Wednesday, October 31, 2007
As I discussed in this post, my own point of view is constantly changing. Sometimes swiftly, but usually at a glacial pace. Or so it seems, until I actually go back and read what I've written.
Anyway, back to the present. Well, the recent past.
This past Sunday was one of my rare Sundays off. We had already planned to go to church back in Leavenworth and spend some time with my parents. As it happens it was the first day on the job for their new minister, and the church was having a welcome dinner. It was a good chance to talk to many old friends. I grew up in First Christian Church Leavenworth (be sure to check their fantastic website, including pictures of Maxine at the aforementioned dinner!), which makes it feel very much like family. I found that with new churches (well, new to me) it was harder to foster those family feelings.
It was good to be in a church where everyone knew that Grandpa had died. I called a friend at our church in Lawrence and told him the news. They prayed for us in the service, and later many friends asked if we were okay. But if we had gone to church in Lawrence, I don't think I could have handled explaining it over and over, and accepting the surprised looks of sympathy from people who hadn't already known. The only other choice would have been to not bring it up, and just mope around mumbling whenever anyone asked what was wrong.
Wal-Mart was very cool about giving me time off. They allow up to three paid bereavement days. I took off Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday was already scheduled off. Tomorrow (Thursday) I have to go to work from 1 to 10. Long shift. Not looking forward to it. But one of my coworkers is on vacation. I hope she didn't have to come back because of me. [Update: she didn't, which left the other three jewelry associates a bit crunched. Sorry ladies!]
Monday I went to class, and talked to my prof about coming to his Thursday section instead of the Wednesday. He was very cool about it, so I will be going to class tomorrow from 12 to 12:50. Leaving me 10 minutes to get to work. Great. I already let my manager know I might be late. After class I came home and relaxed. Maxine was at her day care, and Horyon sewed. I went to pick up Maxine around 5, and got there just in time to keep her from breaking down. Instead she took a nap as I went to Papa Murphy's for a pizza, then home. Good stuff, Papa Murphy's. You order a pizza, they put it together, then you take it home and bake it in your own oven. Brilliant idea. Makes for the freshest pizza you could hope for, short of scraping together the ingredients and making it yourself.
Tuesday we drove to Leavenworth and had dinner at Grandma's house. She is still being flooded with food. Even with all of the family there, we barely made a dent in the piles of cold-cuts, ham, chili, chicken noodle soup, fruit, cake, brownies, chips, cheeses, and other stuff. (The next day we stopped by on our way home and picked up food to take with us. Enough ham to keep me in sandwiches for a week, and cheese, too.)
After dinner we went to the visitation. Usually these are done at Davis Chapel Funeral Home, right across the street from the church. This time it was decided to have it at the church instead. Which was a wise decision, because Davis Chapel would simply not have been big enough to handle the volume of people that came through. They were lined up down the aisle from the front of the sanctuary, through the narthex, down the stairs, and out the door. Letha and Myrna at some point herded everyone inside, so the new line went through the narthex, into the education building, and all the way down the hall. People waited for 40+ minutes to talk to Grandma. I never heard an exact count, but more than 300 people signed the guest book, not including family.
[This is where my original post left off. It's three years later, and I still mourn from time to time.]
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Last Sunday he fell outside his home and hit his head pretty badly on the pavement. He never regained consciousness after that. He spent his last week in an ICU in Kansas city, the first three days on a respirator to help him breath. We went to see him Thursday, but it was like he was already gone. He groaned, and occasionally flailed his arms weakly. His arms were horribly bruised from the repeated blood tests, and he kept trying to remove the oxygen tube from his nose, and the support collar from around his neck. I think that finally his family decided that he knew what he was doing, even if he never opened his eyes or spoke a word.
Merle Euler was a strong, proud man. He wouldn't have wanted to continue like that. During the last few years as it became harder for him to hear and move around, I imagine that he thought often about the day when he would finally be released And I imagine him now, reunited with his first wife, our Maxine's namesake.
