Category Archives: ache

Visiting Saohin

I drove up to Saohin for Children’s Day. Along with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Thailand also celebrates Children’s Day.

All last year, I had hoped to find a time and way to go visit Saohin again, but during the rainy season, it is very unwise to travel up alone on a motorbike and it was difficult to find a truck going up on Friday and coming down on Sunday, over the time I wouldn’t be working. Most people come down on Friday and go back up on Sunday.

So, when the invitation came to join in the Children’s Day activities on January 8, I jumped at the chance. Since it hadn’t rained for about 2 months, there was no flood danger and the creeks had returned to safe levels.

I learned and relearned many things about myself on this trip. I learned that when you are used to something it automatically looks much more doable. Like taking cold showers. And crossing creeks on a 110cc Honda Wave motorbike. And going up and down steep, stony hills. When I first came off the blacktop and got to that first frightfully steep hill, and the first stony part, and then the first creek, inside I thought, “This is worse than before.” But when I drove back 2 days later after over 30 kilometers of driving, I thought, “This is not so bad.”

I rediscovered the beauty of driving in first gear. There is something deeply satisfying about coming to an obstacle that gives you that jolt of fear— a deep creek, a steep hill- and then knowing deep inside yourself that you can do it. You can climb this hill, you can cross this creek. Especially when you put your bike into first gear. When you put your bike in first gear, you can do anything. Well,… ok, not quite. But going down some hills it is unwise to brake much because of the loose gravel and stones. Instead, you drop into first gear and ride your bucking bronco to the bottom. And the next day, as you rub your aching muscles, you wonder if you really had to get to the bottom quite that fast.

Different people find different things therapeutic. For my mom, it’s the garden. For some of my friends, it’s coloring and watercolors. For others, it’s creating. Horseback riding used to be my choice of therapy at home. I think that’s why I find that driving my motorbike in the mountains is therapy for me. That and writing.

I rediscovered how much fear can have an impact on my abilities. If I focused on not falling, or not getting wet, or not getting my bike stuck in the creek, I lost my sense of balance, and my sharpness of mind. But when I told myself that falling was not the worse thing in the world, or getting wet wasn’t really that bad, and if I got stuck then I would surely find a way out, things really went much better. I also realized how important it is to know your limits.

Arriving at Saohin brought a surge of grief for me. You would think I would only feel a surge of joy, but I felt more grief than joy. After poking the feeling a bit, I realized it was because I was coming as a visitor. I could no longer claim this place as my home. I was not going to stay there the next week and the next week and be a part of the flow of life and the daily routine. I was a visitor.

I woke up Saturday morning, aching and sore from the drive. Children’s Day was limited to only students and teachers, (and me) because of Covid restrictions. The children were glad to see me, but shy. I missed the 6th graders, who I had gotten to know the best. Towards the end of the day, they were warming up and not quite so shy.

The festivities were over by early afternoon so I took a nap and tried to get rid of a headache and then visited a former 6th grader.

The evening consisted of a campfire at the teacher’s house and making bamboo rice over the fire, doing some target practice with a 22, and some other activities that I did not participate in. Anyone who has had any experience with Thai mountain culture will be familiar with the drinking that happens nearly every evening. I went to bed around 10, but the sounds continued until midnight.

Sunday, I traveled down again. As I traveled down again, I felt an unsettled, unfinished feeling. I wished I could have stayed a little longer. I think I would have found more closure. I wanted to be a part of life there again, not just some visitor. Fragments of faces and places clung to the edges of my mind, even as I focused on the road ahead of me.

There was PaunSawan and her hair cropped close because of lice.

Pongsatorn, a tall, thickset boy, who struggles with learning. He gets heckled for it as well, even from the teachers.

Cholita, the girl from Myanmar, who is studying in first grade as well.

Oranit, a bright, spunky girl, whose father is one of the village leaders, and a devout Catholic.

Tawin and his shy, sheepish grin.

Di Di, and the way he used to jump around shouting out English words during vocabulary games.

Sawinee, with her large wistful eyes and sad face.

Kai Muk with her sparkle and laughter.

Paunyinee, who asked to take pictures together.

But maybe it’s ok to still grieve, to not have fully moved on from that little spot tucked into the edge of no-man’s-land.

Medley

Spurred by a whim, I wrote this tonight. Imperfect, but it was satisfying to put together.

Tonight I was wishing that I could write some of what was moving inside of me, but as I was reading other poems, I felt that so much of what I was feeling was already written so well in other poetry. You know that moment when you are reading a poem and you come to this phrase and you are like, yes, that phrase! It says it exactly! It hits that spot. And you want to crow to the whole world that you have found that phrase, but often you sort of feel a bit silly after the crowing.

