Do not forget when you were little.

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Dad and me by Lake Tahoe. Brothers playing in the background. It was dad’s birthday yesterday – happy birthday, Dad!

 

Do not forget when you were little; a lifetime shorter than all the rest. 

Today we hold our egos high, stuck out like scrunched-up chins set on stone-cold jaws, taunting the world to hit us with something good. There’s a pride in us, webbed into our very bones, our childhood growth spurts dictating how much of the pride is faulty, how much of it is made of honor.

Do not forget when you were little; tiny hand reaching out for direction, for love. 

As children, we held out our hands for guidance and just knew that someone would hold it. We trusted that we would be led to something good. Doubt was still a game then; not yet the crutch,  nightmare, or dirty secret that it later morphs into.

As children, we didn’t second guess our need for someone else to be there for us. It was fully part of our flesh, this affection. We didn’t resist the arm of a loved one reaching out to hold us. For a loved one to turn away simply confused us. There was yet no shame in reaching out first.

Today, we hide in reflection and conclude that perhaps to reach out is to be needy, or worse, to reach out is to be selfish. When did love dress up as weakness? Deconstruct what strength and worth you have in this life, and you’ll find that there is no you without love, whether a trace or a flood of it.

Do not forget when you were little; because everyone says this life goes by in the blink of an eye. 

When we were young, we hurried to grow up. We held precious moments with a clumsy, absent-mindedness, interest always lost to the next distraction. Thankfully we were born with memory. It was not a switch we needed to turn on, a skill we had to learn or a trophy to deserve. If it were, we’d be scavenging for our history. Our biology keeps record of who we are, where we’ve been – in the tangles of our mind or in tracks left on skin. In adult life, we salvage what snapshots our memory can bring to mind, but at that point we can no longer choose what moments endure as milestones. What kind of story does our memory preserve for us?

Do not forget when you were little, because no matter how old we are, we are still and always not yet fully grown.

To be human is to be flawed, to be small in the universe, to be complex and never fully unmistakably understood. We are little beings in this grand world. Little beings not meant to be alone.

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This post is in response to our #CreativeNeighbor prompt by Art in the Neighborhood: a photo from your past. Join us as we make room for creativity and community. 
If you’re like us and need a push to get those creative wheels turning again, join our weekly art challenge! Here’s how it works:

 

Every SUNDAY, we’ll post a creative prompt.
Take the week to respond in your own medium and style. Write, paint, sing, dance, shoot.

There are no rules, but we challenge you to slow down your creative process. Think less digital and more analog.

On SATURDAY, share your work.
Post your response online along with the hashtags #creativeneighbor and#neighborhoodph. Read, watch and listen to what others have shared. Then look out for the next prompt on following Sunday!

 

Haiyan/Yolanda 003: Hope From the Storm-Tackled Kalachuchi Tree

Today, the trees are forever blowing in one direction near the shore of Capiz. Ever since the super typhoon hit in November, all their branches sling away from the sea. Like a cartoon character’s long hair when someone yells in their face, or when it’s been electrocuted. But the trees aren’t cartoons, and Yolanda wasn’t playing around when she howled at the Philippines.

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Sustained winds were reported at at 195 mph, with gusts reaching even 235. Internationally called Haiyan, the storm was locally known as Yolanda. In Roxas City, Capiz – glass shattered, signage torn off buildings, roofs whipped clear off their structures. Yolanda left a mess.

In June last year I climbed a kalachuchi tree in our friend’s front yard in Roxas City. The kids, Carrie and Iggy, showed me the tree, and did tricks as I watched from a branch. It was a beautiful and strong tree.20140128-133054.jpg

After Yolanda, this same kalachuchi tree now tilts, bowing away from shore, toward the mountain. It’s roots held on in the howling wind that brought down shanties, nipa huts, electric posts and uprooted many other old trees. Instead of helping the kalachuchi tree upright as they thought they might, our friends decided to let it grow as it was, now leaning at an angle.

Two days later, in the storm’s wake, new green sprouted on the kalachuchi tree! The comfort of new life to come. This tree became the inspiration for the art we made with the children of  Capiz.

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The secondary inspiration was the Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair we held in November 2013, at a girls’ shelter in Marillac Hills. One of the highlights was a mural collage of butterflies made out of recycled magazine paper. I prepared a painting of tree – just trunk and branches. The rest was up to our special guests of the day, the girls of the shelter. We taught them how to make these butterflies, and in the process, to consider the things they are thankful for. Each completed butterfly would represent something for which they give thanks – family, safety, a roof over their heads. As the morning went on, each girl went up to the tree and added their butterfly.

The result was beyond what I had imagined. A breathtaking tree of thanksgiving, from girls recovering from abuse, abandonment or homelessness.

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So last week, as we quickly planned the Children’s Fair for Capiz, we thought it would be great to bring a similar activity to the kids who experienced the storm. At that time, we hadn’t yet heard about kalachuchi tree story, and had no idea how it would later shape our afternoon with the children.

On Friday morning, the day of our fair, I laid out the brown paper on the floor and began to paint a tree. I held down the paper in the strong wind, with jars, magazines and chairs. In my line of sight, the storm-pitched kalachuchi tree.

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When we put it up on location, it was much larger than I had realized! We were on the third floor and because windows had not yet been replaced from the storm, steady strong winds blew through the space. We were worried the brown paper would tear.

