You ate what?

Before I came here a friend who had pretty extensive experience traveling told me to try to get past the initial shock and learn to just enjoy it as quickly as possible. I confess that I wasn’t entirely sure what he was talking about. Now I am. I remember my first day in Alaska, being horribly disappointed because when I thought of Alaska I thought of pristine mountain vistas, fishing, and  being surrounded by the beauties of nature. That first night there and the first few days that followed all I could see were the drunk homeless people who sat on the curbs and  wandered the streets that smelled of beer and urine. However I soon came to see past all of that and when I remember Juneau, I remember the waterfalls cascading off the mountain that I could see from  our apartment window. I remember late nights with the sun not ever completely gone down fishing in the channel on the outskirts of town. I remember the fog, the sunshine, the wildlife and the beautiful mountain vistas that often literally took my breath away.

I think it is easy at first to project your own standards of what should be on a community that is so different from your own. I think this must be what my friend was talking about. And so I have decided to look past the things about this place that I don’t understand or don’t like and try to just experience it so that when I leave I will have memories just as treasured as the ones I came home from Alaska with.

I came to this conclusion as I sat in a crowded taxi stuck in traffic in Kampala. I was so frustrated at the apparent lack of a system. The taxis that really function a lot more like busses have no specific route, with no specific time-table. The fare is not set or standardized and I didn’t see one street sign on the whole journey of over two hours to help me determine my location. Since I am trying to familiarize myself with this place so that when Ellen leaves in a few weeks and I need to make these trips myself I can know what I am doing, this was especially frustrating.

On the road to Kampala

On the road to Kampala

We sat in the very back seat of a van filled to capacity and beyond. I couldn’t see around the heads that were blocking my view of the road and in the jerky stop and go traffic I was getting quite sick. The roads here are far from smooth and as we rattled along I often found myself bouncing so far off my seat that several times I almost hit my head on the ceiling. I thought of my dad’s little story he always tells of my great, great, grandparents and their first experience in a car and I couldn’t help but hear his voice saying “Did you raise, Jane?” as I would try to lift myself off the seat a little so as not to get the full impact of the bumps. By the time we arrived in Kampala I was so ready to get off that bus and I didn’t care if I ever saw one again. Kampala is an experience.

Kampala Taxi park

Kampala Taxi park

We went to a a little coffee shop called 1000 cups and I ordered a plate of fruit and some juice. It was delicious and refreshing. The lounge style dinning room was comfortable and cool and I felt refreshed and ready for this experience.

Ellen bargaining for ear rings.

Ellen bargaining for ear rings.

We went to a market where Ellen was looking for gifts to take home to her friends and family. It was good for me to watch her bargain and talk to these people. I think it will help me in the future when I need to do the same. Ellen is very good at disagreeing with people, expressing differences of opinion, even questioning their honesty and doing it all with a smile, a laugh and leaving with a new friend.

In one shop after a heated debate over whether the jewelry was truly made from cow bone or whether it was wood that was just painted, Ellen and the shop keeper played a game together laughing and talking the whole time. We ended up buying several things from them before going on our way. There was a man walking around with a bucket filled with fried grasshoppers. He was selling them and one of the women offered one to me. I gave her an emphatic no but then Ellen and some of the others encouraged me to try it and I thought why not. After all I am here in Africa I might as well really experience Africa. So I ate one. It wasn’t at all bad as long as you didn’t think too much about it.

On the way home I sat in the very front seat of the taxi and actually found I enjoyed the ride. The country side is beautiful, there is always something interesting to see and the cool air from the open windows, blowing in my face felt wonderful.

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God and Grief

the-five-stages-of-griefI was walking tonight down the streets of Los Angeles and I felt something I haven’t felt in a while. The wind was blowing and it was dark and the air was crisp. I was crossing the street and I suddenly felt a little bit of a skip to my step. I felt myself smelling the coolness of the air and I started questioning what this feeling was. Then it came to me…I think its hope. I think its hope that there is still a future out there for me that I can be happy with. I think there is still joy to be had and I think I am on my way back to feeling it.

I’ve always had this idea of heaven, that it was a place where you would feel no sadness, no grief, no disappointment. And I’ve wondered, if that is the case than it would have to follow that God doesn’t feel those things either.