Anyway, I just took some of those phrases (and others for gluing the others together) and made a poem. I am not sure what the purpose was. Inspirational? Maybe. Humorous? Perhaps some may find it so. Creative? Yes, partly. Cathartic? Yes, I think so.

Here we are:

The ache of the twilight is upon me but I cannot speak

The words will not come.

But many other have already written them for me.

Come, let us see.

The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night

As a feather is wafted downward like

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.

Yet, I beg you, tell me not in mournful numbers

That life is but an empty dream

That the road less traveled by is no different than what it seems

That nothing gold can stay; that there is no rest even in Flander’s fields.

And that the struggle nought availeth. Just because

I am nobody (who are you?), does not mean that I have never

Slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Or spent time alone in the night, on a dark hill

With pines around me spicy and still;

Or lived sad and strange dark summer dawns,

With the earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds;

For I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,

The fragile secret of a flower…

Long have I known a glory in it all.

And yet, tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

And thinking of the days that are no more

And, I must ask, does the road wind uphill all the way?

If so, let me rest here in these woods so lovely dark and deep,

While you come and read to me some simple and heartfelt lay

And these aches shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.

(It was written quickly, and since it is not meant to be a masterpiece poem of any kind, I didn’t chew and meditate on it and edit it much, so if you have any ideas of more phrases that could be thrown in, I would love it. And I think I will write more of these in the future. For therapeutic purposes. )

I should leave you to guess where the lines came from, but I feel like putting the lines here without them really being my own is almost infringing on copyright purposes. I don’t know. But here you are:

The Day is Done, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Road Less Traveled By, by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost

In Flander’s Fields, by John McCrae

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Arthur Hugh Clough

I am Nobody, Who are You? by Emily Dickinson

High Flight, John Magee

Stars, Sara Teasdale

I Have Loved Hours at Sea, Sara Teasdale

God’s World, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Uphill, Christina Rossetti

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

Kayah State, Christmas Eve 2021

Over these hills, sing the song,

Sing it over again.

That Immanuel is come, is come,

Is come to the world of men.

Up from the valley, down from the mountains

Sing it in darkest hour

Of peace on earth, of peace on earth,

Of goodwill of greatest power—

Oh, but now, my friend, hush your singing

And be still in this crippling pain

Come grieve among the ones who grieve

And weep with the weeping rain;

For from the shadows of these Burmese hills

Comes a wail that pierces heaven’s door

For Rachel still weeps, weeps for her children

Her children who are no more.

See the story of the Christmas Eve massacre in Myanmar here. While we safely celebrated Christmas in our homes, thousands of people fled conflict in the neighboring country. Please pray for Myanmar.

Image by seth0s from Pixabay

Ritual

Each morning breaks the same,

Rising with a hunger that carves

Like the slanting fingers of sunlight cutting

Through the fog that shrouds the neighbor’s burnt field.

Through the night, the fog settled deep in the valley

Bleeding dew on the fire-scorched ground;

I reach for coffee, two spoonfuls in the filter

Watch while the black liquid drips into the waiting cup;

The scalding brew stirs the restless throb

I trace the words that tremble on the page and pen the ache–

Read this my Lord— this hunger, this hollowness,

This burnt ground, this empty cup, my song to You.

Mommi

My grandma is old.

She has always been old, to me.

I remember going to her house one day when I was 4. My mom was going to Hutch. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to my grandma’s house, or Mommi’s house, and play with the Berenstein bears in the log cabin that Doddi built.

She was old already, back then.

She was already old when Doddi died from complications from open heart surgery when I was 9.

She was old when I went to Thailand the first time over 8 years ago. And she has been getting older every time I come home again.

And each time I leave, I say goodbye for the last time.

Every time I see her, she is a little bit smaller, a little bit whiter, and a little bit thinner. But she is always, always as sweet and kind as ever. This last time is like that, when I go home for my visit.

My grandma is old. She has always been old, but now she is older than ever. She is 100 years old. She sleeps on a hospital bed and eats her meals from her chair. My mom and my aunts take turns staying with her every night and day.

One time I stay with her so that Mom can go to her cousin’s garage sale. I read from the Budget at the top of my lungs until Mommi has pity on me and tells me I can stop. Then I read through some of the 200 cards she received on her 100th birthday until Mom comes back to stay with her for the night.

She is starting to forget things, which is painful to watch, not so much because she is becoming forgetful, as would be expected for a woman of 100, but because she realizes that her sharp mind is not quite as sharp anymore and it bothers her. So, I try not to ask her too many questions about something that she might not remember well.

