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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Ever since the first time I visited Spain, I’ve wanted to go back.

That initial trip came in the middle of a spring semester in Oxford, when my classmates and I took budget flights to the Continent and spent long weekends trekking new cities. We slept in hostel bunk beds, got lost on winding streets with signage in unfamiliar languages, soaked up museums and cathedrals and new foods, and generally had the time of our lives.

spain group 2004

I spent my Spring Break that year with four friends on a ten-day jagged loop of travel that began and ended in Barcelona. We hopped down to Granada and then the south coast for a couple of nights before a train journey to Madrid, which ended prematurely when terrorists bombed several trains in the city that morning. We were still several hours away, but we were substantially delayed, and the city was in shock by the time we arrived.

To many of our loved ones, that last incident came to define the whole trip. We couldn’t get word to our parents and professors for hours, and they were, understandably, terrified. But I have fought ever since to hold on to what came before: a whole week of exploring and soaking up a vivacious, beautiful country, eating tapas and drinking sangria and wandering to our hearts’ content.

I flew back to Spain for a long weekend in the winter of 2008, wandering Valencia with my friend Cole and a group of American students, drinking café con leche and eating fresh oranges and, one night, crowding into the back of a smoky bar to watch live flamenco. The following year, my husband and I took an autumn trip to the Basque country of northern Spain, where we wandered narrow streets in Pamplona and ate our weight in pintxos in San Sebastian, and tried to decipher signs written in Euskara.

Earlier this month – nearly 10 years later – we flew to Andalucía for a glorious 10-day jaunt: to Sevilla, new territory for both of us, and Granada, which I already adored. There are many stories to tell about our trip, and I’ll be sharing some of them with you this summer.

But it starts here: with Kyle saying, “Why don’t we go to Spain?” one night in Oxford, nearly a decade and a half ago. With Marcela, who’s from Honduras, acting as our chief interpreter, and Elizabeth navigating half a dozen unfamiliar cities by paper map. It starts with Jenny’s sweet smile and Kyle’s dad sense of humor, with the wide, colorful chaos of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the crisp mountain air of Granada. It starts with a hike in the hills near Órgiva, with oranges plucked from tree branches hanging over a fence, with bulky backpacks and plastic grocery sacks of fresh fruit. It starts with crusty baguettes and jamón serrano and slices of queso manchego eaten in public parks at lunchtime. It starts with card games in hostels, with hanging clean laundry to dry on pensión terraces, with glasses of sangria and inside jokes and the wonders of La Alhambra.

Since that first journey, Spain has lived in my bones, and I was absolutely thrilled to go back – again. And while we made lots of wonderful new memories, this trip was part of that larger story. It was my fourth viaje a España, but I very much hope it won’t be my last.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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pink gold texas sunset sky

I’ve been carrying Frank’s funeral program in my purse for days.

I slipped it in there at the end of his memorial service, a couple of weekends ago, in the high-ceilinged sanctuary of the church where I spent nearly every Sunday growing up. I nearly forgot about it, until I reached in a few days later to retrieve something else and my fingers brushed the paper. I saw his law firm portrait again and thought: That can’t be right.

Frank was an attorney, a father and husband, a percussionist, a dog lover, a man of faith. He and his wife, Kim, have been friends with my parents since the mid-eighties, since my sister and I were tiny. We grew up seeing them at church every week, where they worked tirelessly alongside my mom and dad, teaching Sunday school and directing events, serving in countless quiet ways. I used to baby-sit their sons and daughter, going over to their big, friendly house with its assorted dogs and cats (and, for a memorable time, a corn snake named Queenie). They have loved me, and I have loved them, nearly all my life.

When Frank went into the hospital in mid-April, none of us thought for a second that we’d be sitting at his funeral service in early May.

This is how it happens sometimes: without warning, in the middle of a full and busy spring, with school programs and work assignments and birthday parties and all the stuff of life. Kim is a preschool teacher (she taught my older nephew last year) and found herself taking days off school, both when Frank became ill and when he died. Their sons and daughter-in-law came in from Houston and North Carolina, and friends local and far-flung have rallied. And I think all of us have been wrestling with the sense of sturdy disbelief that Lindsey described in a recent post.

