Saturday, May 22, 2004

Knock-Down, Drag-Out (May 22nd 2004)

It's been a miserable, white-knuckled fight with a
cold for me these last two months (that's the
knock-down, drag-out in the subject line). So bad
that I've even taken Buckley's Mixture to poison the
cold out of my body. I'm in the midst of another one
now, one that features sinus congestion, a rasping
cough, and a ridiculous rate of tissue consumption
(tissue meaning kleenex, not any other kind of tissue
. . . I'm not THAT sick yet). (How odd that I can now
list cold features the way my students can list
features on their mp3 players.)

Last night I tried to write an e-mail to everyone, but
the computer managed to swallow the thing due to an
internet explorer/search engine glitch. This annoyed
me a lot -- I wonder what happens to all those e-mails
eaten by computers. Does some computer somewhere
store them? And why do computers only eat the
subtlest, wittiest, most brilliant, long (especially
long) e-mails? What do they want with the tastiest
bits of correspondence that makes them steal all the
best ones? I don't know, but last night in my
frustration, I sat there pondering what a
understanding computer could gain about humanity just
from the gleanings of the e-mails it eats.

On Friday morning we went to a zoo with our
kindergarten and preschool kids. This reminded me of
what a zoo should not be. (So far, most Korean zoos
I've seen have depressed me -- my jury's out on the
idea of zoos in general [Yann Martel had some
interesting insights about zoos in "Life of Pi" that
are worth turning over in one's head], but I fairly
roundly dislike Korean zoos -- too small,
uncomfortable, unnatural, crowded, and altogether
depressing.) The elephant was in a space that I could
have walked around in about four minutes, and she was
backed into a corner (where the only shade could be
had). It was obvious all she wanted to do was shrink
or be invisible. Meanwhile kids were lining up along
the fence and shouting -- screaming for it to come
out. Sad. Remind me to avoid Korean zoos if I get
another chance to see one. At least when Koreans live
in houses so small that they shove their mattress in a
closet in order to unfold the breakfast table, it's
their choice, and they could leave if the city or
emigrate if they've had it with living on the 16th
floor of a filing cabinet. The elephant didn't have
much choice about whether she wanted to be a country
elephant or a city elephant.

I'm doing mostly well. My students remain brilliant,
though I can't think, offhand, of some moment of utter
cuteness that I simply MUST share with you (sorry
about that). My brother got a good episode in an
e-mail a while ago, but I can't retell it without
losing the freshness. Recently I smirked when my
loudest student, upon my second loudest student
blurting out an incorrect answer, admonished him to
"think before you speak". Only through great
restraint did I avoid teaching them the word irony.
Nothing recently has quite reached the heights of the
boy who accidentally quoted Monty Python's Search for
the Holy Grail when he tried to sound out the bumper
sticker "I [heart] NY".

Things have been changing in my life. Recently, near
the beginning of lent, I realized that my love for
music was interfering with my progress on some of the
other passions and goals in my life. Some of you
don't know yet that I put myself on an indefinite
(until it's finished) music hiatus, as I sort out what
parts of my life I want as my top priorities. Since
then, I've been really encouraged with the way my
relationships have taken shape, and I've managed to
even meet some English speaking Christians who live in
my area. (This was something I never had last year,
but something I'm really enjoying -- I went to a bible
study on Thursday night without riding a subway for 40
minutes to get there!)

I'm also reading more, and reading the important stuff
more, and growing in my faith. So to those of you
who've been praying for me, thanks, and be assured
that there have been some encouraging results so far.
(We'll just wait to see what the next step will be.)

Other than hanging out with friends, reading, spending
time alone in thought (my journals and diaries are
filling up at about twice their usual rate), and
spending ridiculous amounts of time at school to get
all my marking done, and being amazed at how much
Korean pop one overhears in an average day, and how
much that singer/song sounds EXACTLY like Madonna's
single from last fall (except the vocals aren't as
strong . . . shudder), I'm wishing it were easy to
find NHL Playoff hockey on TV here (by the way,
congratulations, all my Albertan, and Canadian hockey
fan friends), and wishing I knew a place to find
certain favourite Korean dishes near my house.

And something else.

A pair of mondays ago (not long ago, really -- it
feels like longer) I got a call at 6:45 AM from Mom
and Dad. When the phone rings before 7 am, it's
usually not because somebody in their home church got

They'd spoken to my sister and brother-in-law
(currently living in Germany). My nephew has always
been small, slow and a little uncoordinated for his
age: instead of playing fighting games like most 4
year olds, he would sit on the floor and play with a
train set; he preferred putting things together over
running places and climbing things. He was slow to
walk, and never really crawled. We suspected this was
because he was born 6 weeks premature.

