Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drunken Revelry

New Year's Eve, it seems, is a universally accepted reason to get smashing drunk in all cultures across the world. At least, the villagers celebrated it this way - or, I should say, the men did. And some kids, who snuck into their fathers' or uncles' private stashes of home-brew. Women abstained from alcohol, preferring to sit around and gossip about their men and neighbors as they smoked their hand rolled cigarettes.

Hanging out with the women.

On this particular New Year's Eve, the hut behind us was hosting a giant party. Jugs of coconut toddy, carefully collected and fermented for months, were hauled out of their hiding places for general consumption. The men of the clan assembled on mats in a large circle, and passed a ceramic mug around it, in a riotous game of hot-potato. Each man would swig the entire contents of the mug, refill it, and hand it to his neighbor. Who would repeat the process, and around and around they went. All the while, Bellamy Brothers' ''Redneck Girl" was blaring at full volume from the boom box, wavery and distorted from the tape's many repeated playings, and from the corrosive effects of the salty, tropical air.

"Gimme, gimme, gimme a redneck girl!" sang the speakers. I sat with my friend, Valena, at a safe distance from the drinkers, watching to see if anything exciting would break out. We were soon rewarded for our patience.

A young man named Nani stood up waveringly. He stumbled a few feet from the circle of revelers, then looked around confusedly. A few brave kids darted up to him, jeered, then ran quickly into the bushes.

"Hey!" he shouted, angering. "Where is that Kopeala? Where is he? I'm going to get him!"

Nani started to lurch down the path between the houses, searching drunkenly for Kopeala, who had apparently done something, some time in the past to piss him off. Nani obviously thought it was a big deal, now. We were delighted. Watching the drunks, for us village kids, was as mesmerizing as the newest video game is for kids who were blessed to grow up in more civilized countries. This would provide entertainment now, and fodder for conversation and gossip for weeks.

Staying a safe distance away, Valena and I followed along in the increasingly large crowd of kids as Nani stumbled through the village. "Nani! Go home!" a woman called at him from her doorway. "You're being stupid!" He roared in anger at her, and kept on his way. Spying an axe leaning against a nearby hut, Nani grabbed it and quickened his pace. We now formed a large circle around him, a thick wall of brown bodies moving with him but well away from the sharp blade he now carried.

Nani came to a stop in front of a hut, apparently Kopeala's. "Come out here, Kopeala! I'm going to kill you!" He swayed and we watched breathlessly. "Kopeala!!!" he roared. And swung the axe through the air for good measure. The momentum caused him to loose his balance, and he stumbled drunkenly to one side. The crowd gasped. Some boys started to laugh at him, which angered Nani even more and caused him to turn on his spectators. "Go away, you kids!" he yelled. "I'm gonna get you, too!" He started to run towards the closest perimeter (thankfully opposite from where Valena and I stood), and swung his axe at the scattering kids.

It was like watching a flock of pigeons take off as a dog runs towards them. Kids dispersed in every direction but up, disappearing between houses, around trees, out to the open beach nearby. Valena grabbed my hand and we took off, our bare feet pounding the the dirt as adrenaline shot its intoxicating serum into our veins.

We finally stopped when we reached Valena's house, laughing and talking the adventure over between gasping breaths. "Did you see him?!" I laughed.

"Yeah, what an idiot. Kopeala isn't even on the island right now," Valena giggled, leaning against the hut's exterior post.

Some braver kids (who had stayed around to watch the rest of the action) came by a little later, and gave us the report.

"Nani eventually dropped the axe, and then some men rushed in and restrained him," Lio said. "They took him into the men's hut, and he's asleep there now."

This is how I decided, at an early age, to not ever drink to the point of getting wasted. I didn't want to look like a complete fool.

