Monday, August 14, 2017

NYC Memories

Sitting here in front of my keyboard avoiding the words that are all piled up in my head. 

And then.

There is no time to do anything else except write.

Adjectives and adverbs crowd the air fighting for expression.

And so.  Let me tell you about my journey into the past this summer.

My friends asked me if I wanted to join them as they toured pieces of the east coast.  We had talked of it as a distraction many, many months ago while we were all in Moscow.  Time passed.  Life beckoned.  Finally, two were in Moscow, one in Virginia and I in Milwaukee.  Still, the dreamy idea floated above us as a thread unbroken pulling us to share our love of travel, history and culture.

I’m not sure which of us was more excited and amazed as the travel details came together.   New York City, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and a side drive to Appleton and Thorp for good measure.  It would be epic!

But I think each city needs its own blog post.  They were much too full to cram into one story. 

First.  New York City.

She welcomed us with open arms.  Hot, sticky, crowded, friendly, generous, laughing New York City.  We went up Freedom Tower, down Wall Street, into The Met, around Time Square and on the Staten Island Ferry.  We made new friends at every turn.

There were many memorable conversations, but one which makes me smile immediately happened as we walked Manhattan looking for breakfast.  We thought perhaps TGIFriday’s was open since the door was open and it was almost lunch time.  No.  They were not.  We continued to a sandwich board up the street, but nothing seemed interesting on the menu.  We mumbled amongst ourselves trying to decide on a plan.

A man in chef’s apparel approached us.  “You lookin’ for a breakfast place?  I know a place.  You go to the corner and then take a left to the next corner.  It’s called Georgie’s.  Best breakfast in New York.  You’re gonna love it.  It’s my friend owns it.  It’s a great spot.  This way to the corner and then left.  Georgie’s.”

He was absolutely right.  Great breakfast.  Decent prices.  Great service.  America on a plate. 

We found a Trump building and stood before the girl who challenged the Bull on Wall Street.  We laughed at the antics of children in the splash pad at Battery Park and discussed the rich stories of settlers there. 

I could hear the whispers of history loudest, however, as we walked a side street toward Freedom Tower.  I saw the Calatrava beckoning at the base of the skyscraper and felt the wind chill my bones. 

I’m not sure what the others were doing or seeing or thinking.  I was lost in reverie as we approached. 

My mind’s eye went immediately back to the first time I was at this site.  The gaping wound in the ground, the scarred buildings surrounding, the twisted metal cross standing firm.  The dust still seemed to permeate the air.  And the sadness!  Oh, the deep sadness on my friend’s face as he spoke of the tragedy and its devastating aftershocks.  That day so many years ago, I stood beside my sister as we tried to process what this might mean for our country. 

I wished for her to walk with me again to this site.  I knew she would understand this wave of emotion in my heart as I stood looking into the black granite pools.  Names of the lives shattered line the granite as water pours forever into the base.  To me it looks like a million tears seeping into oblivion.

A poem began writing itself in my mind as I slowly walked past.  Where were you the day America cried?  Its words spilling from my heart into my own ears and marking my heart. 

I can’t express to you how deeply moved I was standing there. 

Sadness gave way to American patriotism as I looked up into the monolith of Freedom Tower.  Like a giant fist thrust into the sky and into the faces of our enemies, she taunts.  We took the Freedom tour from the basement to the top watching the history of the city on a panorama in the elevator.  Incredible, beautiful, majestic, awesome, inspiring. 

Tangible proof that out of the ashes we rise.

There were other great events in New York City.  Great in their impressions upon me. 

The Met, for example.  What an immensely beautiful and amazing place!  A quick stop in a series of several stops in one long, marathon day.  I stood amazed at the clean, white lines within and without. 
I caught a quiet moment one day to jot notes and pour out some of the words absorbed from the people of New York City.  Sitting at a deli window, I watched lives stream past me.  Rich, poor, busy, slow, young, old all scurrying somewhere important as I, from my fish bowl, observed.

It was Tuesday evening when the comparison started to form in my mind.  I was sitting in a theater on Broadway watching Cats.  It’s whimsical funniness holding me in a grip of amazement.  I loved the music and the personalities and the costumes and the set and the lights!  Wow!  All of the pomposity faded, however, when Grizabella began the first note of “Memories”. 