That day at the funeral, and the next day at church, people spoke about Frank and shared stories, funny and tender. He loved Mexican food, the spicier the better. He was a stickler for doing things well: his secretary learned years ago that there is a right and a wrong way to affix paper clips, and his kids knew he had high standards. He was a disciplined, faithful servant to his church and his community. He helped more people, in more ways, than I think any of us will ever know.

But the whole time, I was thinking about something much simpler: he was my friend.

Frank embodied discipline and duty, as his son Joey said at the funeral. (I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Joey started crying in the middle of his tribute to his dad.) He served, as so many people said, without fanfare and without ceasing. He showed up, quietly and consistently, over and over again. These things are important.

But what I will remember – what I suspect all of us will remember, too – is his warmth, his compassion, his smile.

I don’t get back to my hometown too often these days: a few times a year, for a long weekend or a few days at Christmas. I don’t have the kind of daily or weekly interaction with the folks there that I once did. But there are still places where I am sure of a welcome, and one of them is the big Sunday school room at the north end of the church. And Frank was one of the people who always welcomed me home. He always wanted to hear about Boston; he and Kim had enjoyed several trips to Nantucket. It made him happy that we shared a connection to this part of the world.

Those chats on Sunday morning, that rock-solid welcome, is what I will remember, and what I will miss the most.

We are all grieving: Frank’s family, his coworkers, his many friends, the church family he was a part of for so long. My parents are deeply sad and shaken by the loss of their friend. There are no easy words for this; I hesitated to even write these. But it feels important to mark his passing, to say: he was here and he lived and loved. And we loved him. We still do.

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flats red pants front steps

We moved two weeks ago, and while the new apartment is looking good (hooray!) and (most of) the books are shelved, I keep thinking: there are moments from the transition itself I don’t want to lose.

We had a stalwart crew of friends, plus perfect weather (cool and breezy). I wanted to write some of these snippets down: the beginning of a good change, one we chose and one we are already loving.

I want to remember our landlady, Maria, surprising us with a bottle of wine and two glasses as we hauled boxes up the stairs earlier that week. I want to remember her saying what our first Boston landlady, Gina, said to us when we met her seven years ago: “I hope you’ll be happy here.” (We already are.)

I want to remember the friends who showed up: Jason bounding up the front stairs at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, Kirsten moving heaven and earth to get to us after a late night, Matt and Janille walking from their house down the street, Ryan puzzling out how to fit all our stuff into a moving truck.

I want to remember how my husband and friends schlepped 24 boxes of books down one long staircase and up another, without a single word of complaint.

friends couch balcony

I want to remember how Ryan lashed a climbing rope (which he just happened to have in his car) around our two loveseats and the box spring for our mattress, and how the guys hauled all of the above up three stories, over the back-porch balcony, and didn’t even destroy my geraniums. (I want to remember dashing outside with Kirsten and Janille, to witness this miracle and snap the above photo.)

I want to remember Janille, nearly seven months pregnant, making endless trips up and down stairs at the old place and the new, filling both her car and mine with seventeen thousand odds and ends.

I want to remember standing in our old empty kitchen, amid countertops scattered with cleaning supplies and tool boxes, eating honey-glazed donuts and feeling tired but so grateful.

I want to remember knocking the bed frame together not once but twice, laughing with Kirsten and Janille, who had never met before that day but were soon chatting like old friends.

I want to remember eating pizza in the crowded new kitchen, sitting on benches and boxes, telling stories and guzzling water and saying thank you, over and over.

I want to remember Betsy and Charles turning up on our new doorstep with their month-old baby, Colette, whom they promptly handed off to me (to my delight). I want to remember how she slept, snuggled on my chest in a yellow onesie, for two hours while Betsy and Charles moved furniture and put sheets on beds and assembled bookcases. By the time they left (and J came back from dropping off the moving truck), the place was starting to look like a real home.

