Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finding Ocean

Last Saturday, lacking any plans to venture off to far-away cities, I decided to wander around my own. My friend, Jon, and I concluded that since we live in a coastal city, there must be an ocean around somewhere. Oceans are beautiful. And fun. We should find it.

Well, neither one of us knew exactly where the ocean was, but I very rarely know where anything is, and that has never stopped me. Plus, Jon had a kind of general idea of the direction it should be. That was good enough. We started walking.

We walked for an hour or so before we hit water. Alas, it was not the ocean. It was a river. A pretty river, yes, but there were no waves and tides and gulls flying into the sunset. So we kept going. Rivers flow into oceans. It had to be around somewhere. After another hour, I told Jon that if we didn't find it soon, he was going to be carrying all 120 pounds of me back home because my feet were going to fall off. Exaggeration? Absolutely. But it was fun to watch him re-evaluate his confidence that the direction we were headed was the right one. 

Eventually, we found the ocean. Yes, we had to crawl through a hole in a fence and walk up a huge dirt pile to see it, but there it was--the water that stretched out forever at the edge of my world. The sun was just starting to turn pale gold and slither down the sky, and the gulls were still flying high over the water--so many of them that their silhouettes looked like a black cloud dancing above the water.

We could not get very close to the water because, you see, there wasn't actually a beach. Or any sand at all for that matter.

What there was, was a long stretch of gray clay, pocketed with little holes of water left from high tide. 

The gray ooze was keeping me from my ocean. While Jon found himself a nice little perch on top of the dirt pile and sat down, I looked down at the squishiness and evaluated. 

Now, most people think I am impulsive. That's not true. Perhaps I do things that seem impulsive sometimes, but the actions are always carefully weighed against the consequences before I choose to do them. 

Although, I probably should have taken off my shoes and rolled up my pants before stepping down into the wet clay ground. I started carefully walking out, as the ground got squishier and slimier. Finally, the inevitable happened, and the clay took my foot prisoner. And I mean, my whole foot. And leg. Up to the knee. Had I been barefoot, I would have been able to pull out, but as it was, the ground held my shoes and legs like quicksand. Fortunately, Jon had, by this time, joined me (feet bare and jeans rolled up like any semi-sane person would do). He and the ground played tug-of-war with me for a few moments before I was free. We then continued on out so that I could get pictures of the beautiful sunset, as it turned gold and then orange and then red, reflecting off the water like a thousand thousand mirrors, and then slipping behind the foggy city in the distance. 

When the sun was gone, it started to get really cold, so we picked our way back to the road, sloshed through some pools of water to get off the worst of the mud, and then started back, eventually hopping a bus back home. 

My socks were stained gray and my shoes will never be the same, but those pictures, and the ridiculous fun of that random day are a hundred times worth it. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Anthology of Children

Just a little look into some of my kids:

1. The first day of class, about six weeks ago, I was in with my three-year-olds. There were a lot of them. I was intimidated. However, the lesson started off fairly well, and I had them expertly applying stickers to their workbook pages in no time. All of a sudden, two of the boys, Billy and Jake, who were sitting next to each other, turned in their seats (as if on cue) towards each other, moved their faces together until they were three inches apart, and promptly started screaming at the top of their lungs. I was completely caught off guard, and there was no way I could be heard above it, so I went over and physically turned them away from each other. The screaming stopped and they returned to their work. Five minutes later, they turned toward each other, moved their faces together, and started screaming again. This occurred every five minutes for the rest of class, with no apparent reason or motivation.  I don't know if they planned it, but it was so bizarre and completely in sync that it had to have been masterminded.

2. The other day, I took my youngest class into the gym, because we were learning about the five senses, and the lesson book said I was supposed to teach them how to play Blindman's Bluff. Of course, that is a super complicated game to explain to ten three-year-olds whose English vocabulary consists of about thirty words and a dozen or so facial expressions. So mostly I just blindfolded one kid and then let them all run around screaming and trying to tag/maul/drag each other to the floor. As I was refereeing this chaos, I looked over at the stage, and saw Billy sitting in the corner by the audio equipment and projector. He had several cords grasped in his chubby little hands, and was trying to stick them into their corresponding holes in the equipment. I immediately ran over to save the expensive toys, but when I tried to pry Billy from his game, he clutched the cords to his chest, threw himself onto the projector, and started screaming bloody murder. (Troy, I think I may have a guy for your crew in twenty years or so ).

3. There is, in one of my classes, a little four-year-old named Daniel. Daniel is very quiet, always happy, and always daydreaming. I don't know what he thinks about, but I can tell that he is far away a lot of times. He seems to like the other children, but I think he likes to be alone more. He loves to sit next to me, but only participates in the lesson when I consciously draw him into it. Over the first few weeks, I noticed something. When I gave drawing assignments, whether to draw shapes or family members, or anything they wanted, Daniel always, without fail, drew the same thing. First he drew a house. And then he started attaching balloons to it. All colors of balloons. He would get so engrossed in his picture, that he was usually the last to finish. But when he was done, he had a perfect rendition (as far as a four-year-old could do) of the house from the movie "UP." I love those pictures. They are somehow, just HIM. Last week, we were reading a picture book, and in it was a hot air balloon. Daniel saw it and got all excited, pointed to the hot air balloon, and shouted, "UP!!!"