The tale she sang of a future haunted by the present resonated with me.  She begged to be noticed, to be loved, to be sought after as she had been once.  Humbled, thrown aside, and humiliated she begged the morning to wait until hope returned.  Then it happened!  She found herself standing at the brink of dawn in a new day, a new life, restored.
I heard myself in her voice.  I saw my past and present reflected in her words.
The first time I traveled to New York City my life was perched on a precipice of change.  I was unsure of every step and without any form of confidence.  Critical voices had twisted my self-image into a heap of fear.  I begged God to help me out of the abyss, and He did. 

Now, many years later, I view my future from a much different perspective.  It was impossible for me to walk the streets of NYC without seeing younger me darting in the shadows. 

I laugh at her fears now.  Each of them have been addressed, renounced, walked upon.  Afraid of getting lost?  I’ve traveled internationally alone.  Afraid to be poor?  I have gained, lost, gained, lost and found I need very little to be happy.  Afraid my reputation will be ruined?  I have made my own name.

Well, not me, really.  Not without the help of God and many, many friends.

A sense of strength grew in me in New York City on this trip.  A sense of identity.  Able to speak my own thoughts.  Able to identify my own ideas.  Able to make my own way. 

Just as I see the twisted metal cross imprinted in my memories as a sign of His presence in the middle of our nation’s tragedy, I hear the strains of “Memories” lifting my eyes away from yesterday and towards tomorrow.

“If you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is.  Look a new day has begun.” 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Flying Time

Funny how time flies.  They say it’s when you’re having fun and it moves faster as we age.  Does that mean we have more fun as we get older?  Or do we somehow learn to treasure each moment for the jewel that it is once we learn how quickly the sparkle fades?

I’m a writer who hasn’t written much of anything for almost a full year.  My words and my time have been wrapped up, tangled up, caught up and filled up with teaching.  A new curriculum.  A new system.  A new set of colleagues. 

And readjusting. 

In the last ten years I should have become accustomed to change as it has been the only constant.  From Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Thorp to Moscow and back to Milwaukee.  From legal secretary to teacher and back around again.  I’ve added age, pounds and a degree to my status.

In all these ten years, I never expected to live in Milwaukee again.  Yet, here I am.

I thought it would be easier because so much was familiar.  Teaching Middle School is where I have the broadest experience.  My apartment is within a few miles of where I spent the first 40 years of my life.  The church I attend is filled with acquaintances I’ve known for years.  The language is English!

And yet, so much had changed in my ten years hiatus that nothing was the same except the street signs.

On occasion, I pulled the strings of my history in an attempt to find my bass line.   It was like walking into a familiar old building whose stone steps and hard wood rails hold your imprint.  Standing outside you look at its fa├žade and you know it.  You remember when the rain changed the color from white to grey.  You see the dip of a thousand hands which have smoothed the finish on the rail.  You climb the steps, pull the heavy wooden door, peer inside the familiar, cool entry only to find someone has taken the day guard station and replaced it with an electronic check-in system.  You look to the left, but the news stand is gone.  Where is the gum?  The water?  The Grebe’s sandwiches?  Instead, there is only an empty space.

While I was away, time kept moving people and things - rearranging, renovating, reinventing the common spaces.

 Of course, I knew this would happen.  I expected it.  I tried to imagine what I might see.  I had visited Milwaukee during those years, but it’s different to live somewhere.  Visitors see only the party make-up, not the morning face. 

I didn’t expect it to take me so long to settle back in and find my way around.  I lost my voice and couldn’t make my pen work right.  It kept me from writing. I needed to find new words to say the old things. 

First, it was my work.  I expected words to fall from my heart as they always had before.  Instead, I found a new Kris sitting at an old table with nothing to say.  My heart was poured out a hundred times a week to students whose parched lives drained me.

Second, it was my place.  I struggled to find familiar spaces to get my bearings.  Instead, I tired of hearing myself say, “I remember when this was that.”  My memories had flown away in the lake breeze and no one was there to notice. 

I’m not exactly sure why God has brought me back to this place at this time, except to do this work.  I have lost two close friends suddenly this year.  Women whose lives were integral to the success of others. Women whose families have a gaping hole in their absence.  Taken without warning or planning.  Everyone was healthy and happy and good one day, and the next found a new chapter being written.

All of these experiences this year have lead me to believe I have some responsibility, some work, some thing I must do.  I feel the weight of it.  I pray I don’t disappoint God in its achievement.  I long to be home with Jesus and yet…. Some weighty chapter holds my feet to the line.