I want to remember my last solo walk-through of the old place: empty rooms and sunlight slanting across wood floors, and pausing in the kitchen to acknowledge: I’ve loved this.

I want to remember our first dinner on the new back porch: soup and salad from the Panera in our old neighborhood, which we ate under a gorgeous sunset sky.

jer back porch dinner

I want to remember our new neighbor, Denise, inviting us over for a drink that night, though she’d never laid eyes on us before. I want to remember the welcome we received there: Carlene plying us with food and wine, Kasia chatting to us about the neighborhood, Jude talking to us about work and life and photography.

I want to remember Emily and Adam, spending their Sunday afternoon helping us unpack dishes and glasses, pots and pans, so that we had a fully functional kitchen come Monday morning.

Most of all, I want to remember our community: helping, sympathizing, schlepping, unpacking, encouraging us every step of the way. “We have the best friends,” J said more than once. I agree: we do.

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Nine years

katie jer xmas 2016

Marriage hath in it less of beauty but more of safety, than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger; it is more merry, and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.

—Bishop Jeremy Taylor

I heard these lines years ago, at the very end of the movie Forces of Nature: an odd place, I admit, to pick up wisdom about marriage. I wasn’t married then, or even thinking about it. But I tucked those words into my heart, and they have resurfaced in recent months, as my husband and I have navigated our ninth year of married life.

We were married nine years ago today, in a ceremony filled with pink roses and a cappella music and rows of people we love, sitting in black folding chairs in a spacious atrium on our West Texas college campus. Our friends Tim and Julie (who are the older, wiser, more grace-filled versions of us) took turns reading aloud from 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, love is kind, love never fails.

The groomsmen, four of our dear college friends, slung their arms around each other’s shoulders as we sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and I choked up at the sight. (I could hear at least one of my bridesmaids – my dear friend Bethany – sniffling, behind me.) Our friend and minister, Mike, who grew up with my dad, spoke a few wise, simple words over us, and told a couple of jokes.

We walked back down the aisle to an exuberant James Taylor song, grinning at the truth of his words: How sweet it is to be loved by you. Afterward, there were fajitas and iced tea, toasts and dancing, and a brief downpour during the reception followed by a dramatic sunset. We drove to a B&B down the street, owned by friends of ours, and headed for our honeymoon in Ruidoso, N.M., the next day.

That was a beginning, but also a continuation: we have been husband and wife for nine years, but loved each other now for nearly 14.

The trick in many long-term relationships seems to be loving the other person as they are, while holding space for them to grow and change. It can be hard, sometimes, to allow for those changes after knowing each other so long and so well. We are, and yet we are not, the same people who met as college freshmen, started dating long-distance as sophomores, got engaged at 23. We have fought (though not against each other) to declare our independence, to carve out a place for ourselves in the world. We haven’t always known what that place will look like, except that we want to inhabit it together.

It isn’t always easy, this work of building a common life: it requires grace, grit, compromise, lots of forgiveness and so much listening. In our case, it is also held together by so many bowls of chips and salsa; countless loads of laundry and sinkfuls of dishes; years’ and years’ worth of inside jokes; and numberless days of blowing each other a kiss when I get out of the car in the mornings. It is rolling over to kiss one another good night when we’re half asleep at the end of a long day. It is checking in via text or a quick phone call in the middle of the workday. It is remaining near, as my friend Lindsey noted a few summers ago. It is choosing each other, over and over again – whether we are tired or frustrated, furious or sad or delighted.

I love Taylor’s words about marriage because they capture the all of it: marriage is full of both dailiness and magic moments, tears and laughter, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy. It is a burden I’m grateful to carry alongside the man who carries so many of mine.

Nine years feels like a moment and a lifetime all at once – especially when I pause to consider the whole arc of it. And yet, in some ways (I hope), we are still at the beginning.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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Remembering George

 

water clouds light

“Why is it so hard to acknowledge that we all walk through life with grief for which there is, today, no compensation?”

