Anna G. Joujan
© Copyright 2017 by Anna G.
Photo by the author.
through my wallet to pull out my dimes and pennies, I apologized to
the clerk. "Sorry," I told her, when I had the right amount
for my gas station cappuccino, "I like to use up my spare change
before leaving the country."
"Oh!," she said, her
weariness morphing into a starry-eyed smile. "Must be nice,"
she added. I felt at once guilty and starry-eyed for my own version
"No," I started to explain, "I just live
there ..." My voice trailed off as I thanked her and jolted
myself back into the fast-paced mindset of
I squelched my
desire to explain the ins and outs of this life journey, reminding
myself that the average stranger is not likely to be interested in my
poetic musings ... and, for that matter, I'm not all that interested
in waxing poetic when international travel is looming in my immediate
But the fact is that, in between the fits and starts of
frenetic business matters, my deeper self is preoccupied with a
deeper sense of reality than that which is urgent. I know something
about myself that the world does not yet know. I know that each year
it gets harder to say goodbye to the "home" that family is
for me. I know that my independent, self-sufficient,
footloose-and-fancy-free globetrotting persona is not the deepest
part of who I am. I know that the experiences I have had as a
resident of Asia, Africa, and Europe have been invaluable and have
formed me--or perhaps have simply filled a mold that was already
there? I am also growing aware of some truths that are more obvious
but that I have not been so aware of till now: of the ways in which
40-ish-ness affects my interests, my intellect, and my physical self,
for one. And of the ways in which marriage changes those aspects as
well--or perhaps the way it makes them more fully authentic? I’m
beginning to suspect that one of the ways in which my growth is
coming about is in the relationship I have with those closest to me
who, for so many years now, have lived a continent away—like my
celebrated the 4th of July by picking asparagus beans. I’d
never heard of them, never mind seen them on the vine but, as we
showed off the blooming wonder of a garden to Mom’s visiting
friend—Mabel—she stopped mid
sentence to berate Lou for not picking the asparagus beans.
the poor guys were growing so low to the ground that their showy
purple hues had gone completely unnoticed. We “ooh”ed
and “ahh”ed a bit, hopefully
rescuing the pride of the productive plants, before plucking them
clean of their fruits.
almost didn’t go down to the garden, though: I had preparation
for an upcoming flight in mind, along with the trip back up the
mountain that night. In general, I have come to a peace with the
portion of my nature that is just not a partier—more prone
towards the “party pooper”
personality, if I’m honest about my nerves and level of
sociability. Come a certain “pumpkin”
hour, as I used to joke with old college roomies, I just want to be
settled into my room, curled up with something to read and a cup of
tea as I wind down for bed.
few exceptions come to mind, during which I let loose with a rare
partying side of myself. One involved a college catering gig for a
ritzy island family, after which my fellow server and I were invited
to relax, and enjoy the party fare. That night I consumed a rather
large quantity of exquisitely tasty “fruit
salad.” The hours afterwards are fuzzy in my memory. I
recall a great deal of time spent lost in dancing heaven, to music
that was perfectly danceable for me (probably hip hop or reggae). I
remember being returned home to sit around and recap the night with
our other housemates. To my embarrassment, I learned that I had not
been simply carried away by the music that night; something special
in that fruit had assisted the process—my friend had not
mentioned it to me at the time, opting to nod with amusement while I
raved about each tasty bite.
My other housemates were equally amused
at the telling: one also reassured me when I blushed, noting that it
was likely a positive way for me to spend one of the evenings fresh
from my first true heartbreak. Looking back, I suspect she was right;
I also suspect that I needed to learn to lighten up a bit from some
rigid ideas about “proper”
Christian girl behavior. It has been a long and sometimes steep
learning curve for me, in that regard—becoming who God intends
for me to be and not an idea of who others expect me to be.
