Sunday, July 15, 2018

Traveling Through Time in a Day

 For time is told also by life. As some depart, others come. The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome.  And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present. Time then is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. The great question . . . is not if (we) we have loved enough, but if (we) have been grateful for love received and given. 
                                                    --Wendell Berry 

Thinking of Matthias today....

Today was one of those days when the past, present, and future run together like a flowing river. I had an infant son die who would have been 15 today. I imagine him as a blonde-haired sweaty soccer player who is tender and streaked with independence--a boy who now would be trying to navigate his life. Although I held him for a short time in his brief life (I did stroke his blonde hair), he has had a significant impact on our family. Life became more precious because we learned that breath is taken away when we cannot predict it will stay with us. A brush of passing time can change us forever.

People speak of angels holding them in trials. The Celtics believed there are "thin places"A blog on: "Thin Places --meaning a small, almost imperceivable space between heaven and earth. Thin places can be in hospital rooms, a sacred space, anywhere. The angels came for me on that day. That is all I can say. The sun continued to shine. I remember my sister saying to me, "How can you be so happy after Matthias died?" For some reason, I was given joy and I took it--with surprising gratitude.

A life that did not breathe long gave blessings, wishes, intentions. His handprints are still there to remind us that others too have invisible losses and perhaps even wounds. Since my husband is a perinatologist (taking care of high-risk births), he has been able to console others in a hospital room when their gift unexpectedly did not stay. He can speak with authentic reality for he has known their pain. I have had hallowed conversations with both strangers and friends. Matthias' life has given us an opportunity to hopefully bless and bond with others--all because he lived. Who would suspect a small interlude of life could offer so many new understandings?

I do not seek hard times and I cringe and wince when others have to face their own. Yet, I know that I (we) are stronger when we allow the stings to cause us to move farther down the river. If, instead, we choose not to get stuck, but to keep going, moving. The answer is to not be engulfed in the flurries and eddies that would push us down but to hope. 

Today I am grateful for a little babe whose influence I feel often. Although he lingered for a few hours, he has been a gift that has kept giving to many people. Someday when I meet him again I hope he will be pleased: that I not only loved him but that I was grateful he ever came. Every speck of time encountered with another life is infinitely substantial. Ultimately, the thing that really matters is what we became with the gift that was so freely offered.

A picture a friend gave me. It has reminded me that trials make us grow. And that is the big purpose anyways.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Non-Muslim's Perspective on Ramadan

Breaking the fast with some Sudanese Muslims in a park in Doha, Qatar
As my son and I walked by many Muslims who were breaking their fast in a park, we were wholeheartedly invited to their Iftar feast (The Iftar feast is when you break your fast every night at sunset with family and friends). My blog from last year that explains Ramadan more: Ramadan 2017

The Sudanese men eat together, while the women eat a short distance away. 
As a non-Muslim living in a Muslim country for almost four years, I must say Ramadan is my favorite time to be in the Middle East. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer, is observed by Muslims worldwide. It means that from sunrise to sunset, people do not partake of food or drink. Furthermore, they try to study the Quran and pray more. They apologize to people who they might have offended. Cursing, lying, gossiping is not allowed so that peace can come. There is a desire for more reflection and becoming a better person than before they started the 29-30 day fast (depending on when the crescent moon appears). During the 30 days fast, there are increased prayers (salat) and recitation of the Quran. Any good deeds or charitable giving is considered to give you more blessings during Ramadan.

It is sweltering hot in Qatar. I tried to fast, but I could not do it without drinking water. Although I have fasted one day a month all my life in my faith, it is altogether different for one month straight. I did not get up early in the morning before sunrise to have suher (the small breakfast before you start your fast. I would just fast the entire day. And I found myself looking at my watch a lot!

A few observations about Ramadan from a non-Muslim:

1) I noticed an intentional change in my Muslim friends. They told me that as they fasted and used more self-discipline in their life, they remembered the unfortunate more. Their pangs of hunger or parched throat caused them to understand those around the world who have no food or water. One Egyptian friend told me, "I remember that when I see someone who is poorer or more unfortunate than me, I do not look them up and down. I remember we are the same. There is no difference between me who has more education and opportunities than someone who does not. Any of my suffering to fast helps me to understand others more."

