Monday, January 26, 2009

If Thou Could'st Empty All Thyself of Self

by Sarah Albrecht

As a teenager, I first found this poem by Sir Robert Browne quoted in Madeleine l'Engle's young adult novel, A Ring of Endless Light. The poem resonated then and still does. It has helped me catch myself when I am "replete with very me"--full of myself?--and has served as the catalyst over and over for a needed shift in perspective.

If Thou Could'st Empty All Thyself of Self

If thou could`st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, `This is not dead`,
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes, He says,
`This is enow
Unto itself - `twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me.`

--Sir Thomas Browne

Friday, January 23, 2009

Culture Charm

by Stephanie Abney
Mesa, AZ

We have been hosting a teacher from China in our home this week. She teaches at a high school in Beijing. Her name is Sun, Mei and she is 27 years old.

We really had no idea what to expect. She and nine of her students are here for 10 days visiting our school, Eagle’s Aerie, in Gilbert, AZ, a K-12 Charter School. Each of the students is being hosted by a family from the school except for one who is staying with friends of a family from the school. They are all extremely polite and sweet, eager to participate in typical American high school life.

It has been so delightful to have Sun, Mei stay here with us. She is very charming and her English is extremely good. We have not had any trouble communicating. A few times we each had to try a few other ways to explain something but in the end we understood each other. She teaches Chinese. At first I thought that was odd and then I instantly remembered all the English classes I have taken in high school and college and it made perfect sense.

Sun, Mei chose an American name to go by, Karen, but I enjoy using her Chinese name. She arrived Sunday night, visited briefly with us and being very tired from her journey, went to bed early. She has been riding to and from school with me and spends her day either with her students or visiting other classes and answering numerous questions from our students. Since Monday was a holiday, a field trip to the Science Museum and the Diamondback Stadium was planned for the Chinese students. I picked her up afterwards and she attended her first “family picnic” at the park. Some of our family members got together for fun and ham sandwiches and all that goes with it. Sun Mei got sandwiched out that day as she also ate her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I packed for her field trip and then ham sandwiches at the picnic. She and all of her students are “only” children, as is the current custom of China because the government is concerned about their large population. She seems to enjoy seeing photos of and hearing about our large family.

We have had lots of laughs while she has been here. Wednesday was the “All-School Hike” up South Mountain at Fat Man’s Pass. We also went to a “Teacher’s Party” at our local Barnes and Noble Wednesday after school. I won 3 prizes, including a globe of the world, by being the first to answer questions about children’s literature. Sun, Mei won one of the free raffle prizes and when we got home, she told Jim, “I didn’t have to answer any questions for my prize. I’m lucky.” Afterwards we went to Ocean Blue and tasted almost every flavor of frozen yogurt they offer. She had never tasted any before. She graciously treated me to a cup of yogurt once we decided on our favorites.

Tuesday night we stopped at “Moki’s Hawaiian Grill” for dinner and she seemed to like the food and last night we picked up take-out at “Panda’s Express”. She laughed when she told me how one of our students asked one of her students if they ate at “Panda’s.” The Chinese student misunderstood the question to be: “Do you eat Pandas?” He answered, rather alarmed, “No! We do not eat Pandas. They are protected.”

Last night I fixed a typical American meal (well, a typical ARIZONA American meal ~ it was tostadas) which she liked. She will have several more opportunities to eat what we eat while she is here and she will also cook for us one night. There are several things I have thought would be fun to do with her here but she is still struggling with jet lag and we were told not to do things that were very different from our normal routine so they can experience life in America.

When Sun, Wei and I got home on Wed. night, Jim was already home and the door was locked. She went to open the door, (always so anxious to "help" me so she opens doors and carries packages) and she found the front door locked and looked a little surprised at me. I couldn’t resist and as I unlocked the door, I said, “Jim is scared.” She got my joke and laughed. In fact, we have made several jokes together and have understood them well.

After dinner we watched “American Idol.” Sun, Wei was familiar with it and enjoyed watching it with us. She has been very respectful of us, our home, our belongings and has been the perfect guest. She has bowed her head with us when we have prayed over our food. The first time I prayed over a meal, she looked at me and said, “You are thankful.”

Last night we attended a benefit concert at our school, put on by staff and students but the star of the concert was Mr. Gary Gjersted, one of our music teachers, who happens to be blind. When I asked her prior to the concert if she noticed one of our teachers was blind, she said she had. I went on to say that he plays the piano beautifully to which she responded thoughtfully, “Oh, yes, God is fair. He takes his sight but gives him the piano.”

We have found, which I think is always the case with people meeting for the first time (no matter where they are from), that we are more alike than we are different. I thought of several things to call this blog entry from “Culture Shock” to “Cultures Collide” but none of those would have been accurate. Yes, I think “Culture Charm” is the best title. I know she has enjoyed her stay thus far; she is always taking pictures and we have enjoyed her. We have become good friends and how charming is that? Very!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rockrollers and Pancakes - - and Hope

Last fall I met Marilyn Brown, an award winning novelist who is well-known in the west. She and her husband are multi-talented, I discovered, when I visited their gallery in Springville, Utah. Both are accomplished artists. And Bill Brown has a long history of theater credits to his name as theater owner, actor, producer and director, and, in the case of Rockrollers and Pancakes, writer and director. He gave my sister and me free tickets to that night's performance. Loving regional theater as I do, I wasn't going to miss it.

Rockrollers and Pancakes is a touching drama based on real events Bill experienced as he was growing up. His father suffered a serious injury on the job, and the family lost their home as a result. They lived for several months in a tent in a nearby canyon. I hope this actually happened in the spring or summer, as Utah winters can be brutal. Bill told us that for him and his brothers, it was great to camp in the canyon, as they could fish and hike to their hearts' content. He didn't realize the dire situation his parents faced until he was older.

(I should add that I'm not exactly sure what rockrollers are, but I think they're worm-like creatures that live on the underside of rocks in the river. I looked up the term on the web, but all I found were references to rock collectors' clubs and rock and roll, and I'm sure those two elements weren't mentioned in the play. Well, there was a brief reference to Elvis, now that I think about it.)

As the play unfolded there were chuckles and tears from the audience, and appreciative, enthusiastic applause at the end. The best part of the evening, however, was glancing at Bill now and then to watch the expressions that crossed his face. I imagine he was pleased to see his drama produced again, and that he was justifiably proud of his cast. I also think he reflected with a tender heart on those days when his parents made a good life for their family despite very difficult circumstances the children couldn't fully understand at the time.

I hope Rockrollers and Pancakes is produced again and again. It's a play about hope, never giving up, and unbreakable family ties.

Isn't that a great message for us today?