********** if you're one of the relatives/friends who
has already heard this, and don't feel like getting
depressed by reading it again, you can skip reading
until the next bunch of asterisks.


He'd been to a doctor, and they discovered an enzyme
in his blood that's usually found in patients whose
muscles are breaking down. The diagnosis:

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

This means his muscles will continually weaken until
his heart or lung muscles fail, somewhere in his late
teens or early 20s, barring an act of God. Duchenne
Muscular Dystrophy usually appears in young boys, and
there's no cure other than minimizing discomfort and
using various tricks to maximize mobility.

This is surprising and disappointing. It's difficult
to know how to grieve a situation that's going to be
difficult for the whole family, but currently isn't
too bad. It's hard to consider that for the next
twelve or fifteen years, this emotional process will
sort itself out, but it will take that long to unwind
itself. It hasn't, and maybe it won't, sink in, just
what the next twelve years will involve in that
aspect. I don't know how I'm going to have to support
my family, or when I'm going to need support. It's
just really . . . detatched so far.


What I DO know now, is that my nephew is a really
loving kid, and he's surrounded with love from his
family and community, and that will lead him through a
life with more blessings than a lot of people with a
lot more longevity experience.

I don't know exactly how these things work in God's
plan, except to reflect in sadness that we live in a
hurting world, and that all things are not right on
this planet. (I'll say, though, it's difficult to
consider one's own nephew as a symbol of the whole
world's malaise. It isn't that impersonal. It's
impossible to be that impersonal with someone you
love. That's always the risk of loving someone --
that something will hit you right in the soft spot you
have for that person.) Right now my prayer is that
our family will have peace, and that however God does
these things, and whatever happens, that we trust Him,
and that His name will be glorified.

So those are a few of the things buzzing through my
head these days. I'm doing OK -- I think this whole
family thing is really hard on my Mom and Dad, who
feel really far away (it's all happenning in Germany,
where Rebecca and Frank are surrounded by support from
their church community.) So keep my parents in mind
too, if you're the praying kind.

Today I went to an amusement park with my co-workers,
and talked a few people into going on rides they
actually shouldn't have taken (not for health reasons
-- just for wooziness purposes). I forget that other
people have a very different feeling about rides than
I do. Roller coasters are like tickling: it's all in
your head, and its YOUR tension that makes the ride
scary, and the tickling tickle. If you can relax
through either, it won't bother you anymore, and (for
the rides) you can enjoy them, or (for the tickling),
you can say "stop it, that's annoying" with a really
dry, drop-dead voice. Speaking of which, I've learned
how to be a wet blanket for my students when they're
being too funny and not paying attention. It's weird
having to deflate jokes, when I spent so much time
learning how to make and enjoy them.

Today I was at a major intersection, and the green
"walk" sign had started flashing, so I had to run to
catch the light. I jogged along, when I nearly
stopped in my tracks, in the middle of the road, at
the sight of an old, toothless man who was running
hilariously (chest out, fists pumping up by his chest,
legs taking small, old-man steps very quickly, head
leaning backwards as if he were being pulled by a rope
stuck to the front of his shirt) across the
intersection in the other direction, even later than
myself. He had this delightful smile as silly and
excited as the grins of little boys running away from
the girl's bathroom at school, where they just soaked
all the toilet paper in the sink.

Six minutes later, I looked over my shoulder at a
group of five friends lined up to pose for a picture.
The photographer was counting down to take the picture
when the light turned and the "walk" sign came on, and
the five friends turned around and started crossing,
in unison, totally stranding the photographer with
nothing in her view lens. The image of the five girls
turning around without hesitation, and the lone girl
up the creek without a paddle, cracked me up for a
good five minutes more.

So life goes on. Again, I must weather a family . . .
I hesitate to use the word crisis, because it's a
crisis in slow motion . . . whilst eight time zones
away (for now) from anyone else in the family (as I
did when my father had a bout with cancer last year --
now that feels almost like family situation training
to prepare for this one). I wrote in an e-mail to my
brother last year, at Dad's cancer diagnosis, that
these kinds of things are exactly the stuff of growing
up. Maturing is borne of a million things happening,
some big, some small, some controllable, some
uncontrollable, some forgotten the next day, some
indelible. We define ourselves by how we react to
these million things that happen, and by finding peace
(or not finding peace) with the things we can and
can't change. Sometimes we're thrown into a
situation, and other times, we throw ourselves into
one. However those million things happen, hopefully
we're paying enough attention to notice them, and we
never stop listening, and never stop learning.

Bless you all.

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