Memory Collectors


How do you remember? Is through sheer memory recall to days and situations and events years in the past? Or perhaps through objects collected over the years that become place holders for memories?

This morning I spent cleaning part of my parents basement – mostly going through stuff they had saved to see if any of it was going to be of interest to either myself or my sister.  We’ve being doing these sort of activities – “Do you want this?” “Will you ever use this?” “If you don’t want it, I am going to get rid of it” – more of late as my sister gets ready to move into her new house, and as my parents are trying to declutter some of the house.

It is amazing the accumulation of objects over their lives thus far (and equally amazing is the stuff I realized they have saved of mine from when I was a kid!) I tend to find myself more easily discarding things of mine that I haven’t used or wore in awhile, but I lean towards holding onto the “old” stuff much more. Perhaps its holding onto the memory of my grandparents, who passed away when I was 14 and 17 years old, respectively. My grandfather was an avid fisherman. I probably have fished once or twice in my life, and it was with him, up in my Mom’s hometown. He caught many a Walleye Pike, but three of them were taxidermied and mounted years ago. And guess who has dibs on them?

They are a reminder to me of who he was and something he was passionate about. Every time I look at them, it takes me back to Bagley, MN; to my grandparents immaculate house, to the basement where I would sit and type on my grandpa’s old typewriter, to my grandfather’s garage/workspace where my sister and I would play when we weren’t driving around and around the block in the golf cart.  See what memories those fish hold, and I wasn’t even around when they were caught and mounted?

Similarly, my mom has kept a lot of things of my grandmother’s- her cookware and serving dishes, her baking things, and her lefse griddle (if you’ve never heard of or tasted lefse, you need to check out this bakery and order yourself some – and some almond cookies, too!). I can practically smell how warm and inviting and delicious her kitchen always smelled when we first arrive to visit. An awesome cook and an amazing baker, she left a legacy in her recipes. Her kitchen was also the meeting place when we would visit – between our family and my grandparents friends and my moms childhood friends who still lived in the area, Nana’s kitchen was the focal point.

It is an interesting phenomenon to me, my ability to donate or discard things of mine that I don’t deem necessary to keep, but things that are tied to a previous part of my life, when certain people were still with us but who have since passed away, it is a vastly different scenario. I recently was in the attic and came across a set of books by Alexandra Day (the Good Dog Carl series). Three of the four I have were given to me as a child by my own parents. I went through them, reading the inscriptions, and came to Carl’s Christmas, and saw my Nana’s handwriting. Instant tears. Geez, I tear up just remembering it.

I suppose we tie our memories to objects in an effort to hold onto that time, or situation, or person. There is a guilt associated with getting rid of things that were parents or grandparents possessions. Almost as if by discarding the object, the memory might go with it, or that a piece of that individual or event will be gone too. It seems too final. And so, its easier to hold on. But some things, really, do we use them? Do we have any use for them (I would venture not, if its been sitting on a shelf for a number of years, it might actually have been forgotten about entirely until the task of de-cluttering begins…)?  Do we not trust ourselves to remember without something to prompt us? Or are we simply afraid if we let go of the objects, it means we are letting go of the person as well?

 

 

“If heaven was a town it would be my town
On a summer day in 1985
And everything I wanted was out there waiting
And everyone I loved was still alive.”

-Andy Griggs, If Heaven

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A Few Thoughts on Easter….


Today is Easter, as we are all aware, whether a religious follower or not. I tend to not be super-religious or an avid church-goer. Today was the first time I was in church this year, with the exception of picking up a friend’s kid who is in preschool there. Though I do not really ascribe to any specific religious dogma, and rather consider myself a spiritual person, I did find myself feeling somewhat refreshed upon leaving the service this morning. However, during the service, during the recitation of prayers, I looked around at the congregation, and began to wonder how many of us were just going through the motions, and how many were just repeating the words we learned and memorized at a young age? In a way, I include myself in that unknown number of people, because I say the words from rote memory, but I no longer really contemplate the meaning of the words that I am giving voice to.