Friday, December 25, 2009


At high tide, when the ocean is full and sated , it rubs its belly gently up the shore and down again as it takes deep, satisfied breaths. The swells are slow and gentle, the water stretched smooth over the undulating peaks and valleys. Standing in the middle of this expanse, the sea encompasses you in its warm womb. It will slowly rise up your chest, caress your neck, and eventually lift you off your feet. If you don't struggle, and just rest in the liquid placidity, you will find yourself suspended for a few moments in the kind embrace. Then, it will gently set you back on your feet again, and recede back down your body with a slight pulling. You can ride the rise and fall, push and pull rhythm of it if you relax into it.

Mourning, I've discovered this week, is like that. At first, the swells come swiftly one after the other, and you find yourself constantly in a state of uncontrolled limbo, where your heart is crumpled, tears seep from your eyes, and you can't think of anything else but the one you lost. But as time passes, the swells come slower and more gently. You spend periods of time when the water's low, and you can see out around you. You laugh. You go through your day, fulfilling your duties with some contentment. But then, you feel the swell creeping up again. Slowly, it rises over your heart until it's encompassed your head. You realize again the magnitude of what you've lost. You float there a little, completely overcome by the grief, and then it slowly begins to recede again. Ebb and flow. Push and pull. Rise and fall. Relax in it, allow it to run its course. Don't fight the rhythm.

Why don't we talk about grief? Why have I never heard about this process? What is it in our culture that causes us to put on sad, smilingly stoic faces and say, "I'm fine. They're in a better place." They might be in a better place, but does that mean we can't mourn the 'might have been'? What's so wrong about expressing the grief that overwhelms our hearts? Do we even know how to express it?

On the island, when somebody dies, the whole village knows it. Siblings, in laws, kin from every branch of the family tree gather together in the little grass hut to mourn over the body. For three days, their wailing permeates the village. Nobody else in the entire settlement is allowed to talk above a low murmur, out of respect for the mourners. You can literally hear the waves of sorrow washing over the hut. Cries of "Alohai-e, kaukama-e" will rise to crescendo and then fall again for three days and nights, until the spirit of the dead departs from its body.

My first experience with this was during our first year in Luaniua. I heard the wild cries, and asked a friend what they were about. My friend took me by the hand, and brought me to the house of the mourners to see for myself.

The hut, small and squat like all the huts that huddle together to form the village, was distinguished by the large crowd of people spilling out of it. Everyone was turned inwards, towards the heart of the hut. Most of the people on the outside were quiet and somber, but I could hear from the inside the rise and fall of shrieks of sadness.

My friend led me to where two mats in the wall had come apart a little, forming an opening to see into the inside. I peeked in through this portal, into the dark sadness that permeated it. It was wall-to-wall people in the one, simple room. A dark form was laid on a mat in the center, and women were bent all around the body, prostrating themselves over and over again above it.

"Oh, flesh of my flesh! Alohai! My deepest heart mourns you! Oooo we will not hear your name spoken again! Never again will we hear someone calling as you pass by! Oooooo heart of my heart! Alohai! Alohai-e! My very deepest heart mourns!"

The combined cries of all the people packed into the crowded structure created a tidal wave of emotion that erupted from the little shelter and radiated out over me, my friend, and the entire village beyond. It hit me like a blunt pole in the center of my chest, and I staggered away from my peep hole.

For three days we were reminded that the family mourned. Their cries echoed over the coconut trees, floated on the smoke laden breeze, and crescendoed as the sun went down. As the days passed, however, the intervals of despairing tears were separated by longer and longer periods of quiet. By the time the third day had passed and the body was buried in a grave beyond the boundaries of the village, a quiet tiredness had replaced the high waves of hysteria. From then on, mourning took place in silence of the lonely cemetery.

Village girls, on their way down the path towards the graves.