2) The first night of Ramadan is the holiest one of the year. With the small crescent moon to start the fast, every night the moon shows more light. The point of Ramadan is to grow light, as the moon. That is why everywhere there are lanterns, candles, pictures of moons and stars.  Everyone wants to gather more light inside of them. I found myself looking at the moon too and watching as it has enlarged--a sign to glean more light. Ramadan is supposed to be a time to sequester oneself from the world, finding more inner light.

Decorations in front of people's homes abound everywhere of lanterns and moons.
There are about 50 of these huge light panels in the Katara in Qatar. The beautiful light panels that you go through in your car remind me of what it says in the Quran that is believed to happen during Ramadan: all the gates of paradise are swung wide open. 

3) Perhaps my most profound emotion as an observer of the Muslim faith is to have a front row seat to remarkable self-restraint. Their examples move me to be to want to be better. Their generosity of spirit that seems to hold no bounds. Their humble and unswerving desire to be more holy inspires me. 

A Bangladeshi friend and worker in my compound whose job it is to water plants and sparsely covered grass
Imagine the self-restraint needed to water all day long with a long hose and not drink any of the water. 

4) Ramadan is not exclusively a solo experience, although it invites more personal prayer and reflection. It is for children too. Although you are not supposed to fast until you reach puberty, children enjoy the sense of newness around them--new clothes, the festive dinners to celebrate the breaking of the fast, and doing charitable deeds for others.

My husband and friends at the hospital where the children handed out treats to the health-care workers.
Since I teach art at a school with disabilities, I decided to help them make Ramadan banners. In Arabic, it says, Ramadan Kareem--meaning "May your Ramadan be blessed."
One of the proud students with his Ramadan banner.

5) The next few pictures are at the newly built mosque in Education City in Doha--a magnificent place of great workmanship and peace. People came from different faiths to feed 1,200 workers for their Iftar meal. Christians and a few Muslims from all over the world wanted to give their time to those who were fasting. 

Working together to get 1,200 meals served very quickly.

Working together with strangers who became friends... The spirit of generosity and kindness permeated the mosque with people from all over the world. The overarching feeling was that we are all God's children.

There is something very moving when you give someone water when they have been fasting all day in scorching heat. Here are my husband, Elias, and a friend giving free water to the workers in Qatar from Africa and some parts of Asia. Honestly, since it was 11 6 degrees that day, I couldn't help but have a few tears come as I watched the Muslims receive their long-awaited water. It is a scene I will never forget. One must always find ways to give water.

We who are not Muslims had the most profound respect for our Muslim friends. They are some moments I will not soon forget. 
A Nigerian Christian man and a Sudanese Muslim greet the workers who are lining up to receive water and dates before they receive their meal. 

The workers resting before their prayers.

Submissive and heartfelt prayers are given before the workers received their meals. A reverence and peace were felt by all--no matter your religion or nationality.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Middle East: The Promise of Fruitfulness

What is important is how well we love. God will make our love fruitful whether we see that fruitfulness or not.  
                                                           --Henri Nouwen

If only people could be more reverent toward their own fruitfulness. --Rilke

Why not go out on a limb? That is where the fruit is!

A view from our compound pool in late May. I aspire to eat one of these dates at the end of the summer. Ha!
A blog about this same tree last summer: The Metaphor of the Raining Dates
Today I happened to glance up at a bunch of growing dates in a tree. The small green sprigs hung like nests in a few large clumps dangling from the upper branches. In the harsh, sweltering heat of the Middle East--during the hottest summer months--fruit actually grows on trees. The sweetest manna of fruit, the date, ironically grows as if in a burning fire here.

One would rightly assume nothing could grow in such abundance in this blistering air. Nonetheless, the date palm trees flourish with a harvest in late August/early September. The sweet and luscious dates plop to the ground in all their splendor. Often there is not much water that nourishes them in this Middle East furnace. Yet, these date trees magnificently produce one of the main staples of the region--the delicious and healthy date.