I got the call shortly after I got to work. Grandpa died just about the time I was crossing the street in front of Wal-Mart. My coworker, Julianna, told me that I should go home, but that didn't seem like the right option to me. "What would I do at home?" I asked her. "If I'm going to be miserable, I might as well be paid for it." It wouldn't be me if I didn't come up with some lame joke in the midst of tragedy. "And besides, working will make this day pass faster." Which was true, but not the whole truth.
Grandpa was all about helping people. He must have driven back and forth to the airport hundreds of times after he retired, giving rides to friends and family who needed them. One thing that annoyed him about getting old was that other people had to help him more and more, and he was physically incapable of returning the favor. My job at Wal-Mart is a service job. It's all about helping people. OK, it's partly about helping them to spend their money, but I help a lot of people to find what they are looking for, even if they're not sure of what that might be.
Today I showed some wedding rings to a young couple, and talked with them about our sizing options, how we keep them in stock, and how far ahead they should be purchasing them. It was a joyful experience to play even a small role in such an important part of their lives. While I was helping them a grumpy old woman came in asking for help with watches. She was a serious test of my patience, but I believe that I passed. By the time she left, she surprised me by saying, "Thank you."
I helped a couple in their 40's as he bought a birthday present ring for her. I didn't have a lot of input on the choice, but I clarified some information about the rings and (again) how we do sizing. They had only been married for nine years, but they already had that comfortable feel of a couple that has been together forever. She even said to me that it seemed like they had been together forever, "but in a good way!"
Today was also the day with the mother who was getting her five and two year old daughters' ears pierced. That was a bit of an ugly story, which ended with five-year-old Freedom on the floor throwing a tantrum as we tiptoed around ringing up the rest of the purchases. Associates from other departments were asking us about that one for the next hour.
Julianna explained my situation to the people who needed to know, sparing me from doing it again. I broke down a bit when I told her, though I managed to regain my composure before it got out of hand. It still pushed me to the edge whenever those people brought it up. They were just expressing sympathy, and reminding me that if I needed to go home it was okay.
But the whole truth is this: in my mind today was a sort of memorial to Grandpa, who loved to serve others. And I found joy in the offering of it, even though the tears and difficult customers.
When I got home Maxine was asleep. Horyon shared with me that Maxine had said a couple of strange things through the evening. One was "Great-Grandpa nay-nay." 'Nay-nay' is Korean baby-talk for sleeping. That's what we told her when we went to visit on Thursday. In the last few weeks she has become a sort of random-delay echo, with things she has heard resurfacing at the oddest times. And I suppose it was also the case when she said to Horyon, "Great-Grandpa bye-bye," which means exactly what it sounds like.
Before we left the hospital on Thursday, I had a few moments alone with Grandpa, and I told him that I was so glad he had a chance to meet our Maxine. And I told him that I would miss him.
He was the man who taught me respect for my elders. To hear that he was proud of me was the biggest compliment I could ask for. He had a bit of a corny sense of humor, but anyone who knows me wouldn't be surprised by that. He will always be my role model for the ideal grandfather, and I hope that someday I will live up to that standard.
I will leave you with the note he wrote in the Bible which he gave to me as a Christmas present in 1986:
"I was very proud when you were born and I have been proud of you every minute since. You are everything anyone could want in a Grand-son. All of our Love, Euler grandparents."
Friday, October 26, 2007
For example, this happened well before the annoying events of last week: it's 9:15 on a Saturday night, the jewelry counter closes at 10:00, and I'm starting to get antsy to go home, when a customer comes up. He asks to see an engagement ring, and wants my opinion of it. I ask some of the usual questions; What kind of jewelry does she usually wear? Does she wear rings? Have you bought other jewelry for her?
He tells me that he was planning to propose the next day. This is a common level of detail for a customer to share with a sales associate.
He then tells me that he has just gotten off the phone with her, and now he isn't so sure that he wants to go through with it. You see, she was calling to check on where he was, and what he was doing, because she didn't trust him to behave himself.
This is not, in my limited experience, a common level of detail for a customer to share with a sales associate. However, I don't mind. I like listening to people sometimes, and I'm not really that busy.