I experienced this many other times during the course of my time on Luaniua. Once, it was my father's best friend. Once, it was my best friend's father. Death was a part of life in this community where the difference between this life and the next could be the matter of one 'simple' infection. Perhaps it was the thinness of the veil that prompted the people of that culture to mourn so fiercely. Or perhaps I am romanticizing it. There was a definite hopelessness and despair after death. They did not have the 'hope of glory' like we do. And yet I cannot help but wish we are a little more like them, in their freedom to express their grief.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roses are Red

There was something about the whiteness of the sand. Its purity under the cold, grey New Mexican sky was clean, sterile, an open blankness that I could lose myself in. Forget myself in for a moment. The happy chatter of my children and good-natured banter between my husband and siblings were absorbed into the white vastness, buffered by the enormity of the white sands stretching for miles around us. I stood alone, at the edge of a dune. I looked out at the black spots of people silhouetted against the rises beyond mine. I wondered if I looked like a little black spot to them, or if they could distinguish the red hoodie that I wore...

Red stands out against white.

It shouts like an accusing stain of fear when you see it on the toilet paper, when you're pregnant. Newly pregnant. For four weeks Scott and I had celebrated with friends the impending third addition to our little family. The morning before I went to buy the pregnancy test, Scott rolled over in bed and said, "Good morning, Preggo! How's little Rose?"
"Whatever," I mumbled. That comment completely came out of left field. Surely I would start any day now - the tidal wave of emotions I'd been feeling lately were just hormones, a signal that it was almost 'that time of the month'. It's normal to cry at Elmo, right?

Hours later, I came incredulous and filled with joy out of the Walgreen's women's bathroom, with a little pink stick in my hand. I found Scott lingering in the toy aisle with Sophie and Alexander.

"Well?" he turned to me.

"It's positive!" I couldn't wipe the silly grin off my face. The rushing thrill of 'here we go again!', the feeling of cresting the precipice of a new roller coaster ride came sweeping over us. We were ecstatic. A love immediately flooded our hearts for this little child. The love was more immediate and real than what we had experienced with either of our previous children. This little one would be special. We already had her name - Rose, the name God had placed on my husband's heart like a promise that morning. Our little flower.
Four weeks later, I discovered the red stain on the toilet paper. After a long phone conversation with the OB nurse, I was consoled that first trimester bleeding was common, as long as it wasn't accompanied by cramps, or heavy flow, the baby was OK. Etc. Etc. And so on. Scott and I prayed together. My siblings and I prayed together. I called my parents overseas and they prayed for me and Rose. I was overwhelmed by a peace flooding my soul. It was the undercurrent of my entire day, carrying me along, soothing my anxious heart, lapping reassurance and rest around me.

I went to bed that night so surrounded in God's presence that I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow. I had expected to dream nightmares, but I slept peacefully, soundly and securely curled up in my Father's palm. I knew that wherever we went together, He would take care of me.

At 4:30 that morning I woke up to wetness between my legs. I lay for a quiet second in my bed, asking myself if I wanted to discover what I thought I might discover if I turned the light on, or if I wanted to sleep a few more hours in unknowing oblivion. I decided I wanted to know. For sure. "Whatever Your will is, Lord, let it be resolved tonight. Don't make me wait, please, not knowing," had been my prayer before I went to sleep hours earlier.

In the bathroom, I felt something pass from me. I picked it up, and held it delicately in my hand. What had been Rose lay there in my palm, red and alien. I sat numbly on the bathroom floor for several minutes, staring at the redness in my hand, saying goodbye to my daughter, letting the reality sink in. This was knowing. For sure. There was no doubt. You don't just pass something like this and go on being pregnant. Please, Lord Jesus, take care of her. She was Yours before, and she is really Yours now, running unhindered with You in fields of glory. I watched little rivulets of blood drop between my fingers. Red staining the white. It was messy. Ugly. An ugly, messy splotch against the pristine sterility of the porcelain bathroom and my pale skin.

When I finally crawled back into bed next to Scott, I still hadn't cried. I didn't think I would.
"Wow, I sure am taking this well," I thought detachedly.

My husband woke up and asked, "Are you OK, sweetheart?" The love in his voice opened the floodgates in my heart, and I began to sob.
"I ... we ... we lost the baby," I managed to choke out.

"Oh, honey, come here," and he enveloped me in his arms. The sorrow came then. The tears were ready and abundant. I cried as the inner me crumpled into a little, rumbled, tender heap onto the dark floor of my heart. My body was just a shaking shell, and I held the hand that had held my baby close to my heart as my husband held me close to his. We cried together there in the darkness before dawn. We mourned our little Rose, for whom God had already given us such a love. My heart had already pictured how she would be (gentle, loving, sweet, delicate), and how she would fit into our family. How she would enrich and widen the circle of love. The waves of sorrow washed over us in the warm darkness, and our Father held us in His arms as we clutched each other, His tears mingling with ours.

The next morning, I wanted to be with my family. I wanted my babies close, and I did not want to be in the house. We packed up kids and adults, and drove out to the White Sands National Monument, about 20 minutes outside of town. The stark, barren whiteness provided a blank space for me to rest a little from the garment of sorrow that had draped itself over my soul. I watched, detached, outside of the action as my family played and explored around me.
Still, even in the blankness, I felt the river of my Father's presence flowing around me. "It's OK, dear daughter," His words whispered to my heart. "I Am here."
Driving home, my sister put on some acapella African CD. The warm tropical voices washed over my soul, crisp and deep and rhythmic. I settled into the music, and another gentle wave of grief began to come over me. It rose like an ocean swell, higher and higher, until it had lifted me off my feet and covered my head. Silent tears began to run out of my eyes as I cried from the crumpled place in my heart. The inner me wore a red dress. Because life is messy. But even so ...
When peace like a river attendeth my way
And sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
"Even so, it is well with my soul."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milles Bornes and Pee

We were sitting at my kitchen table tonight, playing a rousing game of Milles Bornes (a French card game and childhood favorite). My sister Anna, youngest brother Matthew and Matthew's wife, Liz, are all here visiting for Christmas. The dinner dishes had been cleared away (plastic plates, for convenience), Alexander was nestled up in the pack-and-play in his old-man pajamas, sucking away at his thumb and dreaming victorious baby dreams, and Sophie was alternating between my lap (trying to steal a cookie), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, her current favorite.

The conversation ebbed around the flow of the game.

"Scott, it's your turn," I said to my husband. He considered his hand thoughtfully, calculating, no doubt, the risks involved in each possible move he could make.

"This is the point where Nathan would say, 'Fast game's a good game', if he were here," quipped Anna.

"Yeah, fast game's a good game, Scott," I said. He shot me a look and discarded.

"Remember when you used to hide Monopoly money, Matthew?" Anna said.

"What?!!!" I was indignant.

"Yeah," Matt confessed unabashedly, "I used to take the money and hide it under my bed, and then the next time we played, I would pull it out to use."

"That's horrible!"

"Cheater's never win. It's your turn, Liz."

"Except when they do win," Scott put in (always the lawyer).

"And then it's twice the victory. You win because you win, and you win because you didn't get caught," Matthew grinned. He and Scott shared a laugh while us girls squealed in protest. "But that's nothing. Nathan used to want to be the banker when we played Monopoly so that he could slip himself 500's on the sly."

"Yeah," said Anna, "and I hated playing Risk with you and a third player because you would always make an 'alliance' (here she made quotation marks with her fingers) with the other person and I would essentially be playing against someone who had twice the number of armies and countries as I did."

"I hated Risk, too. Did the islanders ever cheat?" I asked Matt. He thought for a moment.

"I don't know ... I don't remember ... "

We played a few more hands, our talk and good-natured ribbing and rememberances creating a warm circle of love around us.

"One time, though, a kid peed on me," Matthew said out of nowhere. The reactions were immediate.


"No way!"


He proceeded to explain with a twinkle in his eye. "We were playing freeze tag on the beach. I crawled underneath one boy's legs, and he peed on me."

Matthew and a friend (NOT the one who peed on him).

"Awww! That's nasty. Where did he get you? I mean, did he get your head?"

"Naw, he had to work a little before it came out, so I was half-way through when he did it. He got my back."

"Good," Anna said, "Because that would have been nasty to feel that on your head and go, 'Hey, what's that?' And turned your face ..."

"EEwwww!!!" The table erupted again.

Matthew said, "You know in freeze tag, how you crawl underneath somebody's legs to unfreeze them ... "

"What an ungrateful kid!" I interjected.

"Yeah, anyways, I think he just thought, 'Hey, I've got him!' and just let loose. That was the last time I played that game."

Our laughter and recollections continued as the cards passed from one to another. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled kindly and its ornaments swayed gently in the breeze created by the ceiling fan. It wasn't important who won the game, or even really who's turn it was to play next. We were completely relaxed. For some magical reason, family tensions had been erased for the moment, and every word and glance was salted with love and acceptance. We sat there and celebrated who we had been together, and began to discover who we were now.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My First Jungle Experience

Our first stop overseas was the volcanic island nation of Papua New Guinea. The plane bounced down on the cracked runway like a reluctant child called home for supper. I stared at the line of dense vegetation curiously. The pilot's voice came on the overhead speakers, "Please remain seated while we fumigate the cabin." My mom twitched in her seat, and I was turning to ask the question forming on my tongue when I was arrested by the sight of a stewardess at the head of the aisle. She was holding an aerosol can in each hand and walked quickly down the row, spraying a stream of noxious, choking mist over our heads. "Cover your mouth!" my dad called, panicky, leaning across my siblings and yanking Matthew's t-shirt up over his face.

When the cabin door finally opened, we spilled gratefully out onto the tarmac, stumbling over our rolling suitcases and carry-on bags. The fumes cleared from my watering eyes and burning throat as I sucked in my first taste of tropical air.

I felt that if I bared my teeth and bit down, I could take a bite out of that air. I felt that if I had a piece of bread and knife, I could spread it like butter. I was sure that if I filled a balloon with that jungle air, the balloon would sink to the ground instead of floating. That was how thick the jungle air was. It was heavy with tastes and smells I couldn't identify - green, growing, rotting, pungent things, whose scent clung to the hairs on the insides of my nostrils and dripped from my fingers. The tropical air embraced me in a warm, moist cocoon of promise. I followed my family as we pushed our way through the thickness to the waiting terminal ahead.


Days later, we had passed through customs, met up with the rest of our fledgling missionary group, and boarded a truck that would take us up to Jungle Camp. There, we would receive a crash course on 'how to survive bush life', including making mats, fishing, sewing up flesh wounds, and fraternizing with the natives.

Nathan and I, at Jungle Camp.

The truck that took us to our new destiny must have been left over from WWII, abandoned by the GI's when the Allies won the war. We sat on wooden benches along the back, under a canopy tarp that was pulled up to let in the breeze and scenery. I sat between my father and older brother Nathan, watching in wonder as the new world flashed past me. Clap board and cinder block houses quickly faded as the coconut and banyan trees rose on either side of us and met over our heads. Little brown children ran from huts the size of my garage back home, waving their hands and smiling and shouting at us. I waved and smiled back.

I turned to look at my dad. He was sitting upwind from me, with his hand grasping the metal support post and his back turned towards me. I could see his profile as he was gazing out at the passing bush, and saw an inner something being set free. The part of himself that had been repressed by parents, teachers, and then society his whole life suddenly flashed out into freedom, and birthed a new expression in this primitive, unfettered land. I felt the elation radiating from his triumphant back, and together we let our free spirits soar on the laden wind.

Bright oranges, yellows and pinks flashed by - fruits and flowers that grew in a glorious riot along the roadside. The road steadily grew steeper, as we climbed the mountain to our hill-top camp. The truck bounced along, heedless of the crater-sized ruts in the dirt road. I braced my feet against the bed and rode each jolt like you would a bucking horse, or skiing moguls. Then, the sky suddenly became dark.

The sun is the only thing that hurries in the tropics. It slips quickly below the horizon at dusk, with a brief and painfully brilliant show, splashing color on the clouds and ocean in its haste to descend. It rises again each morning with equal haste, impatient to start its long, intense trek across the sky.

We foreigners were taken by surprise at the quickness with which it set. We suddenly found ourselves hurtling through a dense, alien blackness. The open sides of the truck offered no shelter and little separation from the bush. The jolts grew more precarious and the truck began to sway as it took tight curves up the side of the mountain. Thankfully, we couldn't see the steep drop down in the dark. I didn't think to be scared, because my father's strong back was in front of me. I leaned my cheek against it and watched the glistening darkness rush past.

It began to rain. Fat drops came like an army of invading paratroopers, rolling off the tarp overhead and blowing in through the open sides. In that moment, I heard a high-pitched, unearthly cry. It rose out of the darkness as if birthed from some dark, hidden thing lurking there. The sound sent an arrow of fear into my heart, which quickly spread into a sick panic. My mother reached over to pat my kneed. "It's OK, Danica," she said, low and soothing. "She's just scared. But you're alright." I suddenly realized that the sound had come from an adult woman, one of the mothers, pushed beyond rational thought and reacting with animal-like desperation.

I know that my parents were praying for me then, because the fear left. They sat on either side of us, my dad in front and my mom in back, with the four of us kids sandwiched between them. We were safe in their love and faith.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saying Goodbye

The day my father came home and announced we were moving to live on an island, I didn't really understand. I was 6, and my world consisted of the warm little nucleus my mother had created at home for us, church, and first grade. And so, months later when we had undergone training in Dallas, raised the support needed, and actually packed our home, I started to realize what moving might really mean.

My mother, brother Nathan, and I in the woods behind our house.
We had lived up till that point in the Texas hill country, outside of Austin. The house we lived in was built plank by plank by my father. He would come home from a long day of nursing his start-up software business, strap on his worn tool belt, and climb to the rafters to nail drywall. Dad's tool belt, to me, is similar to his wedding ring. It symbolizes comfort, security, and my father's deep strength and ingenuity.

Me, playing in the foundation of our house while it was being built.

My mom would paint and lay tile during the day, while she also watched the four of us. My brother was born in the upper bedroom of that house, his first indignant cries echoing over the virgin hills. The house took 5 years to build.

The last night we had in it, we slept on pallets of blankets on the floor. In the morning, we would climb into our loaded U-Haul and make the trek to Houston, board the plane after kissing tearful grandparents, and head off into the unknown. I was quivery with excitement. Change electrified the air and made it hard to sleep, but I finally did. The morning dawned cool and fragrant with the hill country's special blend of cedar and live oak trees. Morning doves wooed each other from the woods behind our house.

We ate our Cheerios and milk for the last time at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, while my parents loaded the last of our things into the truck. I talked excitedly with my siblings. Our child's minds could not see past a trip to Houston and the grandparents. Breakfast done, we were herded outside. My mom stopped me.
Nathan, me, and my mom holding Anna, in our VW van.

"Danica, do you want to go say goodbye to the house?" I looked at her strangely, wondering why I would want to say goodbye to a house, and was caught by a deep something hidden in her eyes. I think in that moment her heart needed me. So I followed along beside her, taking in the strangeness of the empty rooms. We made our way through the downstairs, then up to my parent's room and bedroom. My room was the last we visited.

I stepped into the barren emptiness. The ceilings stretched high above me, un-anchored by friendly furniture, pictures and toys. The room seemed huge. I stood in the middle of it, lost suddenly in the space, and reality smacked me for the first time in my young life. I grew in that moment, a part of innocence lost, when I realized that this room of dreams, romps, and imaginary playmates, the room that was somehow my friend, had turned its back on me. It offered no comfort, no sanctuary. The blank walls stood aloof and the windows stared in haughty starkness.

I felt my mother's hand on my shoulder, and I looked up to see that she was crying. We sank together in the middle of the nothingness and I cried from the torn place in my heart onto my mother's chest.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rain, pt 1

The rain came drumming down on our tin roof, beating out an ancient cadence on the corrugated aluminum. With no insulation to separate us from the metal, monsoon season meant that my family communicated in yells to be heard over the furious cacophony. The monsoons lasted several months, during which everything stayed slightly wet - bedding, clothes, hair, walls. A mouldy smell pervaded the air, giving an earthy undertone to the scents of rain-crushed flowers and leaves.

I looked out our louvered window, and saw a pack of kids running by. Their naked brown bodies glistened in the warm wetness and their wide feet sent joyful splashes into the rock yards. The monsoons turned the village into a new brand of playground. Pools of standing water stayed for days on the saturated sand. The village rain tanks filled to overflowing, and villagers stood beneath the outpouring to shampoo their hair, right there in front of our house.

A pail of fresh fish stood by our front door, an offering from the day's fishermen. It was my job to clean them. I scooped up the pail, threw a sharp knife in the mix, and made my way out into the wet chaos.

As I stepped out from under the protective awning of our house, the heavy sheets immediately claimed me. In under a minute, I was soaked through. My hair ran in snakes down my cheeks. My skirt and shirt clung to my body. The falling drops embraced me and became me, saturating even my eyelashes. I kicked my toes through the puddles; 'swish, swish, swish', and watched the water skip ahead of me.

At the lagoon, I waded into the warm, calm ocean. The sea received me as a mother, offering shelter and protection. I sank my body to my neck beneath the calm water, letting the pail of fish float beside me. From this vantage point, I could look out over the lagoon and see the tiny drops attacking the expanse like billions of tiny spears. I sank my head below the surface. There was instant quiet. Looking up through the salt water, I saw the drops being absorbed into the placid vastness. My hair floated up and out, my clothing released its wet cling, and I floated there for a moment in the alien world.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The sun had already set below the ocean's edge one night as my sister and I embarked for a nightly 'bathroom break' before bedtime. It was one of those mystical nights when clouds race in great patches across the sky, pushed on a restless breeze. The gusts came in from the lagoon, wrecking malicious havoc among the coconut fronds and dried leaf roofs. The night air was filled with the rustling and clattering of resurrected things given new life by the wind.

Anna and I linked arms as we quickly wended our way through the houses in the almost complete darkness. Our free hands clutched spare lava-lavas around us, as much to ward off the night's evil spirits, as the wind.

Fear is a funny thing. At times it comes, creeping steadily up on you so gradually that you don't recognize it until your heart is racing and the hairs on the back of your neck are at end. Other times, it lies in wait for you. You can feel it, on the periphery of your conscious mind, sense its gleeful grin as it waits for you to surrender and let it catch you. This was the malevolent game fear played with us that night. We walked faster and faster, quickening our pace as the darkness pressed in closer and closer around us. The wind took our hair and slapped it around our cheeks. It tugged on our clothing, wrapping our skirts around our legs. It took our breaths as they came out, short and quick, and threw our words into the black sky.

"Danica, let's sing," my sister said.

The words came out, quivering but sweet:

"Joy is flowing like a river
Since the Comforter has come.
He abides with us forever
Makes the loving heart His home.

Blessed quietness, holy quietness
What a comfort to my soul
On the stormy sea He speaks peace to me,
How the billows cease to roll."

Somewhere around us, demons began to quake and tremble as the presence of the Holy God flooded the atmosphere. Angels joined hands around us, and, strengthened by our songs, enveloped us in the peace which passes all understanding. Even the winds seemed to blow softer past us then. We made it down to the beach, did our business there on the low tide's sand, and returned back to the sanctuary of our house, our praises trailing in our wakes.