As I looked up and saw the verdant olive-like fruit above me in the date palm tree, I could not help but think that even in the heat of affliction, there is always hope. Maybe the fruit requires a long season to ripen or bear.  But the objective and lesson of life are: we plow with hope, sometimes when we feel or only see scarcity around us. When the good ground seems spare or cracked, we still believe the rain will come--even in the stifling heat. We work, cheer, encourage, and wait--knowing the promise of fruitfulness is there buried in the roots. The bumper crop will come. And we will be astonished at the arm-loads of abundant fruit that we will carry from the harvest.

Trees cover the ground after the Christmas season in Malaga, Spain. There is such an abundance that pruners must come in and cut some of the branches for fear the branches will break off with all the explosion of fruit.
Joseph and our friend, Mitch, near an old olive press in Provence, France near Voix. 

Olive orchards abound in Provence, France--waiting for the harvest in Decmeber.

A gardener in the late autumn near Lake Como, Italy. She was so pleased to still be arranging flowers from her garden in late October...

In Sierre, Switzerland where my daughter and her husband lived--there are vineyards in every crevice and corner. Orchards intertwine and surround the villages all over the French section of Switzerland--always a reminder that a harvest is coming...

The abundance of olives in a Morocco market

At a market in Tangier, Morocco--the place where tangerines were named after. I have never tasted better citrus in my life than in Tangier and Spain--and I am from California. I think I ate three-five a day while in these countries.

A Syrian man who I support at his fruit stand. Although his variety is not abundant, the fruit he sells is alway sweet and delicious. Lesson: There is never a meager offering. In the paradigm of scarcity and fruitfulness, fruitfulness will reign every time.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

This One is for you Dad

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

In our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

~2005~ Wendell Berry (a favorite poet)

Always looking further where he could go. Here is my blog post I wrote about him for Father's Day after his death one year ago. His journey to becoming a great father is an interesting one. Fatherhood: The Impact of a Dad

Occasionally there are landmark dates when we have been separated from death with our loved ones. When a loved one has been gone one year, we square our shoulders and say we have survived one year, four seasons, without them. The years inevitably pass, but our memories linger of their laughter, hugs, and conversation. We can almost hear their voices call out--begging us not to forget them. These are moments when we tightly knit together those stories so the memories will never unravel in our hearts. Sometimes, and often on those anniversaries of death, we allow ourselves to think upon their cherished faces and what they mean to us. Today is one of those days for me. 

A year ago today I received a call in the Paris Airport that my father had passed away. I was jolted, almost soul-broken. I did not make it see him in his last failing moments. On the endlessly long plane ride across the Atlantic Ocean to unite with family, I shamelessly sobbed in front of a few strangers. I remember the Vietnamese passenger next to me who saw some tears. She kindly listened to a few stories about my dad I had in my reservoir to tell. 

Interestingly enough, as the plane landed, a sweet peace came to me: I remembered that I had spent the previous summer at my parent's home laid up with a broken ankle for almost two months. There had not only been hours and days of conversation. But we had tediously edited and read the memoirs of his life that he had so painstakingly written. With his last breath, there would still be stories, instruction, and laughter he had penned. His voice had not vanished in the air.

I had pleaded for him to write his life story for years. For a long time, he demurred my questions--waving off any sign of commitment. To write about his childhood during the Depression with a dysfunctional family was too difficult for him to excavate. He did not want to dig up the old pain. However, in the five or so last years of his life, he spent an uncommon amount of time in his study writing longhand on his yellow tablets of paper. He never touched a computer--preferring to write in his almost indecipherable handwriting. 

Dad told us that writing down his story healed his heart. In the last month, before he died, he revealed to my mom, "I am ready to meet my dad now. I know it all will be different now." With the deep burrowing of memories, he had surprised himself with some happy moments of his father. He was ready for a reunion. So much pain had been unleashed by the simple act of writing down his life.