I give her a small handbag made by a team of ladies in Thailand. She is delighted with it, and keeps on commenting about it and saying thank you. “It’s so pretty that I won’t want to take it anywhere for fear something will happen to it,” she says. A minute later, she remembers and says almost apologetically, “Well, I don’t go anywhere anyway anymore.”

On my last day at home, I go over in the rainy evening to say goodbye. She is sitting on her brown chair with the colorful orange and brown afghan, eating her supper. Dorothy is there with her for the night. I sit down and we chat for a while before I say goodbye.

She is smaller than ever. I give her a hug and hold her hand for a bit, and then leave before the tears can burst from the floodgates.

The last I see her is as I drive past. Dorothy is waving, and so is Mommi, a thin white hand from the window.

I am glad for the rain streaming down the windshield.

Tua Lek Goes to the Doctor

A bit over 6 weeks ago my cat, Tua Lek (meaning Little One), who had defied her name and blossomed to extraordinary proportions, gave birth to 4 little kittens who looked almost exactly like her. One of the four died on the first day, but the others lived on to be happy, healthy and adorable kittens. (Ok, I know the word adorable is overused with kittens, but it is necessary in this case.)

However much I enjoy kittens, having 3 litters a year populating my house is not something I really want to deal with, and neither did my housemate, Amy. Especially when my cat’s temperament drastically changes every time a new litter appears and she becomes whiny and “awhang-gish.”  Now, perhaps if I lived on a farm, and did not work away from home every day, and did not take month long furloughs once a year to visit family and did not need to find someone to take care of my 30 cats while I was gone, I might consider it.

So, since Tua Lek’s behavior was again becoming suspicious even after giving birth only 6 weeks ago, and the neighboring male tomcat was starting to hang around again, we decided the time had come. I made an appointment at the Mae Sariang animal clinic at 8:30 this morning.

Living in Thailand and having a motorbike as your main mode of transportation is a Wonderful, Free, Joyous Experience. Most of the time. Except when it’s raining heavily (I will refrain from the pun), or you have to take your cat to the veterinarian. Then, if you don’t have a pet carrier, your only recourse is a cardboard box strapped on the back of your bike with bungee cords.

When the time came to take Tua Lek, I grabbed the closest box that looked like it would work. It ended up being the box that my youth group had used to send goodies for my birthday. It was a little bit battered, but with a little tape, I thought it might work.

It did at first. I wrestled the confused cat into box, while her little gray kittens sat on a pile on the porch chair and looked at me with big, round, innocent eyes. Sweating profusely, I grabbed the Gorilla tape from Joel and Malinda that had come in the same box and proceeded to tape the box shut. I punched some holes into the box, got the box to my bike, and had just strapped it down with cords, when Tua Lek found a small hole in the side of the box. Before I knew it, the hole was much bigger and the cat was out of the — er, box. I grabbed her before she could flee, though, and ran for another box. Amy came out and helped me with this one, giving me some advice on how to tape it shut better. Once we had Tua Lek in again, I strapped it on once more. This box was wider, giving me less room on the seat, with my knees hitting the front part of the bike. This is a drivable position for short distances, although decidedly more awkward and less modest than the normal position.

The first box
I happened to be taking a picture of my handiwork right at the moment the cat escaped.

When Tua Lek is hungry, she meows. When she is wanting attention, she meows. When she is scared, she meows. At times when she is not any of those, she still meows. So, it was not a surprise that as I drove along, mournful, betrayed cat wails came from the box at regular intervals. Each time, I cringed, thinking of the attention we were drawing, and embarrassed at my lack of pet transportation equipment. At the same time, I also drew comfort from the fact that we live in Mae Sariang, which is quite “baan-nawk”. This word, literally translated means “outside village” but is usually used when talking about country people or hill people and has the connotation of being not quite as modern, educated and up to par as people in the cities.

Mae Sariang has three stoplights. Going to the clinic, I had to drive through 2 of them. As we approached the first one, I willed the car ahead of me to go faster, but it didn’t and couldn’t. The light became red. As I waited at both stoplights, I forced myself to look straight ahead each time an agonized wail came from behind me, thankful for my mask. I do not know where that sound is coming from, I told myself silently, and the others on motorbikes beside and behind me. What could it possibly be?

Finally, I reached the clinic. As I waited and held a terrified Tua Lek, I talked with a couple who had brought in their neighbor’s cat to be spayed. I found this very humorous. I had to sign a release for them to do surgery. Finally, they took her away and I went home.

Going to the vet in this fashion is traumatic, both for the cat and her human. I felt like a betrayer, like someone who was senselessly inflicting confusion and pain on an innocent life. I think both of us will be happier because of this, and Tua Lek’s life will be much easier. But, how do you tell that to a cat? I mean, I did tell her several times, and I also triumphantly announced it to the visiting tomcat, but I know neither of them understood. I almost cried several times in the whole ordeal. Doing something like this would be so much easier if I could explain to Tua Lek what was going on.

