“Who’s your friend that likes to play?”

There is a scene in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out where Bing Bong is sad because his space rocket has been thrown away. Joy needs to get to headquarters and tries to cheer him up by being happy and silly, but Bing Bong keeps being sad and won’t tell her how to get to the Train of Thought. Then Sadness walks up to Bing Bong and tells him she’s sorry that his rocket his gone, that it must have meant a lot to him. She gives him a hug, he cries on her shoulder, and he opens up to her. Joy tries to interrupt to say there’s not time for that, but once Bing Bong has someone to sympathize with him, he says he feels better and points to where they can catch the Train of Thought. On their way, Joy asks Sadness, “Hey, how’d you do that?” Sadness starts, “Well, I just -” and then the train arrives.

We know how she did it.

Sometimes all I want is to talk about my problems. My feelings. It helps me feel better to have someone listen and not want to jump in with solutions. Just to be there, to reassure me, to be supportive or say something like, “I’m sorry that happened.” Or “I know how that feels.” Or “What a sucky situation.”

I know what the solutions are. It’s not like I haven’t done the research, and the new information often can overwhelm me with yet more things I can do wrong or have failed at. More often than not I have applied this new information and am still frustrated. There are situations where I feel utterly helpless; there are times when I need to feel the uniqueness of an experience in my life before understanding that others have traveled a similar journey. This is when I can best feel the support of humanity, once I peek out of my self-involved bubble and am reminded that I am not alone.

It might just be certain personalities to offer fixes right away. And it’s definitely my accommodating personality to accept these people while still feeling horrible inside. Yes, thank you for trying to help, but that’s not what I need. Yes, I will feel better soon, but I first need to be allowed to feel sad/helpless/frustrated/embarrassed. That’s a part of my process, and it helps me in the long run if I don’t dismiss it or diminish it in any way.

Of course I try not to be melodramatic or overreact, and I’m resilient.

A not-so-heavy example: Yes, I’ve been complaining the past seven weeks about my cold. But should one suffer with a cold for that long? Should I rearrange my life around coughing, since it has wedged itself into my schedule? Should I just say “Oh, well” when my ribs are bruised from coughing so violently and for so long? No. But these things have happened to me, and I plan to get through them and to rise up stronger and more determined than before.

But for now, my body still needs to expel phlegm. But when I do this, or laugh, or take deep breaths, it hurts my ribs on the left side.

What’s my process? First, whine about it. Check: I’ve told several people, who range in sympathy, from: “Have you been checked for pneumonia?” to “Oh, man, I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Next, process this feedback. I’m glad that I could tell people who were willing to listen. I’m grateful for those who stepped back and truly sympathized/empathized. And I’m learning to be grateful for the form of concern people offer as suggestions or solutions. People mean well. And people have different points of reference.

Next, question myself: Wait, what am I doing trying to understand the people I want to understand me? Why does this feel like a bigger effort from me all of a sudden?

Next, return to feeling grateful: People love me, and they care.

Next, keep on keeping on: I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and food and exercise. I’m going to work hard at work and be a good mom and wife and friend, one day at a time. Hopefully enough days pass to heal my ribs and make my cough go away.

Any time along the way, this process could repeat itself any number of times.

I’m well aware others are in far worse situations. The not-so-heavy example of my bruised ribs partly serves to imply that much heavier issues are going on in my life. I’ve talked to some people about those issues, implemented these very steps of handling my emotions and becoming stronger and moving forward with my life. The sadness, helplessness, and frustration would be a much greater burden without this process.

It’s a blessing to share these clunkier and unpleasant parts of my life with the people who mean the most to me. Thank you for being there.

 

My People from the Land of My Birth

This morning I looked at my newsfeed and out of over 120 articles, 20 of them were about damage or relief or something about the typhoon that struck the Philippines.

headlines

I’ve been thinking about my mom’s family who still live there. Because they’re my mom’s family, they’re also my family, even though I haven’t met very many of them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve been worrying the past few days if everyone is okay.

The LDS Church issued a statement that all its missionaries serving in the Philippines are accounted for. Definitely good news.

But I’ve been thinking more about the 10,000 or so who are missing or did not survive. This morning I called my mom and asked if she heard anything about her family. Mom lives in Florida, but she spoke with a cousin who keeps in touch more often with our relatives in the Philippines. Mom said that everyone is fine; they live in a more northwestern part and the typhoon did most of its damage in another part of the country.

map

Mom said she’s sure her family got a lot of wind and rain, since the typhoon was as big as or bigger than the country itself, but she’s relieved that her family are safe. I’m relieved, too.

One of the things I found encouraging about the headlines above is the clarion call to the world to get moving and help the Filipino citizens. Times like this remind us that we know how to reach out and be good people. These times motivate us to think about humanity and nudge our hearts to beat again, three times bigger.

If I could fly over there and start separating debris and hugging people, I would. I’ll have to find another way. Find your favorite organization, and see what you can do to help.

Keep praying.

Manalangin para sa Pilipinas.

Boarding the Frontrunner

Monday afternoon I stood on the Frontrunner platform, waiting for the train home. The train arrived, and as the doors opened, I stood to the side, because I have a very useful habit of courtesy when it comes to public transportation.

I waited for any deboarding passengers while I watched two patrons get on without waiting. The first passenger was an Asian-looking man, and the second passenger was a Caucasian-looking woman. When the man boarded first, the woman called out to him, “Hey, ladies first!” The man briefly looked over his shoulder and mumbled that he was sorry. Then the woman replied, “That’s okay; it’s the American culture.”