Dad was more productive than we would all have ever imagined. There will be three volumes of his writing, and this summer I hope to finish all the editing. The past months have been gifts of hearing new stories, quotes, talks, ideas, and lessons from my father in his famously almost undecodable writing. He wrote away the scars and wounds and discovered mountains of blessings that he had long since forgotten. Old friends and even conversations with strangers appeared to his memory that had given him pivotal influence. It seemed that he was forming a picture in his mind with a dot-to-dot game. Chapter after chapter all the incredility or confusion came together. It all made sense--even the challenges. Healing came to his wings. 

So today Dad I will be doing the things you loved, which of course, I do regularly since I am your daughter--swim, eat some watermelon, read and write, learn a few words in another language, and throw my head back and laugh loud. Love you, Dad. Until we meet again. Thanks for the gifts of your words that did not end a year ago. Love, Mar

In front of the Met in NYC. 

  Here are the first few paragraphs of his autobiography from his youth. Perhaps it will spark you to write your stories that need to be excavated. Or maybe you will beg a few loved ones to write theirs. Thanks, Dad. Your voice will always be loud and crystal clear.

"I promise that I’ll keep trying to learn from all these experiences and be better for them. I have called my life history an interesting one. We all have interesting lives. We were not sent down to a dull planet. It may be ordinary in its size compared to many worlds in the cosmos, but it is filled with fascination. Get a paper and pencil, put down your thoughts, begin to write, and the mental pictures will come rushing in. Go to any city and look up any name and you will see the name of an interesting person.
Recall, ponder, select, seek, and record your life. See in your mind’s eye the people, places, experiences, folly, success, happiness, loneliness, and the hammering of life shaping you. President Kimball said, “Write history, and perhaps the angels will quote from it.” Listen to stories because if a person thinks enough of you and what happened to them, it is in all probability an experience you can learn from.
We know that the great ones on the other side of the veil desire our completeness and success. Emerson said, “Former great men and women call to us affectionately.” We have so much good in our bloodline that I feel the strong who have desired our success will help us in a transfiguring way. I find myself thinking that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Here and now isn’t all there is. You are living an eternal life, but sometimes the sum doesn’t seem like it will fit the whole. Write down your experiences so others may learn from them. As C.S. Lewis said, “There are really no ordinary people.” When we all cross the river and go to the other side, we will be happy we had all the experiences we had and the connections we found. Endure to the end, make good choices, and you will have an interesting and fulfilling life." 
                                   --Dennis Keith Myres (July 24, 1934--May 27, 2017)

Dad could never get enough of his grandkids. Here he is with my four sons, but he had 54 grandkids who he loved to joke with and mentor. His family and people were his greatest hobbies.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Qatar: Teaching art to kids with disabilities and seeing a new "soul-sense"

I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten--my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine!    --Helen Keller 

Jackson Pollack splash painting

I love this "soul-sense" of joy that I get to see when these kids create.
Painting with q-tips for a change of territory. I love her newly-found focus. 
Since I have a teenage son with autism who loves art, I decided to create an experiment: having a child with a disability (my son) teach others art who have a disability this school year. Every Wednesday morning we load up our bags of art supplies and head out to a school for disabilities here in Doha. Perhaps it has been one of the best experiments (or should I say "discoveries") of my life. For a full school year, I have seen children, teenagers, and young adults brim with joy as they create. Behavior, focus, confidence, and awareness of the world have increased. As my son, Elias has exclaimed, "Everyone is a lot calmer now from the beginning of the year, Mom."

Elias teaching about a Valentine's Day project
To watch children with disabilities develop and see their "soul-sense" has lifted and changed me. Some of them at the beginning would not touch a brush, pencil, or paint. They adamantly refused. But gently we modeled for them that twirling different colors of paint and mixing them together brought wonder. And better yet, to dab and press paint over paper is to excavate new joy. To watch children and teenagers who showed no expression before become responsive by a simple art project has shown me how much the human spirit needs to create. We all have more "soul-sense" to explore and discover.

Painting Jackson Pollack style....