4. Chris is one of my five-year-olds. He's been in English kindergarten for a year already, and he understands pretty much anything I say, as long as I keep it simple. His English is surprisingly advanced, and he is starting to read. Last week was his birthday, and after we finished a short birthday party in the gym, I led them back to class the classroom to wait for their Korean teacher (my partner) to come. I was leaving the classroom to head to my next class, when I noticed that Chris was kind of trailing behind after me. I turned back and knelt down and asked if I could have a hug. He ran to me, threw his arms around me, and kissed me. "Teacher, I love you." And then he was off, back to the classroom.

5. One day, as I was leading my five-year-olds down the hall to wash their hands for lunch, Andrew, always at the end, stopped at the window of another classroom, and stood looking in, with his hands on the glass. I went back to fetch him. "Teacher, Kelly is SO cute!" he said with a huge smile. (She really is. He has good taste).

6. Coloring assignment. Ten 3-year-olds. Ten papers. 100 crayons. I look around to see their progress. Half of them are eating their papers. The other half are eating their crayons. 

7. "Teacher? You have yellow hair and are from far away. And you are pretty. Are you a princess?"

8. Helena is one of the smartest kids I have. She is three. She also thrives on two things: being the center of attention, and being in a position of power. She's either going to grow up to be a brilliant business-woman, or the next dictator of North Korea. One day, I walk into class. The kids are sitting quietly on the floor, building something with blocks. Helena sees me come in, turns to the kid sitting next to her, and whispers something. Before I know it, the whole class is running around the classroom, roaring, pretending to be dinosaurs. It took me fifteen minutes to calm them down. She is also a sticker-stealer. By the second week of school, I caught her stealing stickers from other kids' sticker charts and putting them on her own. She cried when I sat her down to talk about it, and promised that she wouldn't anymore. The next time, she got a bunch of other kids to stand over there in the corner so that she could hide behind them when she stole stickers. Too bad teacher can see that her sticker chart is almost full and Billy's next to her only has two stickers. 

9. My six-year-olds think it's hilarious to hear me try to speak Korean. Their favorite thing in the world is to mock me. Crystal especially. When I try to teach an English word, she will say, "Teacher, teacher, in Korean, it's bulgogi'. Or whatever it is. Then, if I repeat it, she just laughs and laughs. Then she immediately tries to get me to repeat other Korean words. I must have a terrible accent.

10. I walk into class one day, and Sarah lifts her arms above her head into a heart. "Teacher, I lub you!" Pretty soon the whole class is copying. "Teacher, I love you!"  I didn't even teach them that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

If Easter Never Came

I did not intend to write this message. But yesterday was Easter, and there have been some thoughts on my mind that have been demanding a voice, that are too important to let fade in silence. Easter has always had a lot of significance for me, but this year, it positively changed me. This was not because of fun activities I participated in, or special messages I heard, or worship I felt.

It was because, for me, it never came.

Easter is the most important holiday in Christianity. I realize that in saying this I am going against thousands of people who would hold banners and holler that Christmas, the holiday named after the Author of Christianity himself, trumps this other tiny day that blooms for a brief moment in the youth of spring. But Christmas celebrates the fact that Christ lived. Easter declares that He lives. And this is the truth that saves me.

Usually, on Easter, I arise early, and in the dark of a still and pressing night, I climb a mountain. And then, sitting there on the peak or the summit of the only hill I can find in the city, I watch the sun swell over the horizon, lighting a blinding golden fire in the sky, filling the whole atmosphere with yellow and gold and pink and orange…and light. So much light that I can no longer remember my climb of darkness. And then I sing. 

“He is risen, he is risen, shout it out with joyful voice! He has burst his three days’ prison, let the whole wide earth rejoice! Death is conquered, man is free…Christ has won the victory!”

The words I can only sing haltingly, the notes pouring out with no precision and little beauty. But they mingle with the sunrise, and it is, somehow, enough. Darkness swallowed up in light. Death swallowed up in life. Despair swallowed up in hope. The end swallowed up in a new beginning.

But this year, there was no sunrise. There were no Easter hymns. And the world, my world, did not begin again. I could not find Christ. I could not find him on the subway or in the church, or on the grounds of His own temple. I tried. I looked for Him. But Easter morning turned to afternoon, turned to evening, and I found myself walking dark, foreign streets alone, shivering in the cold, my feet throbbing from uncomfortable high heels, wondering why Easter never came.

Normally when I am lonely, I know that God is there beside me. But there is another loneliness that is deeper, that swallows hope and quenches light. Last night, on those shadowy streets, I felt the loneliness of looking for God and not finding Him—like looking for the North Star and finding that, not only was it gone, but that every other star had also fallen from the sky, leaving it a vast sheet of everlasting darkness. The world felt as empty as if He had deserted all of creation and left it to spiral onward to its own self-destruction.

No, Easter did not come. And I wondered why I had to feel that—why when I desired to feel hope and life and light, I should be left in darkness. And then, quietly, and with the perfect teaching of a loving Father, a different question was put into my mind—What if, 2,000 years ago in a dusty city in a far-off land, that first Easter had not come?

What if Mary had gone to the tomb, and the stone was there, and it was not empty? What would the world be like today?

If, on that Sunday morning of long ago, Mary had found the body of her beloved Master, undisturbed in its borrowed tomb, my empty Easter would have been every Easter afterward. And every day. For every person in this crumbling, trembling, crying world.

The sacrament would be just another piece of bread. The temple would be just another building. And Easter would be just another day.

I know what life would feel like without Easter. I felt it yesterday, and I am full of gratitude for that gift. Because today I woke up with the sun and fell on my knees and thanked my God that the one time it mattered most, Easter came.