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Then came 130 children! All from poor communities surrounding the school we were in. As we started the fair – an afternoon of singing, games and fun crafts, I had a chance to talk to the children. I told them about all the fun we were about to have, but more importantly of the tree that on the far end of the room.

What was missing? I asked them. “Leaves!!” they told me. “Fruit!!” they exclaimed.

We would have a chance to fill in the missing pieces! They’ll trace their own hands, decorate their handprint and cut it out. Their hands will be the leaves of the tree.

They’ll fold butterflies out of recycled magazine paper and tie them together with pipe cleaners. Their butterflies will be the fruit of the tree.

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I had the joy of manning the mural station, where kids came up with their finished leaf-hand or butterfly-fruit, ready to add to the tree. They all came shyly forward, craft in hand. Some were too shy to paint on the glue themselves and even more embarrassed to glue it on the collage on their own. After putting their work up, I would give them high fives which would stir up their smiles. Others had scuttled away before I could turn around to face them from the collage!

At the end of the day, we had a tree full of life and hope!

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Before dinner, we gathered them and told the story of the tree’s inspiration.

Much of their world is now changed because of the storm. These kids may not have lost family, but they have lost food supply, a parent’s livelihood, a room, a roof, their whole home, or electrical power. We drew their attention to our own tree in the room.

Nothing more was missing! Their own hands and fruit have filled in the space.

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Look at our tree! It may be leaning over, still bearing the weight of a historically catastrophic storm, but despite that, their is hope blooming.

Just like the kalachuchi tree who shared new green in just two days, new fruit can be born of life that has been tackled down.

Today, after the storm, perhaps we can see the tilt as beautiful and in time even find that the tree, and we, have grown stronger.

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Love and special thanks to the Conlu family, the Grand Gazebo in Baybay beach, Our Mother of Mercy Learning School Inc., and the Sister Servants of the Poor in Lawaan Capiz.

From the Crosswalk into the Rain

When it began to rain hard this afternoon, I was inside one of the bedrooms with the blinds shut to keep the bright heat out. A deep, long-grunting thunder was nature’s alarm.In just a few minutes, the afternoon shifted completely, from a tortured heat to clouds weeping. The sky was white outside, still bright, though dulled slightly by the weighted clouds. The drops were heavy, made to echo even more forcefully under the roof of our old house. Oh how we’ve needed the rain!

I was busy reading, but the rain was loud and called me to walk outside to a roofed but open part of the house. I sat down a few inches away from the rain, the concrete underneath me still pinching hot. I watched the rain and felt the temperature’s soft drop around me. I recalled the last time I remember walking deliberately into rainfall. It hasn’t happened very often in recent years.

I sat there for a while. Happy for the fresh air that arrived with the downpour. But it wasn’t enough to just sit there and watch.

I couldn’t help myself and decided to step out into the rain.

I found my dad by our front door, enjoying the cool of the rain, without having to be in it. He watched me walk into the raindrops. I was smiling. He was trying to convince me I was under acid rain.

I spread my arms out and just walked around our yard, considering how strong the drops of water beat down. I cupped my hands together, wondering how long it would take me to collect rain in the palms of my hand.

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Later, I finished the book I began reading last night. I had made an informal pact with myself that to unwind this weekend, I would first turn to a book rather than my weekly episodes of The Voice. I hate that I’ve had very little time to read, or that I’ve made very little time to read. I haven’t read a book in months, and the last one was similar to watching a romantic comedy, but it took longer. (At the very least, I was entertained.)

On my way to a meeting yesterday afternoon, I conveniently ducked into a nearby second-hand bookstore right before arriving at a pedestrian walk. The cause of the detour was to avoid the awkward situation of arriving at a crosswalk when you feel like it’s about to go red for pedestrians but you can’t really tell – so you kind of make motions to move – but then you hesitate – then you realize you look stupid because you can still make the cross – but then you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself by being the person that walks across and is eventually honked at halfway there because the traffic light just went green — and you’re still in the middle of the road.

Yeah, I think about that stuff.

Even as I was in there for the lamest of reasons, I thought to myself, there must be a reason why I’m in here. Well another reason why I’m in here, not just escaping potential shame. So I looked at the first book that I found interesting, speed read the first few pages and a few random paragraphs from later chapters too. Less than five minutes after I walked in, I was crossing the road with new old book in hand (in perfect timing, I might add), determined I would spend a bit of the weekend getting lost in it. I was also determined to make that bookstore experience matter. It couldn’t have been just me cowardly running away from an awkward public situation that probably isn’t really that awkward to begin with.

I didn’t get lost in the book, I found myself in it.

Have you read Donald Miller’s, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”? I more than recommend it and I will most likely read it again, continuing to respond to it for weeks. And for months more, I’ll wish that I had written this book myself.

Here’s a quick excerpt, among many thought-provoking and action-enticing excerpts that I could have put forward:

“We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake up slowly to everything. Your brain doesn’t stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the light on, and you’re groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We are all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral…

If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and worte you and me, specifically, into the story and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.”

I guess it’s no wonder then that a few hours after I read those lines, I stepped out into the rain, and thanked God for such a beautiful day.

It wasn’t just another afternoon of rain.