digress. What I was going to write about was last night—our 4th
of July celebration. It was a cozy group of 7 of us: my parents, my
grandparents, my mother’s childhood friend, who now lives in
Florida, and my husband and I. We ate chicken and beef kebabs, along
with plenty of garden-fresh veggies and mom’s famous bread. We
laughed about small things, like my weak joke of “Where’s
Jack?” when Mom commented on the impressive height of
one of her beanstalks, wondering how we would manage to pick the
beans. My grandparents headed home around 7:00 pm, and my husband and
I did so closer to 8:00.
of consequence happened. Except one thing. One small twinge of that
gut-tugging feeling you get when you know something in your heart
needs attention. This happened at the moment when Mom headed down to
the garden with Mabel. As I mentioned, I almost did not go. I was
starting to pack up the car and had in mind a to-do list and a
schedule. But when I watched Mom start her slow walk down the hill,
Mabel beside her, I stopped what I was doing. Looking at their backs,
I felt an immediate loneliness, nearing panic, at the thought of them
leaving me behind. I wanted to be leisurely walking with them,
chatting about nothing in particular, at the slow pace Mom herself
jokes about when she’s using her walker. I wanted to be one of
that moment, I realized that I had not had this feeling before—at
least not directed towards my mother. I had spent the evening soaking
in the presence of this friend I had heard referenced so often in
childhood. I put pieces together in my mind as we talked—like
the fact that this was the friend who lived in the neighborhood we
moved to later on, when we came to the U.S. Her mother had fed the
children creamed eggs on toast—a dish that Mom carried on
herself, so that the taste of it still reminds me of childhood
comfort. I watched the two of them share memories, and I laughed with
them when Mom told my grandmother that Mabel was staying with them
that night—“Yes, we’re going to have a sleepover!”
I think I might have felt a little bit jealous. My mother is a good
friend. I know this because I have come to know some of her lifelong
friends. People who are good friends to others attract good people to
them, and this is the case with Mom. She has a small circle of solid,
true people, who would drop everything if they were needed. In fact,
I have seen them do exactly this.
Mom was recovering from the accident, one of these friends came to
take the 4 of us, along with Mom, when she was allowed out for “field
trips” from the spinal center. Some of my first post-accident
happy memories are from visits with her: I recall the sheepishly
proud feeling I had after she gave me my first American hair cut.
Looking in the mirror afterwards, I noticed the way it suited my
features, and framed a face that looked more feminine that I was
accustomed to feeling (for all my desires to be a strong and
independent woman, I am afraid that it did little for my
pre-adolescent ego to be told that my muscles looked like a boy’s).
of Mom’s lifelong friends more recently treated me as one of
her own family, giving my husband and I the luxury of having our
wedding at her top-notch bridal-pick of a farm. She told me she
considered me family, and that there was no need for the huge cost
usually associated with this venue. We were able to have a beautiful,
but simple, “us” sort of
wedding, because she associated me with my mother.
life has been full of similar instances—of occasions in which I
have benefited from association with someone like my mother. I’ve
taken this fact for granted and have, oftentimes, responded to her
with a semblance of adolescent eye-rolling or irritated “Mother!”
moments. Somehow things are changing (I guess it’s high time,
considering my near-40-ish self!) Instead of coasting along on a life
of association, I would like to spend this next season of life
choosing to choose. I want to choose the life that has been given to
me, and to choose all the joys, blessings—and even
heartaches—that it has to offer. I want to choose, this time
around, even the family that I did not originally have a choice in.
Here, and now, seeing the beauty of what was given to me, I want to
choose love. And I want my family to be my friends.
know that I have countless steps to take yet before coming to any
real maturity or wisdom. But I think I've come a little ways along
that path of late. And I think I know where this path will lead in
the not-so-distant future.
poem I happened upon this morning, via Anita Lustria's Faith
Conversations podcast, says it better than I can. I will close with
the words of Ruth Bidgood, in her poem “Roads.”
need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
in the other valley,
regret the songs in the forest
chose not to traverse.
need to ask where other roads might have led,
they led elsewhere;
nowhere but this here and now
my true destination.
river is gentle in the soft evening,
all the steps of my life have brought me home.
*Copyright © Ruth Bidgood
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