Maybe it was because the news of inaccurately racist comments toward the newly crowned Miss America was fresh on my mind (for instance, instead of hearing spelling bee jokes [which is somehow less offensive to me because Indian Americans have dominated spelling bees recently, and I love it], all I read were terrorist/Muslim remarks) that this little scenario rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my slightly progressive way of thinking where I never assume “ladies first”; there are times that I’ll let men on the train before me just because I feel like being kind.

I don’t know anything about these two individuals. It’s interesting that the woman assumed the man wasn’t American, when it could be that the man just didn’t see her, or that he didn’t feel like being kind at that moment, or any number of reasons. It’s also interesting that with whatever assumptions the woman made, she felt prompted to “teach” the man about American culture, which: is this type of etiquette/courtesy a strictly American thing? Why was what the woman said so disparaging to me? Maybe the woman was trying to demonstrate to the man that she was trying to be more understanding, that she was trying to make up for yelling at him.

Am I assuming American exceptionalism where it wasn’t there, and maybe I should just conclude that the woman was trying to be more understanding of someone who wasn’t like her? Do I assume that she thought she was extending a kindness when she did not know its core was offensive (then, offensive according to whom)? Is that closer to the “American” culture?

At the same time, if I had an experience where someone had not observed an “American” custom with me, I would try to be more understanding and think that person perhaps came from a different culture.  Maybe that person wasn’t raised that way, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t necessarily American. And then I’m still left wondering what counts as American, and what doesn’t.

Therein lies so many more assumptions.

Thanksgiving Ponderance

So I’m reading the Book of Mormon
and it’s the Rameumpton scene.
And I’m just so thankful that I’m not like that
looking down from that tower up
so high, thanking God
that I’m better than
everyone else.
That I’m more righteous,
that I have more.
People at the top of that tower
are so stupid and pious.
Pie? Yes, please.

I know friends who struggle with mental illness / gay friends who’ve found success after getting kicked out of BYU / friends who’ve had their hearts broken trying to have or adopt children / those who’ve had their hearts broken trying to find love / friends with children who have limb differences and other special needs / friends who mourn and grieve all manner of loss / soldiers who have died in military service / those who know sign language / friends who’ve had sexual trauma / friends who don’t have “traditional” parents / homeless people / creative people / angry|bitter friends / friends and family whose feelings I’ve hurt / dying friends / lost friends / people who are easily offended / loved ones who don’t care about the church / introverts / friends who have helped with tsunami relief in Japan / and who have survived 9|11 / and hurricane Katrina / and hurricane Sandy.

My great and spacious building
faces the tower,
and we go around the table
with our abundant plentiful
copious many blessings
or list something every day
this month
that we are just so thankful for.
Guilt arrives,
awkward, familiar guest.
Help yourself to some stuffing,
turkey.

I remember the sick feeling I got the day after this past election / what it’s like to be “chee-choh-ching”ed at / what my own prejudices are / talking with African college students on a dilapidated campus about their dreams to teach their children and give their country hope / being at a drag show / my own sexual abuse as a child / being with my mom the first time she returned to the temple / the outhouse that my Filipino grandpa built that reminds me of the one the the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire / the trailer that I lived in as a kid / my barefoot cousins in a bamboo village / seeing friends who’ve been separated by distance and time and contention become reunited / a constant feeling of helplessness for this world / watching Muslims in Africa as they kneel in prayer / playing with malnourished, licy children who don’t care that my French is horrible / yelling at a homeless man / ordering another round / sweat.

This feast won’t settle. I wipe
the cranberry sauce and spleen
from my face. I excuse myself
and walk out of the room
and down the stairs.
I trip across the threshold
onto packed snow,
into fog.

The well-cloyed see me and scoff
because I keep slipping
away from the tower and the building.
I slide into a canyon of people
who slid there too,
better than anyone else
without knowing it.
You help me up.
It’s warm here.

I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.

The Opening Line of an Email Today

A few drafts of entries hide, latent, outside the public’s purview. They discuss mostly my French experience in Africa, and I wanted to focus mostly on the African experience, the human experience, the life stuff beyond the school stuff.

It’s hard to separate the two realms: I spoke, read, and wrote French in Africa. We took tests and turned in papers in that language. I’d rather just forget the grades from my study abroad, because–although they’re not horrible–they don’t reflect the breadth of my experience there.

Somehow,  I was able to channel the spirit of the adventure–my reason for being there–and focus that energy into some of my schoolwork. And it resulted in the opening line of an email that made my day today:

May,

Comment allez-vous?  Savez-vous que je vous ai donné un A pour votre projet anthropologique?  C’était magnifique, ce que vous aviez écrit.

So, I’m happy I did well on the anthropology project, which was about families. I enjoyed writing it; I appreciated being able to express some of the things I learned that were important to me.  I’ll push away the thought that I must have BUSTED on the exams to earn the overall grade. That thought is a little bit depressing.

One thing advanced French classes have taught me these past six months is that grades cannot define me. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve let it create doubt in my abilities as a student, a scholar, a writer. I’ve let it “degrade” me (sorry, pun, and I’ve also recently watched Wit again, which also plays with the word so it’s fresh on the brain) and undermine my identity. I still might write those entries, just because they outline some breakthroughs and personal growth that didn’t necessarily result in an A.

Unquantifiable stuffs. You know.