The sermon today was entitled “Sleeping Through the Resurrection,” which I believe was aptly named not only for the fact that it is Easter, but more for the way so many of us sleep through it all with regards to religion. I still am not a believer in organized religion, per say, but I understand its draw for many. But then there is a huge number of people, I think, who gain membership at a church and go through the motion each Sunday, but do so because of tradition than due to any deep-seated belief. I think it can be seen in the fact that fewer young people than before are joining church congregations, but at the same time, I would surmise there are more people (probably the younger generations) who don’t know exactly what they believe. I may fall into that category, but I have my set of beliefs. They may overlap with beliefs of “organized” religion, be it Christianity or Buddhism, or perhaps a mix of both.  I believe that somewhere, there is some being bigger than all of us. Bigger than all of this. But I do not know its name, or if it has one. And I refuse to give it one.Overwhelmingly though, I believe in the goodness of people at the core of their being.

I think the reason I felt refreshed today when I left church has less to do with the prayers and songs, as much as it gave me an hour for reflection. I inevitably end up thinking about my grandparents, who have been gone for years, but whom I have never stopped missing. It makes me sad, but then I think about all the holidays, Easter included, that were spent in their presence. Perhaps it creates a little nostalgia and living in the past, but it happens every time I sit through a church service. I think about those that have gone before and those who may be presently ill. And so my quiet thoughts go out to those people, both alive and not, for peace where ever they are.

The talks about peace and love can be lost on the masses, but just those two words voiced over and over sort of renewed my faith in humanity. I want to work with the under-served and the poor, and those two words ground me a little from tendency we all have to get caught up in the every day hustle and bustle. Everyone has their own crosses and burdens to bear, but Easter reminds me somehow that we all can be – and need to be – just a little bit more tolerant, and kind, and patient, and loving to our family, friends, and fellow man.

Late Weekend Picture Post


Pictures from this past Saturday, in Brandywine Creek State Park. Totally forgot my camera for the Alapocas State Park, which was really cool too. Maybe next time.

one of many walls dividing up fields

one of many walls dividing up fields

A view from across the way

A view from across the way

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Naked winter trees and a 200 year old stone wall. Picturesque...

Naked winter trees and a 200 year old stone wall. Picturesque…

005 006

budding trees and sparkling water

budding trees and sparkling water

Sunlight reflecting off the Brandywine Creek

Sunlight reflecting off the Brandywine Creek

Little woodpecker friend. He was just out and about looking for some bugs :)

Little woodpecker friend. He was just out and about looking for some bugs 🙂

And again...

And again…

Near the mill

Near the mill

Rushing water

Rushing water

A view up the way

A view up the way

Nothing like a little natural beauty to begin the week! 🙂

 

 

Monday’s Food For Thought…


Currently Listening To: Lorelai by Fleet Foxes

 

Happy Monday! And Happy Spring (a wee bit late), though the fact that it snowed most of the day today is not any real indication that Spring has begun.snow

It has been a great couple of weeks so far, since returning from the Delaware Water Gap. Classes are beginning to wind down towards finals and final papers, and I am thoroughly looking forward to a long weekend off (perhaps getting some hiking in?) Last week was busy with work, and then volunteering and classes. Friday was a great day because the place I volunteer at (which is primarily an outpatient rehab for those without insurance and those journeying through the criminal justice system for drug/alcohol related charges) has a food bank on some Fridays each month. It depends on how much food they are able to get, since funding has been drastically cut since the economy took a hit. It seems like an oxymoron of sorts: the country’s food banks are established and kept going to help feed people and families who are struggling to make ends meet. However, the economy takes a huge hit, millions end up jobless, and the food banks lose a lot of funding to help those in need. Of all programs to cut, I feel like something like this should not be put on the chopping block as easily. How are those same families who have members who have lost their jobs supposed to get by while they look for work? compassion

There are, as is the case in almost every facet of society, some people who abuse this system that has been set up to help people. There are those who get food, only to take it and sell it. Or who hit up all the food banks in the area, even though the rules stipulate that you can only go to one. Dishonest people have a knack of trying to ruin things for the rest of people trying to do things and live life the right way.