Amy had some good words to say, something I hadn’t thought of before. “Well, maybe that is the way God feels. When God lets you go through something difficult and there is no way that we can understand why we have to go through it, God probably feels the same way.”

And now I really cry when I think of God holding me like I held Tua Lek when I am asking Him what He means when He lets Covid disrupt my life, or doesn’t iron out the tangles of my visa situation, or why he doesn’t just take certain struggles away from my life.

Tua Lek will never know that the undignified, terrifying ride to the vet, the pain and the anesthesia were all reasons that she will never have kittens again, and instead will grow fat and happy all the days of her life.

And maybe in the same way, I will never know exactly why God lets some of these things happen my life either. But I can know, better than my cat can ever understand, that He means the best for me, no matter how terrifying or undignified the ride.

Loneliness

So long now have I walked with loneliness

That I remember not when he first walked with me:

A silent someone along the avenues of all the arching years,

On roads straight through sunlit fields and rows of maples,

And crooked and dark among mountain heights that draw us on, together.

Who is he? Is he mortal? I know not.

I cannot fathom my companion of the decades;

I only know:

A grim solace not all unwelcome,

A song unsung, a word unspoken,

The echo of memories we have not lived.

And we have walked many miles together, loneliness and I.

picture RealAKP from Pixabay 

Interlude

And all that has passed before us, this day, this rain

And the sunshine and the green, green meadow

Are swallowed in the night that comes softly,

Silent and dear and painful;

When the memories of those times and the echoes of that laughter

Throb soundlessly beneath the symphony of crickets

And the boom of the frogs in the marsh.

While we wait with wistful ears for a voice

That comes from beyond those thousand deep-set stars

To sing over us in the twilight of our hearts.

Shoes (spoken word video)

Two years ago, I wrote one of my favorite pieces ever, “Shoes.” This was done for my Intercultural Communication class in which my teacher had us study different aspects of identity and culture, and various social issues. At the end of the class, we were asked to creatively express ourselves in relation to what we had studied, as a cathartic activity (the word cathartic to me is such an ugly word. It always makes me think of the sound people make when they cough up mucus).

At the time, I wrote and performed the poem as a piece of spoken word poetry. I then published it on my blog, and a reader commented that I should do an recording of the poem. Since I am currently in quarantine and “between jobs,” I was suddenly inspired today to do just that.

As I read through the poem the first several times, I nearly cried. It’s odd, or perhaps not so odd, how social issues do not disappear in 2 years. The poem, for me, is just as relevant as it was then. Perhaps even more so, in this day and age when as a white minority, we may try to express our understanding or sympathy for a minority group, only to be told that we have no way of understanding and that our sympathy is demeaning. Perhaps we understand more than we realize. Each person has pain, and each pain that person faces equips them to some degree to empathize with others.

I did struggle with the recording. It was extremely difficult, with my lack of equipment, to find a place where I could record without outside noises infringing on my voice. In the afternoon, it was the roosters. In the evening, it was the Tukae. I finally found a cardboard box and stuck my phone into it, and with my head halfway in, lay on the floor and recorded it. I feel like I would do better recording in front of an audience, where, as I heard one preacher say lately, they sort of draw the inspiration out of you.

But finally, I had to finish it, and be ok with it not being perfect.

Below is a link to the video.

Watchman

Image by 12222786 from Pixabay 

Struggling with assurance of salvation was something very real that I wrestled with a lot as a teenager. This following poem was written at the age of 19 during a time I was facing some spiritual battles in that area. Today as I was looking at this poem again, I realized that while it was a relevant expression of my life then, with the current Covid/visa/lockdown/changes situation currently, I can also connect to it now as well. The poem is based off the verses in based on Isaiah 21:11, 12 and was published in my book, Echoes of Eternity.

Watchman

Watchman, watchman what of the night?

Tell me, can you see?

What thing awaits beyond the next wave

If horror or joy it be?

The sea is dark and dank is the foam

That roars as wave meets sky

The night is grim and unsteady my craft

And far from home am I

Watchman, watchman, what of the night?

When will the daylight break?

Over the sea foam when will the sun

Cast its brilliance over my wake?

Friend, take heed of thy steady light

Fall not away, oh fellowman!

Let not your light grow dim or failing

Or my faith will sink with the setting sun.

Watchman, watchman, what of the night?

Upon thy tower stay

Tossed and troubled and fearful am I

Who needs to be shown the way.

Stay on thy tower mid storm and gloom

Until breaks the morning light;

So that I, when I am steady and sure,

Can take thy place in the coming night.

November 7, 2009