I won't share with you the details of his story. It's not really my story to tell. But I will share with you the advice that I shared with him. Let me know if you think I've gotten anything wrong here:
1. Proposing to someone is not something that should necessarily come when the mood is just right. That very premise suggests that the response depends on the mood of the moment. While this makes for good t.v., especially in sitcoms (Cheers comes to mind), it is not a good way to decide your future. Because marriage (a good marriage, anyway) is not a mood thing; once you get married, you are married all the time, whether happy or sad, sick or healthy, rich or poor, etc. A marriage has to weather some rough emotions. It seems to me that if the proposal of marriage is easily tossed by these emotions, the marriage is also likely to be tossed.
2. Pray about it. All night if need be. Don't listen to music, turn on the t.v., read, or do anything else that will draw your attention. Just pray about it, and ask God for peace once you have reached the best decision. Because for many of us, that feeling of peace is the clearest way to hear God's voice.
3. Imagine your life with her. Don't imagine her changing, because you have no right to expect the person you marry to just become better because they are married to you. Is it easy (and realistic) to imagine that you are both happy? If yes, refer back to number 2. If not, another year or two of dating (on top of the three years so far) is unlikely to change that. (As a side note, you should also not expect your marriage to follow this imagined path, but I didn't go into that with him.)
4. Don't just do what other people want or expect you to do. Though your family may still be your family for the rest of your life, you have to actually live with your wife for the rest of your life. And if that relationship is solid, you can survive without the immediate approval of either family, yours or hers.
5. God is in control. There is a reason that I am closing tonight and you are here to buy a ring. God is sending you a message, though even I don't know the details of that message. And as cool as it would have been for God to have sent me a dream saying "Tell the guy yes," or "Tell the guy no," sometimes God wants us to work for the right answers.
There were other details. I shared a few relevant anecdotes from my marriage, and some methods we use to get along. He went more into depth as to his misgivings.
I joked with him at one point that I felt more like a bartender than a jewelry sales person. We were both a bit sorry that there were no alcoholic beverages to be found behind my bar.
He didn't buy a ring that night, and I'm not entirely sure what role I played in that decision. I told him that we open at seven a.m., and that if he felt right about it, he could come in and buy a ring before meeting his girlfriend. I ended up cleaning the counters as I talked with him, so I didn't leave more than five minutes past my usual time. I prayed for him as I rode home, and asked our Sunday school class the next day to pray for him, too.
I hope that he tracks me down some time to tell me how things are going. And I really hope that when he does track me down it isn't through the telescopic sight of a high-power sniper rifle. Giving advice can sometimes cause trouble, though I still feel good about what I told him.
This is a different job than anything I've done before, that's for sure. My expectations were actually quite low, and there have been times when they were met. But the times like this definitely balance them out.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It was this story:
It was our third week of meeting as a small group in this six week program, and our group quickly became comfortable with each other. This is due in no small part to the hostess/group leader, Anna.
Anna is one of the first friends we made at First Christian Church here in Lawrence. While many members of the church took a few Sundays to warm up to us, Anna sat down and talked with us right from the start. We didn't completely understand her from the start, but she had enthusiasm. Like Horyon, she is an immigrant to the U.S. She left Poland as a political refugee during the years of the Iron Curtain. They had two children, Monica and Alex. Her husband died shortly after Alex was born, and she has raised them on her own since then.
On second thought, she would probably say that she didn't raise them on her own; she has neighbors who have treated them as family. The Church has treated them as family. They haven't been alone. And now that we are here, she has pulled us into this family without reservation, including asking us to join her small group. And now I understand her 99% of the time, and consider her a friend, moving quickly toward family.
Last Thursday we were standing around in the kitchen eating some snacks before the actual study commenced. I was about to tell about my two flat tires (this is a day before the 3rd flat) when I leaned against a hutch cabinet that wasn't.
It wasn't a hutch cabinet because the shelf sitting on top of the counter wasn't attached to it. It was just sitting there. The shelf has a solid back, so it's footprint looked like a wide, shallow 'U'. When I leaned against the side, the opposite leg of the U slid off the counter, making it extremely unstable. It fell forward, slowly at first. Someone noticed and stopped the shelf from falling, but it was too late: All of the glass and ceramic objects that had been sitting on it crashed to the floor. It was more noisy than you would expect, millions of tiny shards of glass and ceramic scattered all over the floor. Fortunately no one was hurt, though we were all shocked. For a moment the silence was deafening, then Anna said, "Well, that was only 150 year old dish."