But perhaps this has more to do with the societal culture surrounding poverty than it has to do with “bad people.” While there are definitely some bad eggs out there, I think that poverty breeds a million different ills, and dishonesty to try to make a buck or to get ahead quickly (and perhaps even minimally) seems to be one of them. But the question is, then…what can be done to change that? Or, rather, is there anything that can be done? poverty

Just food for thought, I suppose. I often think about how to resolve issues of society, but too often, the working dynamics tend to be far more complicated and involved than we may realize when just skimming the surface of an issue.

Time Flies But Never Seems So Long Ago…


Currently listening to: You Could Be Happy – Snow Patrol

Time is never time at all

You can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth

And our lives are forever changed

We will never be the same

The more you change the less you feel

Believe, believe in me, believe

That life can change, that you’re not stuck in vain

We’re not the same, we’re different tonight

Tonight, so bright

Tonight

-Smashing Pumpkins

 

It is amazing how quickly time has flown by in this last decade. For one, the end of high school and the end of college doesn’t seem like it was so long ago (though one is markedly farther in the past than the other). Secondly, I don’t feel like I am at the latter end of my 20s, rather than at the beginning. I remember when I was just turning 20/21, that I felt like 30 was a long ways off. Sort of how I felt when I was ten years old or so, about becoming an adult at age eighteen (though, let’s be honest, it’s only a point of legality, because nobody is an adult at that age). It’s forgiveinteresting, the concept of time. The old cliché stands true: time seems to move faster the older you become. I can still recall things from my youth that don’t seem so long ago (and perhaps some of this is owed to the fact that I seem to have a heightened sense of awareness that causes me to remember many things more vividly, however long ago they may have been), and yet the last year or two seem to be have whizzed by in a blur.

From time to time, I find myself comparing where I am in life with where I “should” be. That is to say, where society traditionally would have had me be. Basically, married with kids. While it is a fruitless venture to compare myself to anyone else but me, or to anybody’s situation other than my own, I still fall victim to it sometimes. In a way, it can make one feel sort of shitty about their current life station. That is, if you run the tendency of being more of a pessimist. I try to remain a realistic optimist. So, for every time someone asks me if I have a boyfriend (No), or have kids (also no) – which, for the record, gets redundant and annoying to answer and feel the need to explain why not– I try to turn it into a positive. I am still in school for my Masters. I want to travel. I want to work somewhere abroad, hopefully. I want to go back later and pursue a PhD. These are all things that would be far more difficult to do with kids and a husband. Basically, I want to retain the freedom to go and do the things I want to do. So, when those nagging thoughts resurface to remind me that I am pushing thirty and have yet to start down the whole “family” road, I remind myself how many things I would be giving up on if I weren’t on the path that I currently am. And then I feel much better.

But, back to time flying by…which is where that digression led from. Part timeof me feels like I’m still too young to be almost thirty. While I can physically feel some of the changes from when I was in my early twenties, in other ways, I feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually than I did back then. Though that can perhaps be owed to growing pains (and boy, did I have them!). I sometimes wish we were able to freeze parts of time. Even if only for a little while. And maybe the feeling like the distant past is not so distant is because I keep such vivid memories, and I hold onto them all quite tightly. Because each of those experiences have made me into the person I am today; the great, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.  So my reluctance to aging may be due to my firm grasp on memories. Which really, is not so bad of a reason…

Recent Happenings


Currently Listening to: Reason to Believe – Tim Hardin

The peak of Mount Tammany at the Delaware Water Gap, 1250 feet up.

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Last weekend, the first weekend in March, I went hiking up at the Delaware Water Gap, both in NJ and PA. The first hike was to summit Mt.Tammany, and upon that happening, the sun appeared for one of maybe 3 times during the entire weekend. Gorgeous views, unobstructed by foliage that would be present in the Spring and Summer. After that, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail (for the first time! Woot!) up to Sunfish Pond, which was frozen. It apparently is one of the 7 Wonders of NJ. I’ve lived in NJ my entire life, and had not a clue that this state had one wonder, let alone seven. 😉 On the way back, realize that a good portion of the ridge had obviously seen a forest fire sometime in the last couple of years, as a lot of the trees were scorched, but there was new growth that seems to have been coming up for awhile. While discovering this, I happened to look up and saw a plane. A silent plane. I thought it was a drone. I was informed that it was a glider. There were actually two of them, that kept flying around and around, quietly. I swear they were drones and were spying on us, haha.

