Robert’s elementary school (Drew Model School) was so big into process and project-based learning. I used to tell folk stories to the children and go on nature walks with them. I remember how Billy loved to wear the monarch butterfly suit at Long Branch Nature Center. Also, I think about how years later, my friend and fellow teacher Donna and I would walk along the stream at Long Branch with the immigrant parents and their children. Dusk came and the bats started flying. I remember one of our teachers’ assistants, Dan. He was a young Vietnamese man and he would swing with the kids–like the child he almost was. When I think of those evenings, I want to cry for the loveliness of it.
For the first several years in Arlington we didn’t have much money. However, even at the beginning, in 1978, we did have money for Brenner’s Bakery doughnuts (sadly defunct these many years) down the street. Later on, mostly in the 1980s, kindly women would cluck over our children at Korean, Vietnamese, and Salvadoran restaurants and serve us delicious meals for a little bit of money. Many years later–in the late 1990s–my adult students from Bosnia, El Salvador, and Vietnam made food for Sarah and Mike’s wedding feast.*
I think I am working up to a more focused comment. I loved and I do love the diversity of Arlington. At the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), I taught adult immigrants and refugees from over 80 countries. Even now, when Arlington is much trendier than in the old days, I look out from my Starbucks table and see people from everywhere walk by on Clarendon Boulevard.
We live close to Washington, DC. Since Tom and I moved back here a little over a month ago, we have been jogging: Jogging past the Netherlands Carillon, past Arlington Cemetery, and along the Potomac River. Sometimes we cross the Memorial Bridge–trotting straight towards the Lincoln Memorial, left past the Kennedy Center, on to Georgetown, and over the Key Bridge back home. What can I say? I have a degree in political science and another in American Studies: I love being here.
Not even getting into the rest of the natural, cultural, and historical opportunities, but we love the Smithsonian Institution. We have been visiting the museums, the zoo, the gardens and the Folklife Festival non-stop for almost 40 years and we never get tired of it, and the price is still right.
After 9/11, we saw the Pentagon burning. You have probably figured that I am not a big military type, but this was my home. I cried for days. Later when Tom and I joined Arlington’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), every one of our instructors from the Arlington County Fire Department had been at the Pentagon after the attack. I am honored to have learned from these (and I never use this word lightly) heroes.
Enough! I love Milford, MI and Lake Superior; those red rocks and wild mountains of the west; Charlottesville and its funky music heart, but I am happy to be back home in Arlington.
*Also, our friend Sharon’s mom brought a Southern Maryland specialty, spinach-stuffed ham.
It probably goes without saying that I am distressed and angry about the divisive words of the extreme political right wing. I could name names, but you know those already, so I won’t sully this page. I do wonder, though, if a visit to Minidoka National Historical Site on a cold and windy day (such as when Tom and I visited) might make some ugly talkers rethink their support for a particularly ethnocentric and stupid idea. Minidoka, one of 10 relocation centers created in 1942 by FDR, had a population of approximately 10,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese. Throughout the relocation system, 120,000 people were interned.
Although some of my friends, relatives, and coworkers have long known that I stand somewhat left of center on many issues, others of you reading this may not know that. Now, I mostly want to write about music, trees, hikes, and my memories of my family. I wanted to write this post about traveling on the Going-to-the-Sun road. Not now. For weeks, I have been putting off writing about refugees, but I can’t in good conscience wait any longer. So, instead of writing about walking on mountain trails and beside blue lakes, I have to sit here and cry while I try to figure out what to say.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a refugee. The closest I ever got to being an outcast was when my students and, I guess, the school administration thought I was a communist back in Page, Arizona forty years ago.
However, I have had the great honor to work with refugees from around the world. Although I have discarded at least a ton of books and papers these last years, I have kept much (probably most) of the writing from the adult students. When I read the students’ words now, even after many years, I still feel the beating of their hearts.
The United States did not designate the Salvadorans as refugees, That’s a long story, but the thousands my school worked with were refugees according to definition on the website of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR): “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Here’s what one young Salvadoran man wrote:
I want to talk about my country, it’s El Salvador. I miss my family and my friends. I want to see my mama. Also, I am missing my farm. I am missing my horse, and cows, dog, but I want to live in this country because in my country, we have war.
Mostly, the Salvadorans didn’t talk to me about war. They just moved ahead with their lives. One woman—I’ve forgotten her name, but not her—I taught in a family literacy class at an elementary school in Arlington, Virginia. In those classes, we were all moms and dads together and so things were shared that might not have been talked about in other venues. She talked about how they all slept on the floor because of the flying bullets. This woman let me see the residual pain behind her cheerful, can-do demeanor. She and her family prospered in Arlington, as did the young man who had missed his horse and cows.
The woman who made me the golden and ever-blooming flowers (below) told me about her flight through the Cambodian jungle. I think she was the person who told me about burying her child on that journey. Forgive me, there are so many stories, they sometimes run together. I need to share the stories to help dispel the baseless fears that demagogues spread.
At my school, the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), we were always working on projects of one sort or another to help figure out the best and most appropriate ways to teach adult immigrants and refugees. For one project, I interviewed a young Somali woman. She talked about how one day she went to the market and by the time she got back home, her home and her husband had been blown up.
When our school was preparing to receive a large group of Somali refugees, we were advised by human resources experts that it would be culturally inappropriate for a woman to shake hands with a Somali man. The first time a Somali man walked into our computer learning center, I walked up and enthusiastically shook his hand, as he did mine. He was in a new land and—enthusiastically—beginning to make a new life.
These refugees have lost so much and then they come here and share so much pain, yes, but they also share their love and their hope with us.
One day I was sad in class because I was thinking of my mother and her cancer. One young woman told me that she would “pray for your mother in the holy month of Ramadan.” Thank you.
So many stories: They are pictures I keep in my heart. I think I will stop for now.
However: I want to say, these adult students were so brave and strong. Unlike the fear-mongering stories promulgated by the extreme right wing, these people didn’t want to kill me. They made food for my family and me. I loved them and they loved me.
Bits of scripture still rattle around in my agnostic brain. Refugees are not the fiends those wicked people say. Refugees—at least until they get on their feet—are the least of our brethren:
…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Matthew, Chapter 25, Bible, Revised Standard Version)