I felt as though I had broken her life.
I stood there in shock until Horyon told me that I should help clean up. Then her kids came storming down the stairs. Monica is 13, and Alex is 9, and they wanted satisfaction: "What happened?" "Who did it?"
I lifted my hand a bit and said, "I did," but they didn't hear me, because Anna said, at the same time only louder, "The cat did it."
"I knew that cat was trouble, but you never listen to me, and now look what happened!" Monica yelled in that 13-year-old I-told-you-so tone as she headed back upstairs. Alex wanted to hunt down the cat, and proceeded to tear through the house, then the yard, perhaps planning to punish the poor, innocent cat for my crime.
Needless to say, I felt even worse. I pushed the broom in my own silence, not really noticing the conversations going on around me about how lucky we were that no one got hurt, and that it was such a good thing that there didn't seem to be much broken glass in the snacks, but it would be a good idea to chew slowly just in case.
At the end of the evening I told Anna again that I was very sorry, and she told me this:
When she was a young girl, the Soviets came, and her family was evicted from their fine, large home, only allowed to take the poorest of the furnishings. This was a huge drop in status for them, but they learned to let go of their possessions. Then when she moved to the States to be with her husband, who had left earlier, the only way to get out was by applying for political asylum. The result of that move was leaving everything that she couldn't carry with her in her suitcases. Not just her stuff, but her friends, family and culture, were left behind. "And," she told me, "God taught me to get along without these things. Now perhaps God is telling me that I am becoming too attached to my things again."
She didn't just forgive me, she told me that the precious things on her shelf were not as important as friends and family. It would be wrong to let their destruction get in the way of our relationship.
And she hugged me, and told me it was OK, and that she was only grateful that no one was hurt.
I can't tell this story of grace without getting a bit teary-eyed. I know in my mind that God has forgiven me, and forgives me, for much worse, more deliberate sins. Sometimes I feel that forgiveness, and sometimes I just have to believe that it's there. But it is rare to find that Christ-like attitude here, even among other Christians. Anna didn't even think about it, she just forgave me. She lied to her own children because she knew that they wouldn't be able to forgive as easily as she had. She demonstrated how we Christians are supposed to act. Honestly, I can't remember a thing from that Bible study, and it's been only six days. But I will never forget what Anna taught me:
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I ride my bicycle to work whenever I can. It's a nice ride, just short of four and a half miles, with just a few mild hills to keep me from relaxing too much. The ride home finishes uphill, no matter what route I take short of adding an additional couple of miles, which just isn't going to happen after 10:30 at night. It usually takes me about 25 minutes to get to work, and 35 or 40 to get home. On the way home, I sometimes ride and think about what's happened at work. Other times I ride and pray. And sometimes I just ride. When the moon is new, there are long stretches where my headlamp is the only illumination. No sound but the wind in the trees and the soft hum of the bike gears. It's kind of disappointing to get out into the stretches that follow streets, even though the street lights allow me to see more of the road ahead. All but the last few blocks of my ride are on a six foot wide sidewalk that is well maintained. Aside from the cobwebs and bugs I end up plowing through (and occasionally eating), there are no obstructions.
But Friday, on my way to work, my rear tire seemed a bit low, so after work I added a bit of air. But it didn't stay in. It seemed to be hissing out through the pump, so I pumped more. More hissed out, and when I took away the pump, the tire went flat. I didn't have a spare tube or patch kit, much less the desire to take off the rear wheel and deal with it. So I went inside and called Horyon.
She came and got me, with Maxine sleeping in her car seat, and we stopped for groceries. I sat in the car with Maxine, because I have trouble sticking to the list. Whatever. So it was a late night.
The next day I spent the morning at our church's work day painting a hallway, then getting my bicycle tire fixed. I thought about just buying the tube and changing it myself to save $5, but had the mechanic do it. I figured she could get it in correctly the first time, and faster than I could to boot. Turned out to be a good choice. She found that the wheel had a rough patch that had rubbed through the tube, necessitating the repair. She filed and sanded down the rough patch, so hopefully I won't have to go through this again soon.