Day two had us up at PEEC, otherwise known as the Pocono Environmental Education Center, which does a lot with youngsters – both Girl and Boy Scouts, as well as otherwise curious kids. They have a pretty good trail system, though there was a LOT of tree damage, which we were informed was from Hurricane Sandy. There were literally trees just snapped in half. Craziness. We went to this little “fossil cove” and found a bunch good-sized rocks with fossils in them from the Devonian period. I’m a history lover (history of all kinds!), so I found this quite interesting. We also did a trail called tumbling waters, which is a lot of up and down trails, leading to a waterfall in the middle of the forest. It was a two-parter, and was very pretty. The lower end of the falls was narrow and really steep – I was getting dizzy standing on the rock overlooking the drop off. After that, we did Dingman’s Falls, though the road up to it was closed, but the falls were still open. They had part of the access roadway washed out from the storm and haven’t completely repaired it yet.

On Sunday, we drove up to Bushkill Falls, but they were closed. We walked around the property and saw that part of the fence was down, so we ventured in. It was closed to the public for the obvious reason of lots of ice, but we were very careful and wary of this fact. It is absolutely beautiful – the falls, surrounded by ice. The sun appeared a couple of times during that venture, as well. After that, headed home, by way of Rt. 32 that runs North and South along the Delaware. Stopped for amazing pizza in New Hope, PA. Thought it could also have been that I was just ravenous by that point. 😉

Hopefully mid-April will be bringing another hiking trip, probably down to Virginia for the weekend. By that time, Spring will be in full swing, and the sun will be out!

Happy Sunday everyone – have a great week! 🙂

A Re-Visit to Guatemala and the Past


Currently Listening To: Where Have All The Flowers Gone? – Joan Baez

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

This past Saturday, I had a impromptu meeting (along with my parents and little Aubrie) with one of the two missionaries we used to work with in Guatemala. The husband, John, was sick and unable to make it, but we spent a good three hours with his wife, Sharon Harvey. She is originally from New Jersey, and this is their year to travel (every two years they make their rounds to various states in the Midwest and the East Coast), but I was not expecting (at all!) to meet with her for lunch. It’s been at least 6-7 years since I last saw the Harvey’s, and it was in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I traveled with my family for seven trips in ten years (my parents beat me and my sister for ten trips in ten years), before we stopped going. But after meeting with Sharon, it seems that there is a possibility for another trip to Chichi. I am excited about this prospect, because it will be a different dynamic, now that my sister is a nurse (as well as my mom being one), and I will be finished by Masters program in public health, so I will have more to offer in that realm.

When we traveled to Guatemala in previous years, my sister ran the pharmacy while my Dad and Mom (and the other nurses) saw patients. During these trips, I was in charge of the children’s ministry, which means that I was in charge of anywhere between 50-300 kids in a given day. There were various activities, from games such as red light-green light, duck duck goose (you’d be surprised how popular that one was!), and plain old soccer to activities such as puppet making (either the brown paper bag kind or the yarn dolls), coloring, face painting, song singing, and some Bible stories and lessons. I wasn’t the only one who ran the children’s ministry – whoever was “younger” and amongst the team usually was assigned this post with me.  This position evolved as I grew up working in Guatemala. The first trip I was on was when I actually turned 13 years old. My mom had to convince the organization we went with (Gospel Outbound) that I was not only old enough (I believe the cut-off was fourteen), but that I was mature enough to go on this trip. Somehow, they believed my Mom – much to their regret. Haha. Joking aside, I can understand in retrospect what the hesitation would be to take someone that young along on an experience such as this. And I am extremely grateful that they let me go; that first trip had such a profound impact on me that it is difficult to explain. Not to lessen the influence of the subsequent trips on my psyche and world perspective. But that first trip – I remember so many details because I think the culture shock and the sheer reality of how so many people (I think seeing kids my own age made it hit home) live – how drastically different it is than how I grew up – that first trip changed my life.