I read these words on Christie’s blog last week, at the end of a summer that has held chaos and change and all sorts of upheaval. Transitions are difficult, no matter the kind, and they bring with them their own, often bittersweet grief. But Christie’s words also came as I, and many people I love, are mourning the death of our friend George.

I always find it hard to write about these losses, not only because of the sadness, but because it feels impossible to convey the life, the spirit, of a person through a handful of sentences.

I could tell you that George was the music minister at my family’s church in West Texas for 23 years. I could tell you that he was a talented, accomplished musician, always willing to highlight and encourage others’ gifts while modest and humble (to a fault) about his own. I could tell you that he had four children, a wife he adored, five grandsons and dozens – no, hundreds – of friends. But all that would go a short way toward honoring the memory of the man himself.

George came back to Midland to work at our church (where he had grown up) when I was in the fourth grade. His son Wade is the same age as my sister, and they became firm friends. George directed the Sunday morning choir, in which my mother sang; the youth choir, in which my sister and I both participated; and the sweeping, elaborate Easter pageants that were a formative part of my teenage years (and which came to involve my entire family).

For years, George led worship at youth retreats and Vacation Bible School, at candlelight services on Christmas Eve and at four services every Sunday: three in the morning, one at night. He managed pianists and organists, praise bands and orchestras, pastors and PowerPoints, thousands of details no one ever knew about. His fingerprints are all over that building and that community: quiet but indelible, the definition of the word faithful. But my favorite thing about George was this: he always had time for everyone.

“A friend told me he had the greatest capacity for love [they had] ever seen,” George’s wife, DiAnn, wrote on Facebook recently. “He belonged to everyone.” And it’s true: George had as many things to do as most of us (maybe more), but I never saw him turn away anyone who had a question or needed a smile. During all those rehearsals for summer musicals and mission trips and Easter pageants, I never saw him lose his temper. If I close my eyes, I can hear his clear tenor voice and see his practiced gestures, guiding us through ancient hymns, nineties praise songs and soaring choral anthems with his signature humor and grace. He loved his work and he loved his community, and I am – we are – so grateful that he was ours.

“Time is cruel because it carries us so far from the people and places and things we have loved and lost,” Christie wrote in that blog post. In a certain sense, George is far away from us now: death has a way of creating distance. It feels final and inevitable, and I know it will come home to me again, some Sunday when I’m standing in those familiar pews and he isn’t there. We grieve, and we are right to do so: it means we have loved.

Grief is complicated, and so is faith: I don’t pretend to have any answers about what happens after we die. But I believe, and hope, in a time when everything will be made new: when, as Christie wrote, “all the fragments of our lives, all the broken bits and pieces, will be gathered up.” I know George believed that too, and I hope to see him again one day.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I am grateful for all the songs you taught me, and I will keep singing them until we meet again.

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Sanctuary

yoga mat leggings

A few weeks ago on a chilly Monday night, I was in my usual Monday-night place: lying on my back on a green yoga mat, in a dim, quiet wood-floored studio with early spring dusk coming in through the windows.

We had just finished an hour of yoga practice: warrior poses and sun salutations and deep breaths in downward facing dog. Meredith’s usual class playlist – acoustic guitar and mellow peace-on-earth lyrics mixed with a little rock ‘n’ roll – thrummed through our muscles and our eardrums. As we lay there, breathing in savasana (the final resting pose), a new song came over the speakers, a song I hadn’t heard in years.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true…

The singer’s voice slid over the familiar words, eliding the “l” in “Lord” until the word became a simple “o” sound. I knew what was coming next:

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you.

We talk a lot in yoga class about being present in our bodies, about making space for breath and peace and good things. About letting go of tension and worry and the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves. I have never heard the word “sanctuary” used explicitly in a yoga context, but the concept is definitely there. I couldn’t help smiling, though: my memories of the song “Sanctuary” come from a very different place.