There are two more stories I need to tell in my attempt to communicate how this past week has gone, but I just don't have the energy to tackle it right now. And I have a test on Wednesday. So I'm leaving you with two titles for now:
Demolition and Grace
A Match Made in Wal-Mart
It's been a fun month, especially for Maxine, but a bit hard on us. We gave up our bedroom and bed so that Horyon's parents could sleep comfortably. It's hard enough being in a foreign country even if you can get a good night's sleep, but when your bed is uncomfortable, and in a room with too much light, and out in the open where anyone walking through in the morning will keep you from continuing to sleep, you start to feel pretty frayed around the edges. So they seem to be doing all right.
Horyon and I have been sleeping on our sofa bed in the living room. We are fortunate to have it, as Mom and Dad offered it to us when we moved in. When we accepted, I laughingly pointed out that any guests we planned to host overnight would find it to be an uncomfortable bed, in a room with too much light, and out in the open where anyone walking through in the morning would keep them from continuing to sleep, making them that much less likely to stay one more night. Ha ha.
So we have been spending every night in an uncomfortable bed, in... you get the idea.
And I was right. I'm ready to leave.
It's not as bad as I expected, but this is a long time to have four adults and a little girl under one roof with only two bedrooms. (Our house was constructed with three bedrooms, but one has become Horyon's sewing room.)
What makes it even more annoying is that I have lived in more crowded conditions, in smaller spaces, on less comfortable beds, and I was OK with it. I did a training in far Eastern Nepal for a month, during which I slept on a bed made of planks with nothing but rolled up towel for a pillow and my mosquito net for a combination blanket and mattress. My regular bed back in those days was about four inches of foam pad over boards. And mostly I did OK with that. I'm not sure if I wake up more sore now than I ever did then, or if I just don't remember how miserable I was. I'm sure it has nothing to do with getting older.
Last Sunday when we got out of church, we found a special surprise waiting for us: flat tire, front wheel, passenger side. I suggested that perhaps this would be a good time for Horyon to practice changing a tire, and she agreed. A couple of church families stayed around while we did this. The spare was running a bit low on air, but it took us to the nearest gas station. I took it in to Wal-Mart, where I work, to be patched. They couldn't, because it had been punctured on the sidewall. What the heck. I didn't really need to spend that $75 on other stuff anyway. And I went ahead and got my oil changed while I was at it.
It had just been mentioned in church that morning that tires were being slashed in the church parking lot. Looks like we had become the latest victims.
The next day we took Horyon's parents to the airport to say goodbye. It was a very emotional time. I found it very moving that Maxine didn't really understand what was happening. It's been a few days now, and she is still pretty pissed at us for getting rid of Grandpa and Grandma, but at that time she didn't get it.
When we got back from the airport it was about 11:30. Horyon wanted to go shopping with our Korean neighbor, so they were going to take me to work then go shopping. At 2:30, when we went to get in the car, guess what I found? The rear tire on the driver's side was flat. For those of you keeping score, that's two tires in as many days.
I was not happy at first. Then it occurred to me that the second tire had probably been holed at the same time as the first. I had done some serious highway driving on a tire that was going flat. When we stopped at the filling station for air, I had added some to that tire. Maybe that's what kept it going. Because when I had it changed, they told me that it also had a puncture in the sidewall, a lot like the first one. I can only speculate that God assigned some poor angel to stick his finger in that second hole for the 24 hours it took to deflate.
So we spent an unplanned $150 this week on tires. And the tires on the van were pretty new to start with, too. Makes it all the more annoying.
So one spiritual exercise I'm working on this week is forgiving the person who did this to our car. They are undoubtedly suffering from worse things than an extra $150 out of their budget for the month. Maybe they've been stepped on by a church, which they see as The Church. Maybe someone from this church was unkind to them at some point. Or maybe their idea of fun is to destroy things. Whatever the case may be, I know that they need my forgiveness more than my spite.
The rest of this week has also been somewhat crazy, but I'm afraid that if I start getting into it here I'll never get this posted.
A Brief Introduction
Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.