At the end of March, we (with some other typical teenagers) put together an exhibit of the work that our students had been working on all year long. Everyone marveled at their intricate compositions. They were beautifully composed and bring a lasting joy to look at them. But more than anything I will tuck in my pocket the joy of watching our students' faces this year.  To see their change of expressions and emotions bring me back again and again to the art table. As the months have gone by this school year, I have seen not only faces change, but people permanently transform.

Celebrating our art

Getting ready for our exhibit

Getting ready for Valentine's Day

We the teachers have changed. Parents now walk in to peek at their child's work with joy. Even a bus driver to our students eagerly wants to see the work of his passengers.  As Dieter Uchdorf has said, "One of the deepest desires of the human soul is to create."

Proudly showing their work with pastels

Understanding how movement and art coalesce

                           Lessons of Teaching Art to Kids with Disabilities

1) Using many different kinds of techniques aides their curiosity. 
For example, painting with sponges, printmaking with leaves or fruit, q-tips, water balloons (that are partially filled), and trying the Jackson Pollack version of splashing paint inside a cardboard box. These are just a few I have used this year. The students relish the variety and diversity of the materials.

2) Bring movement to the art projects. Having the child sit on a lazy susan and spin around with a marker in their hands. If they are encircling a marker around them, making a circle, all of a sudden, the shape of a circle is more understood.

3) If you are teaching kids that speak a different language, learn some words from their language to encourage and praise them. When I speak some Arabic words, the students' eyes sparkle with more recognition.

4) Talk to the parents and encourage them to do art projects with them at home. So much progress and bonding can happen at home. 

5) I promise as you watch others wonder and awe, your own heart and soul will open too.

Watching the awe and wonder--one of my favorite observations.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Some Late Valentine's Day Love Stories....

On my wedding day with my parents next to me, and my husband's parent's next to him. Their marriages have brought a radiant knowledge that love is possible, attainable, real. No matter what. As Shakespeare said, ""I love thee, I love but thee, with a love that shall not die; not till the sun grows cold and the stars grow old."

"By getting to know our roots, we become closer as a human family."   --Orrin Hatch

I have been a lucky girl. To a large extent, I have always had a stream of truth near my path. Goodness, in many peoples and relationships, has made the way mostly smooth and clear. Providence has not eluded me. As I get older, I have particularly pondered more on the power of love stories in my life-- those who have been closest to me. As I have observed those real-life Valentine love stories, sometimes when hopes were dashed and money was scarce, I am thankful for their tenacious clinging on. They made love seem unconquerable, boundless. I have been a beneficiary of watching the daily beauty of real love in acton all my life. The people who I have known have allowed love to tether and strengthen them--to make seemingly ordinary people into extraordinary people.

In every family there are hopefully innumerable love stories--tales of marriages and people who stand by one another in tough times. Sometimes they write their prescriptions or elaborations for their posterity. Other times family will lovingly retell the love stories again and again. Nonetheless, the love stories need to be gathered, written,  and told--reminding our children and their children that love is possible in a world that can be uncertain or confusing. Love means: being loyal, kind, forgiving, faithful, and optimistic. It means you love--even when people get sick, injured, or the economy bottoms out like in the Depression.

I have spent countless hours unraveling and documenting my husband's and my family's life histories. As a child, I was always pestering my grandmothers to tell me one more story--like the time when a gypsy stole my grandmother away, a beautiful little blonde-haired four year old Icelandic girl in Canada, at a busy train station. And how her older brother, Alec, saved the day (and her life), by showing her parents and a policeman where the conniving gypsy-woman had taken her. But of all the reservoirs of stories that I hold dear, it is the love stories that grab my heart the most. They have been my North Stars.