I was one of those Jesus-freak kids in high school: the ones who wore WWJD bracelets and T-shirts emblazoned with catchy Christianese, who led Bible studies before school and knew all the words to the latest DC Talk and Newsboys albums. In small-town West Texas, this did not make me a total outsider, but it did make me a little odd. And, on Thursdays during lunchtime, it meant that I wolfed down taquitos and Bagel Bites with other students in a church gymnasium down the street from my high school, and then got up on a makeshift stage to lead a few praise songs.

Most people, I realized, came for the free food, instead of the spiritual enrichment offered by a prayer and a handful of worship choruses. The songs with goofy hand motions – “Peace Like a River,” for example – were the most popular. But during my senior year, “Sanctuary” became the sleeper hit. We usually sang a song or two and then took requests, and a few kids I knew slightly from marching band would shout, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” from their seats at the back of the room.

Maybe they liked the sound of the word (or were channeling Quasimodo). Maybe they liked the melody, played on guitar – different from the piano or the organ that accompanied the hymns they heard on Sundays when their parents dragged them to church. Maybe they just wanted to see if we’d actually sing the same song every single week. I never asked them, so I don’t know. But I stood up there and sang it every time, hoping that somehow it would bring them a little peace or light or whatever they needed. Because I understood even then that we can sometimes be sanctuary for each other.

I never expected to hear that song in a non-religious yoga studio south of Boston. I don’t know if Meredith, my instructor, is a Christian, or if she came across the song and liked the way it sounded. But that studio, with its leaf-green walls and smooth wood floors, has become a kind of sanctuary for me. And it is true that what we do on our mats – those deep breaths and stretches and difficult-but-empowering poses – prepares us for what we do out in the wider world.

Meredith’s playlist varies from week to week, so I don’t know when “Sanctuary” will come up again. But I like both the word and the idea (not to mention the song’s soothing melody). I like the thought of both finding a safe place for ourselves and being one for those who need it. Because heaven knows we could all use a little sanctuary in our lives.

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queens lane cream tea oxford

It’s been an unusual winter, weather-wise: a few snowfalls, a sub-zero arctic blast over Valentine’s Day weekend, a handful of springlike days in February. (I’ve been snapping pictures of crocuses in joy and disbelief.)

Despite the mild spells, though, we’ve had plenty of what I call Yorkshire weather.

Yorkshire is a place in northern England, of course (home to the lovely town of York and the fictional location of Downton Abbey). But it’s also a tea: a stout, strong black blend sold in green-printed boxes of generously sized teabags. I first encountered it, and fell in love, during a long-ago Oxford winter, when I learned the power of a cuppa (with milk and sugar, please) to combat the damp English cold that seeps into your bones.

The climate in Boston is a bit different from Oxford: we generally have more snow and lower humidity, more crisp, blue-skied days than grey, cloudy ones. But every winter, I can count on at least a few instances of that raw, biting wind that whips right through my green coat and makes me shiver.

Hurrying along the street, my head bent against the cold, I want nothing more in the world than a cup of Yorkshire, brewed strong and laced with milk till it’s the perfect shade of rich, creamy brown. (Sugar optional – but it helps balance out the deep, tannic taste.)

Every time I brew a cup of Yorkshire, pouring the boiling water from my red teakettle, I remember winter in Oxford: skimming down the High Street on my green bike, my hands in their fingerless gloves gripping the handlebars till they grew red and raw with the cold. Tramping with Jacque over muddy meadows to the Trout Inn, past the ponies and the canal crowded with boats and the ruins of Godstow Abbey. Making a pot of Yorkshire in a cluttered, homey kitchen with a half-dozen other American students, rummaging through drawers of mismatched silverware to find enough spoons for the sugar. Or sipping a cuppa brewed by Lizzie or Jo from a blue polka-dotted mug, in the spare but cozy downstairs lounge of the little house in Ablett Close.

I can get Yorkshire tea in the States, fortunately, but my English friend Caroline set me up with a big box last summer, and there’s still plenty left. It takes the chill off after a cold walk home, but it also reminds me of my favorite place, and the people and moments I loved there.

Spring is coming and I couldn’t be gladder. But I’m also fine with a few more days of Yorkshire weather.

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