Other Roads


Anna G. Joujan



© Copyright 2017 by Anna G. Joujan 


Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

Rifling 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 of hers.

"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 get-in-mom's-car-and-get-on-with-trip-to-airport mode.

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 future.

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 mother.

We 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.

Turns out 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.

I 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.

A 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.

I 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.

Nothing 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 the girls.

In 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!” she grinned.

Honestly, 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.
When 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).

Another 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.

My 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.

I 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.

A 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.”

No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
lay in the other valley,
or regret the songs in the forest
I chose not to traverse.
No need to ask where other roads might have led,
since they led elsewhere;
for nowhere but this here and now
is my true destination.
The river is gentle in the soft evening,
and all the steps of my life have brought me home.

*Copyright © Ruth Bidgood

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