                                                 H. Smith and Sarah Shumway

H. Smith and Sarah Shumway had been friends in college, and then their friendship grew into romance. But it was World War II, and Smith wanted to go to war--putting on hold a medical career. Six weeks after landing on D-Day, Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France, Lieutenant Shumway was permanently blinded. He was taken to a makeshift hospital in Normandy, on to England, and then for more hospitals and rehabilitation for the next two years in the US. But Sarah, back at home, never left hope. She learned Braille so the nurses wouldn't have to read the letters or "burn their fingers" with the" hot messages." He asked her to marry him in 1947--much against her parent's wishes. But they finally acquiesced, seeing there was no hope to quench this love. He asked her to marry him by saying, "If you will drive the car, darn the socks, and read the mail, I will do the rest."

Theirs was a love of always cherishing and seeing the best in one another. They continued to jitterbug, and hold one another dancing until Sarah died of cancer when she was 71. Since Smith enjoyed performing music in his later years, he supported Sarah in her oil painting--even though he never saw her artwork. Sometimes she would say to me, "He always thinks I am 22, just the way he last saw me." She would always find home projects for him, like tiling, painting, plumbing, etc. Since she grew up on a ranch, nothing deterred her from asking him to do things. And he did. He loved to please her--to make her happy. One of the things I always remember about them is that they were always laughing, discussing books together, and sharing what the other thought was important. Nothing, and I mean nothing, seemed too hard for them--if they did it together.

Little did Lietinent Shumway know that his eye sight would be shortly cut off from him.  One of my several posts about  Smith and Sarah: I Might Not Have Sight, But I have Insight

Smith and Sarah Shumway at their wedding reception in 1948. 

Six daughters and then twins at the end graced their lives. My husband, being their token son. They have 41 grandchildren, and host of great grandchildren. For the last year and a half of her life, I helped her revise, edit, and gather her life history. But Smith was the one who typed it for her first. I then read his drafts and composed her story, and of course their love story.
Keith and Paula Myres

My parents, Keith and Paula Myres on their wedding day in 1958 A blog for them called A Tribute To My Parents
For the last several years, I have had the daunting pleasure of helping to write my parent's life history. It will be three volumes. Yes, my father was a wordsmith, historian, storyteller. He loved to spin a tale, especially of the Depression, World War II, and about his Icelandic heritage. But his favorite story was meeting my mom. My mom and dad met on a blind date. My dad was hoping and praying to find a girl that would grace his life. He said, "As I sat in the Scera Theatre in Orem, Utah watching the movie Giant with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, I looked over to your mom to hold her hand. I just knew instantly that she was the one for me. She had this quiet strength about her that made me feel like I could do anything."

My mom, just 19, was up for the challenge. She had been "Miss Springville," her home town queen, and was known for her good nature and humor. My dad, a few people told me at his funeral, was the most handsome man at the time at BYU, his college. But there was so much more that they both saw in each other. My dad had a larger than life personality who would become a great business and church leader. Mom became a mother of nine children and so far 54 grandkids. Everyone loves my mom. People have been cornering me since I was about eight to ask, "Does your mom ever get mad?"

My father went through seven major surgeries in his life, mystifiying doctors of his stamina and resilience. He just kept popping up, like a cork, in the water. He could never be down for too long. You would never think he had fragile health if you saw him. But he did. His obstacles never detoured him. Mom, like the girl he saw when she was 18, had this steady, quiet resilience that never ebbed. Their main priority was their family. Last May when my father died on the night before we buried him, my mom said to us, "Dad and I gave up any ambition, activity, or hobby that competed with raising our children. We can see now that we didn't give up anything." 

Some families have been broken, but they can be mended. Both of my parents came from broken marriages. A Depression and heartache plagued my grandparents. But my parents choose to cherish marriage, family, and children--plus many other's children too. No storms brought them down. I am so grateful for the love stories in my life....

It is important not to just know our DNA, but the people whose stories we were put in long ago. Gather your family histories and watch your heart grow with understanding and love.
If you want to know more about family history, look up:

My parents on their 57th anniversary here in Doha on a dhow boat ride. My dad loved ships, and in a few minutes after  this picture, he would get to steer the boat.
Mom and Dad at one of our reunions. Since my last name is Myres, when my dad saw the "M" on the shirt, he said, "The M is not big enough. Ha!
If you want to know more about family history, look up: