Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Surreal Saturday

[I apologize, but Blogger is being screwy with pictures. Here's one to whet your appetite-- you'll have to use your imagination for the rest! And, yes, that man is wearing a tweed crab on his back!]

It's been a long run, to say the least. I realize that I haven't exactly "arrived" anywhere (still pregnant, still busy, etc), but I feel like I'm getting a bit of a half time, or a 7th inning stretch, or whatever the sports analogy might be. And let me tell you, it feels great.

Ever since November, I've gotten the one-two punch of pregnancy illness and excessive traveling. There were literally some months where we never bothered to put the suitcases away, and it seemed like if I wasn't on a plane or in a car, I was plastered to the couch moaning about nausea.

But I'm not here to tell you about being pregnant. I'm tired of that topic. I want to share about my weekend-- that glorious weekend that was a big, deep breath. The weekend that marked the (momentary) end of huge responsibilities, and the beginning of Spring Break-- which technically doesn't mean vacation, but at least it means getting our ducks in somewhat of a row again.

Chris & I were faced with an entire Saturday with absolutely nothing to do. It sounded glorious-- the sky's the limit!-- but somehow the thought of all that open space scared us a little, like a big black hole that might suck us in. After a huge crepe breakfast in our PJ's, we looked at each other and asked, "Now what?"

With just a little internet research, we discovered "what": The Old Fashioned Tweed Ride in Berkeley. What better way to spend a sunny spring Saturday than dressed up like a turn-of-the century British golfer, riding our bikes around one of the kookiest towns in America with a band of complete strangers??

[If at this point in the story, you are wondering WHY would a group of people dress up in tweed & ride their bikes around together, let me spoil it by telling you that there is no reason. Some things you just don't question] ;)

After discovering that impromptu costumes are trickier than they seem when you're 5 months pregnant (and also discovering that Chris was actually meant to be a Newsie-- he looked perfect!), we lugged our bikes onto BART, crossed the Bay, and bumped into about 80 other cyclists who looked even more-- in fact much more-- ridiculous than we did. We were dull & clean cut compared to this crowd.

As we joined the bike procession, we took over the streets at a leisurely pace, and soaked in the perfect sunny day. At one point, as we were entering a park that sits on right top of the Bay, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge & the City, we came upon big rolling green, windswept hills and dozens & dozens of kites flying overhead. Just at that moment, one of my fellow Tweeders passed me, pulling behind him a wagon with an accordion player in tow, serenading us. For a moment, I felt like I was in the movie Amelie... and a little bit like I was on drugs (but in a pleasant sort of way).

We ended our ride at the pinnacle of the park, right on the water, where the accordion player was joined by the rest of his band. I took in the scene around me: an eclectic group of steam punk musicians played everything from a xylophone (with spoons), a ukulele, a plastic keyboard with a mouth piece, and sang into a "microphone" made of a bull horn taped to a mic stand. All the while, a band of gypsies (really, I don't know how else to describe them) danced in little circles around & around a picnic table-- one wearing a top hat, antique aviator goggles & a (real) giant flared mustache, his dancing partner in a leather corset & knee-high lace-up boots. Let me tell you, it was surreal.

I'm sure that part of the experience was the feeling of release, knowing that we had made it through the busiest, hardest stretch of our year. But it was also rather magical about being a part of something so very "other". It was lovely.

We discovered that there is another Tweed Ride scheduled for San Francisco in April, and I can assure you that we will be there. Until then, I'm on the search for tweed maternity pants and a bubble pipe.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hostel and Hospitality

The truth of the matter is that we happen to live in one of the most fantastic cities in the world. I'm just saying. The up-side is a list so long, I won't even start counting (I really do love where I live). The down-side, however, is that the rest of the world tends to agree.

We also happen to work for an organization that is incredibly well connected-- where you can meet a stranger from the other side of the world, and chances are, you know some of the same people. It happens all the time, and it's really fun.

Well, when you put those two wonderful ingredients into a recipe together, what often happens is that we get requests from people we've never met, asking if their student, their brother, or they themselves can come and stay with us as they visit one of the most fantastic cities in the world.

It's a dilemma.

I'm not saying that it happens every week, but I do have the sneaking suspicion that if we were the loving, open, generous people we should be, our air mattress might never get deflated, and our living room/dining room/office/family room/foyer would be converted into a guest bedroom. Or a Bed & Breakfast, minus the payment.

I realize that I sound like a horrible person. At this particular moment (after sending an email off to a friend of a friend in Germany whose student is visiting San Francisco), I feel rather guilty. My assumption is that these lovely people who send these requests would offer up their homes if asked. I imagine that they already have a menagerie of international students & friends crashing at their house even as they write their email to San Francisco.