Imagine yourself at thirteen. What was important to you? What your newest outfit was? What boy or girl liked you that week? What boy or girl you liked that week? Whether or not you did well on your Social Studies or Math test? Whose house you were having a sleepover at that next weekend? Basically, the normal preoccupations of most thirteen-year-olds in this country. Now, try to envision living in a one-room hut/shack that is made of mud bricks (not so much more evolved from more ancient times) and roofing made of tin, or terra cotta tiles, if you have money for that. There is one room for your entire family – parents and multiple siblings. There is a single light bulb, but it may not be working because the light bulb may have broken, and buying a new one is too expensive. Water for bathing is gathered from a cistern in the dirt yard behind your house. There is no running water to speak of – and outhouse as a bathroom that can double as a “shower,” with a bucket to fill and dump over your head. But bathing is infrequent, especially during the dry season; because water is much more scarce and needed for more pressing things, such as cooking. The clothes you have on may be the only set you own; if you’re lucky, you own a pair of shoes. Most kids your age go barefoot. If you’re a girl, you are considered by age thirteen to be a “sister-mother,” and help Mom care for the younger children. You most likely did not finish school past the 3rd grade, despite government laws requiring enrollment to 3rd grade. You spend much of your days either with your parents in the field growing what little crops you have, or walking hours to market to sell your wares. Or, if your family is really hard-pressed, you are sent into the streets to beg.

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It’s difficult to imagine, isn’t it? Does it feel impossible to put yourself in the shoes of a child such as that, in a place such as that? At an impressionable age, I was exposed to the harsh reality that everything I had at home; even the things I complained about, I was damn lucky to have. I was lucky to even have the opportunity to even travel to Guatemala to experience what I did.

That first year, we visited the city dump on the outskirts of Guatemala City. It was most definitely not for sight-seeing purposes. Rather, a few thousand families made their homes in a slum on the side of the dump.** There was raw sewage, one main water pump for numerous families to share, and no indoor (or outdoor) plumbing for bathrooms. It was such a raw, harsh scene it was difficult to take it all in. I remember the smell. It was a mix of rancid sewage, the smell of fire from cooking, and body odor of some of the “villagers.” It put the final touch on a portrait of poverty, at least in my perspective. Some of the kids were unruly, and when we went to pass out some little gifts we had, I ended up getting backed against a wall with nowhere to go, with at least thirty kids pressed up against me grabbing for what I had in my hands. Finally, John had to break them up and get them in an orderly line to continue.

Overall, though, on that first clinic, on that first trip, what impressed me most was the level of happiness these people exhibited. This would continue to be observed in every village we went to, and almost every individual I interacted with. These people could express the most heart-wrenching story that may have left some of us in tears, and they would tell it with a smile on their face. Their live are difficult, unrelenting, and unforgiving in the poverty they endure. But the grace and determination exhibited by the Guatemalans is unparalleled when compared to many in “First World” countries.

So, we met with Sharon on Saturday. And the notion of traveling again to Guatemala was briefly discussed. And while time has passed since we last were there, the need has not diminished, and my family’s desire to give back and serve others has not either. So, time will tell if it works out for us to go. I certainly hope so. And if I never make it back their again, I will forever carry every trip, and every smiling face, and every story shared -both happy and sad – with me .And I will forever have a grateful heart for all the wonderful people of Guatemala that I have had the opportunity to meet, however briefly our exchange may have been.

“Experience life in all possible ways —
good-bad, bitter-sweet, dark-light,
summer-winter. Experience all the dualities.
Don’t be afraid of experience, because
the more experience you have, the more
mature you become.”
Osho

**A few years ago Hurricane Agatha caused massive mudslides in Guatemala, and part of the area affected was the Guatemala City dump and the slum that sat atop it.