So, if God doesn’t feel sadness, what does he feel when he looks at the sorry situation that so many of his children are in. How does he feel when he sees a gunman shoot down children in a school in Connecticut. If he doesn’t feel disappointment what does he feel when he sees his children making poor choices. How does he feel when he sees us throw away the talents he gave us. If he doesn’t feel grief, what did he feel when he watched his son die on the cross for each of us.

I was over thinking this today and I think I came up with an answer.

I was thinking about the five stages of grief. Which I believe are inappropriately labeled. I think that they are not stages so much as a cycle. Everyone who experiences grief knows that you often experience each “stage” several times. Since Ryan and I broke up i have watched myself repeatedly go through these steps.

The first is denial. This one is suddenly no longer a problem for me. Since he got married there is no way to convince myself that there is any hope for us anymore. Not that I really believed there was, but in moments of weakness I wondered. I imagined him coming back to me on bended knee telling me he had made the biggest mistake of his life. I had to stop there since I couldn’t see us actually getting back together but that’s beside the point. There is no way to hide my feelings behind the shock and helplessness that I felt. Its staring me right in the face. And it’s ok. Denial served its purpose, which was to help me pace my grief in a way that I could deal with it.

The second stage is anger. This has been an interesting one for me. When Ryan and I first started getting serious we had a talk one day about how we handle difficult things. I told him as an example that if we ever broke up I would hate him and that hate would help me move on. He seemed upset by that and told me that he just couldn’t stand the thought of me hating him. He asked me to promise him that if we ever broke up I wouldn’t hate him. The odd thing is that in all of the times that I have cycled through the various stages I have pretty consistently skipped this one. I can’t be mad at him. I have felt a little frustration at isolated incidents or little things that he did or did not do. I have felt an intense sadness at times that he just couldn’t love me enough. But through it all I have never been angry with him. I have always wanted his happiness, remembered his soul the way I saw it in tender moments when he let me in to have a look and I just can’t feel anger towards him.

The third stage is bargaining. This one has also stopped since he got married. I used to find myself thinking, “If I could just find the right thing to say to him to fix this…If I could just be in the right place at the right time…” somehow I was always searching for a way around the situation instead of through it. Until recently. His getting married had a lot to do with it but that wasn’t all. Even before he got engaged I found myself countering those things by other realities of how and way I don’t really want that to happen.

The fourth stage is depression. This one has gotten me the worst. Except it doesn’t really seem fair to call it depression to me. I have dealt with depression. True, deep, clinical depression and this wasn’t it. This was hurt, loss, hopelessness, lack of energy or enthusiasm, and a desire to do nothing but sleep and cry. But it wasn’t the same as depression. At least not for me. This stage is the one I still struggle with the most. It’s the one that wakes me in the night to stare me in the face, it’s the one that makes it hard to swallow sometimes, and its the one that can make me cry for absolutely no reason while I am stuck in traffic in the middle of the afternoon.

The final stage is acceptance. Each time I cycle through all the stages there is a deeper and deeper acceptance of what is. This is the stage where I believe the most healing takes place. It’s the stage that allows a little rest.

As I was thinking about these stages and about my reactions to them I realized that whenever I have a true, deep and I would even say perfect understanding of an issue related to one of these stages I get to skip that stage.

For example, I had a dear friend who died years ago. She was old, she wanted to go, she had lived a good life, and she had many people on the other side she was looking forward to seeing. I experienced grief when she died but only a couple of steps. I experienced Depression and Acceptance. I did not experience, denial, anger, or bargaining. I believe that the reason why was because I knew it was time, I knew it needed to happen, I could see it coming, I knew she wanted it. I knew it was the way it should be. I knew it was perfectly right. And because of that there was no need to experience anger, denial or bargaining.

That’s what led to my epiphany. As I grow through each situation and gain a deeper understanding my experience with grief is different. It doesn’t change the situation. It changes me so that my response to the situation is different. And I thought about God. I thought about his all-knowing, perfect understanding and perfect love of us, of the world, of eternity and I thought He is our father, his heart functions in much the same way that ours does only his is perfect and with that perfection comes answers that we just don’t have.

So I think when God watched his son die for us, or watched suffering throughout the world, when he saw my dear friend lose several children, when he saw grief beyond what we can comprehend I think it is not that he doesn’t feel those things but that he feels them perfectly and with that perfect understanding each of those stages dissolves leaving only absolute truth behind.