Friday, September 26, 2008

Why's it called a Terry Fox run if Terry Fox isn't coming?

G. is afraid of the dark, so T. or I often lie down with her in bed for a bit to get her settled. I love those little talks. Last night as we lay cheek to cheek she said, "Guess what? Terry Fox is coming to our school tomorrow!"

When we heart started beating again I whispered, "It's called the Terry Fox run, honey, but I don't think Terry Fox will be there." Please don't make me explain this, I'm thinking.

"Why not? Because he'd dead?"

That would be the main reason, yes. "Yes, Terry Fox died many years ago," I said. "But while he was alive he did such wonderful things that people remember him. Now we run to raise money to help sick people and we name those runs after Terry."

"Mommy, what happened to his leg?"

Here's where I should have probably said, "I don't know." But instead I explained, "He had a sickness called cancer in his leg. They cut off his leg so he could live longer."

"How do you get cancer?" I'm thinking about things from the news and movies: people breathing asbestos, getting too many sunburns, Erin Brockovich and factories contaminating water. Research about needing to eat more spinach. But those aren't really answers.

"We don't know, sweetie."

"Am I going to get cancer?" Her voice is higher now and her lip is trembling.

"I don't think so. Only a few people get cancer."

"I don't want that to happen to me!" She lifts her leg from under the covers and stares at it, wide-eyed. Then she says something about Jesus I don't quite catch. "I want to tell Jesus, but I won't hear his answer."

I'm not sure what she wants to pray but I'm glad she does. It's not usually her first response. "Maybe you will, maybe you won't. You tell Jesus anyway. If I hear his answer I'll tell it to you." She wants me to tell him so I say, "Jesus, G. is sad that Terry Fox got sick and she's scared of getting cancer too."

I hear her squeak out a little, "I love you Jesus." Then she asks me, "Did he answer? Did he say if I will get cancer?"

I thought of something C.S. Lewis wrote about Lucy wanting Aslan to tell her more than she needed to know and said, "Jesus doesn't tell us the end of our stories. He only tells us what we need to know for today. Jesus, what does G. need to know for today?" As soon as I say it, I feel love pouring down on us.

"He said he loves you so much, G." She calmed a bit and a few minutes later fell asleep.

This morning I found out that my Grandma is more ill than I knew. Within the next year I will probably have to have the same conversation with G. about someone much dearer to her than Terry Fox.

"He still love us so much, G. Even now."

Monday, September 22, 2008

"We had high hopes for you" and other difficult things about being family

I love my extended family. Families share so many values, traditions and memories. Families believe in you and have high hopes for you.

Which is why I sometimes feel like wearing a high hope-proof vest.

To brutally misquote Isaiah 55:8: Your hopes are not my hopes and your ways are not my ways, saith Angeline.

My mom's siblings are an academic bunch: psychologist, author/life coach, social worker, corporate lawyer, businessman, programmer. (As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are their incomes higher than mine.) From the time I was knee high to a microfiche, I was told the virtues of marrying late and getting a Masters and a high paying, prestigious career in an academic profession. (Plumbers make good money but that doesn't count. Which is okay, because I'd make a terrible plumber.)

Masters degree - check. Academic career - check. Prestigious - well, my articles have been read by thousands across the country and two have earned awards (see Disabilities and Simplicity links to read the award-winning stories). High paying - not so much. And you can't get married much younger than 21, can you? (I mean legally.)

So at family gatherings as I field the questions: "Why aren't you writing for more publications? Why are you teaching only one class?" I sense a disappointment. Dashed hopes. (When I start talking about drying the dishes by hand their eyes really start to tear up.) I imagine I can hear the unasked questions: "Why is she wasting her education?" "Why isn't she more motivated?"

"Why isn't she like us?"

A few years ago I was more motivated. And miserable. I felt like I had to prove myself to the world by publishing more, winning more, earning more. More, more, more.

No more. I'm at peace with myself and what I do. I write and teach because I enjoy it. I also bake pies and scrub shower tiles because I enjoy it. And I walk kids home for lunch through the park and chat with them about airships and pirates, mermaids and heaven, because I really, really enjoy it!

To take Isaiah 55 in context, God's ways are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth; meaning we're all on the same earth, equal before him and equally below him. I may not have fully lived up to my family's hopes and values, but I am learning to listen to God's way for my life.

I don't want to be like the man Walker Percy was describing when he said, "He got all 'A's' and flunked life." (Which is why I intentionally got some B's in college to make time for important things like donut runs and toilet papering the dean's office. Oh ya, and wooing T. with my feminine charms and working car.)

A few verses down in Isaiah 55 God promises, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." Finding and giving joy is becoming the guiding principle in my life. Not resume-building.

Now if you'll excuse me I have pies to make. Maybe I'll even set one aside in the freezer for the next family gathering.