I also have this deep belief that one of the keys to life is being generous with what I have been given-- being open with my life, my home, my possessions & my time. I have a romantic image in my mind of becoming the type of little old woman who opens her arms to the people around her, and spends her days making cookies for the neighborhood children. People say that I am a gifted hostess-- sometimes they even throw in the term "Spiritual Gift", which makes the guilt all the greater each time I send off an email politely saying "No".

But the truth of the matter is that we are busy. Our jobs require a ton of emotional & relational energy, and oftentimes, when we get home at the end of the day, we really need some time & space to ourselves. Our little one bedroom apartment sometimes feels cramped with just the two of us (and the giant pit bull) in it, and living in a loud urban environment transforms the relative quiet of our home into a sanctuary.

Within the next year or so, we are hoping to move into a bigger home. We have big dreams of even having a guest bedroom (imagine!). But the question popped into my mind, that if and when we do have this dream bedroom, what will we do with the requests from friends of friends of friends who are stopping by our city for a week and need a place to stay? If we were given a gift as big as a guest bedroom, can we in good conscience politely suggest a local hostel?

When I ran these plaguing questions by Chris this morning, he decreed that it was too early to be thinking about something that distressing. I suppose we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. I do, however, want to grow in generosity & openness, and to be gracious even with the little space that we have.

Maybe next time... ;)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Timshell: Thou Mayest

There is the kind of person who, when they walk into a room, a certain energy or presence seems to follow. There are people who just seem set apart-- a little different from the rest of us, and although we are taught to believe that we are all special, there's something about those people who are somehow more special.

One of my favorite literary characters is Samuel Hamilton, from the book East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Now, if you haven't read the book, I forgive you-- but only if you run out immediately and read it. Go ahead, I'll wait. [And, No, watching the movie does not count. It's terrible.] ;)
As I was saying, Samuel Hamilton is the kind of person with which you just want to sit down and share a meal. He's the kind of person who would make me a better person, just by spending time with him. In the book, Samuel talks a bit about greatness-- how he could have become a great man, but was afraid; how he watches his own son struggle with greatness, and how it pains him.

The thing about greatness-- about those people who seem set apart, who were meant to change the world-- is that it comes at a cost. There is a comfort, a sense of belonging when we are average, when we don't set our sights too high. The heroes of this world are lonely; they struggle and strain and sacrifice. And although we all love a great hero movie-- and although we'd all like to think, at one time or another, that we could be that hero-- very few of us are actually willing to step out from the crowd.
All these thoughts came to me a little while ago in a rather round about way. Although it doesn't happen as often as I like, I try to pray for the little peanut growing inside of me. I confess that most of my prayers are motivated by the fear of loss-- illness, deformity, still birth, and all the horrible, worrisome thoughts that will inevitably plague my mind from now into the rest of motherhood.

Usually, once I've finished praying for the basics-- healthy kid, two arms & legs, and all that-- my mind wanders into the more abstract. What will he be like? Can I pray for his personality, his soul?

I found myself wanting to pray for his happiness-- that he would live a life of contentment and security. Who wouldn't want that for their child? But what about greatness? What about the kind of man who would actually change the world around him, who would be willing to sacrifice for others? I confess that, as much as I would want someone like that in this world, it is a difficult thing to pray that for your own child.

It made me wonder about the things that I really value. To a certain extent, I want to be that kind of person-- the kind who choses that which is difficult, and who is willing to sacrifice because there is the higher value. I want the students that we work with to posess those characteristics as well, and I want to be a part of something that is worth the sacrifice (as I believe I am).

But for some reason, this new entity has sprung up inside me that is afraid to pray that for my own child, and I wonder why. What do I really value? How much am I willing to give?

In East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton unwittingly reveals to his friends the meaning behind life. It comes in a Hebrew word, Timshell, which means "Thou Mayest". As he and the characters in the book wrestle with this idea of greatness, they discover in an old Bible story this word Timshell-- the ability to choose between greatness & mediocrity, the earth & the stars. Most of us live in limbo between the two, paralized with the fear of the decision, as Samuel was. We are never really fully alive while we hover in indecision, but I can feel the fear and hesitation inside of me each time the choice is given.

I still haven't quite had the courage to pray that my little 10 oz. baby would one day choose the greater. It's a big hurdle to cross, mentally. But I suppose that each time the decision is laid before me, it gets me a step closer. Greatness may not be in the cards, but there's always potential. As Steinbeck says, "To the stars, on the wings of a pig."