Love lavishly.  Seize the day.  Be the change you wish to see.  More than Facebook status phrases for me.  It’s my current life description as the clock ticks.  What’s yours? 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Another First Year

Sitting still to write is just not my thing these days.  The seasons are flying past in a blur!

My days are longer now than they have ever been and filled with constant, constant, constant teaching.  And learning.  Paradigm shifting is giving me mental vertigo.

But it’s good.

It makes me feel very alive.  Enjoying the deep richness of the sun when it shines.  Drinking in the quiet evenings when the crisp air makes the stars twinkle more brightly. 

I love being on the front row in the Learner’s Audience!  Watching a new concept, a new confidence, a new ability blossom is a teacher’s true reward. 

God is good.

I also find myself working to not compare and contrast the last First Year to this.  I know that retrospect makes everything rosier.

“Remember walking the beautiful promenade of Red Square?  The brilliance of a million lights decorating GUM Department Store?  The proud stateliness of The Kremlin?  The stunning colors of St. Basil’s?  Drinking coffee at Double B?  Dinner at Le Paine?  Gorky Park with all of it’s chaos?”  Flashes through my mind on the dreary days.  And always surrounded with laughter and conversation because I never went there alone.

Easy to forget the thick dusty, dirty air.  The crowds of pushing people.  The undercarriage of uncertainty in everything spoken.  The absolute weariness of Moscow life with its long days, short nights and energy draining activity.

America seems so much simpler. 

I remember telling someone last spring that one of the first things I was going to do was to get in my car, drive to a grocery store, buy as many things as I could with $100, put all the bags in my car and drive home. 

Ah!  Such a simple, mundane task in America!  An impossible feat in Moscow!  Not only did I never have the ruble equivalent of $100 to spend on groceries, but to carry them home!  I don’t have enough arms or strength to manage that task.  Oy!  And who is buying all those bags?  Bags aren’t free, you know! 

The irony is that American grocery stores with their aisles and aisles of choices overwhelm me now.  Who buys all that stuff?  I prefer to go to the little Italian vegetable market around the corner from my home.  I walk there.  It’s only about 10 minutes away.  I bring my own bag.  Fill it up with what I can carry – mostly fresh vegetables and bread - which usually lasts a week or so. 

I didn’t expect Russia to leave such a deep mark in my lifestyle.

Another funny thing is where I go when I want to walk just for the sake of it.  Milwaukee has a lovely downtown area.  Skyscrapers mix with old architecture declaring a storied past.  There are shops and restaurants and coffee shops galore!  French?  Italian?  Cuban?  It’s there.  Not so different than a Moscow neighborhood.  Smaller, yes, but still diverse and interesting.

Where do I go?  The lakefront.  Long, stretches of paths with few interruptions and miles and miles of open, clear water and air.  Expansive emptiness.  Complete contrast to Moscow’s miles of high rise apartments and congested traffic.

The school where I am teaching appears to be a complete opposite to that which I left behind.  Moscow’s elite ambassador/business children compared to Milwaukee’s urban youth.  Many children who have every gadget and fashion accessory they want compared to some children from homes without enough of anything to go around. 

Yet, the children are the same.  They hunger for attention, affirmation, affection.  They search for ways to have someone notice their value.  They shine at unexpected moments sharing grace and compassion when we least expect it. 

They listen to the same music, read the same books, laugh at the same jokes.  They are, after all, just kids trying to find their place in the world.  And I am just a teacher trying to help them spread their wings.

I am hopeful this first year will really be as lovely in retrospect as my first year in Moscow.  I hope I remember only the new friends I have met and the laughter shared.

The frustrations with my limitations, the self-doubts created by my failures, the growing pains – those things I will put in the same box with the other hard First Year memories.  I will take them out only to remind myself that I am not alone.  It’s like that poem Footprints.  In those difficult “I-Can’t-Do-This!” days the strength of my Jesus is made perfect.  He is carrying me and helping me to be the best possible version of myself.  Through Him, I can do all things.  Through His grace, I can manage the heartaches. Through Him I can see the negative actions with eyes of love. 

This First Year is almost over. 

What do I remember most so far?  The chapel service when the Spirit of God moved in and grace filled the air and all of the students felt it.  The book discussions where their imaginations took them beyond their neighborhood and into another world.  The art work which surprised them and blessed the school.  The writing!  Oh, the writing!  The evolution and growth and expansion of ideas and perceptions. 

How I love to unpack their words. 

Spring is in the air and summer is beckoning.  But not so fast, please.  There is more learning to happen this First Year.