It’s been weeks since I last posted an entry, but the absence hasn’t been for the reasons you might expect. Yes, the holidays came and went during this time, but as filled as they might have been with family at home, time for posting was not limited. I did not travel anywhere nor did my computer suffer a winter hibernation. Nonetheless, my time has been impacted by the passage of the holidays and two other significant events: the a two-week bout with the flu and a cold, and the birth of a grandchild. As commonplace as all of these events might be (though for any grandparent there is no grandchild who is commonplace), their presence in recent days has had me thinking about the ordinary disruptions of daily life, how we experience them and the extent of their impacts.
The holidays themselves pose any number of distractions that can take me out of my daily rhythms. We plan and prepare for family visits (a household of two is a very different space than a household of ten), change the quantity and content of our meals (cookies are terrific but not very forgiving) and a visit with an elderly neighbor becomes not just a nice time to chat but a holiday expectation (even though she professes to have had all the Christmases she needs). I suppose that such distractions are among the attractions of the holidays, as they force us out of the sameness of everyday life, even if the routines are the same as other years gone by. At least they aren’t the same as May or September routines.
Succumbing to illness, especially at this time of year, is especially interruptive, since we have expectations of gaiety and joy; indeed, every advertisement on television informs us of just the right gifts needed to provide giddy ecstasy over the holidays. Illness, even if not particularly life-threatening, dims the brightness of the days and extends the wakefulness of the nights in a grotesquely unfair example of poor timing, which no amount of tissues or hot liquids can erase. Holiday illness is the taskmaster of patience, at a time when Godspeed is needed.
To lighten such a load, the birth of a grandchild is highly recommended. Tiny Claire Elizabeth came into this sphere on January 7, bringing with her the usual fanfare of newborns: the stress of childbirth, the anxiety of families, the thrill of new life, the introspective gravitas of a new legacy, the first cry of perseverance and finally, the unbridled joy of those who will be her family. What event could be sweeter than this- the newest piece to life’s puzzle.
So our days have been filled with mixtures of celebration, struggle, anxiety, fears, comforts, dreams and spiritual balm. The rush of the holidays has passed by for another year, the discomforts of a winter illness have finally sought new victims for their misery and a newborn child has begun her journey of enriching, teaching and loving.
After ten years of working between two cultures and world views, the passage of these past weeks has given me pause to reflect upon the ordinary events and people of that other space in my life, Nicaragua. What are the holidays and illnesses and births like for my friends in that country, and how do they unfold? How do such occurrences impact the activities of those who experience them?
I think we can guess at the reality. The holidays occupy a significant part of many Nicaraguans’ lives, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is national in its importance. But there is no frenzy to buy lavish gifts and to host overflowing holiday feasts for most: sufficiency at the table and in the home is difficult enough to maintain on ordinary days, though worthy enough of deep gratitude.
Nicaraguans become ill just like anyone else, so cough remedies and Indigenous recipes abound. (Honey mixed in rum is what I have been recommended.) Nicaraguans are not immune to the viruses that seem to stop us in our tracks. It’s simply a case that Nicaraguans have a much more difficult time stopping in theirs; there is no safety net for such work stoppage and the margin of sufficiency too small to allow the luxury of staying at home or sipping hot chicken soup. They cannot afford to stop for fear of falling further behind. There are occasions when illness gets in the way of keeping up. It’s when one of the particularly virulent strains of virus or bacteria attack the health of a worker and the ability to keep going is lost to the emergency of simply staying alive. Poverty has a way of breeding brands of illness that make my cold of the past weeks seem like a hiccup. It seems our respective senses of the ordinary are quite different from one another.
And when it comes to having children and grandchildren enter their lives, Nicaraguans feel the same range of emotion that the rest of us do, I suppose. But whereas the dreams for Claire Elizabeth include notions of education, achievement and wholeness of life, dreams for the newly-born in Nicaragua may be far different. The family of a newborn Angelina may dream first of survival and good health for their little girl. Their prayers might include petitions for enough to eat, water to safely consume, and strength enough to be able to work on the coffee farm at an early age. Their hopes likely include visions of their daughter being able to stay in school past the third grade, maybe even being schooled to high school, though the hope may be, practically speaking, a long shot.
What constitutes the ordinary for us depends very heavily upon where the miracle of birth and the journey of life occurs. When we spend even a few moments in reflection and appreciation of that truth, it changes things. Like the way we choose to celebrate the joys of our lives. Like the acceptance of a temporary illness as a minor distraction instead of a major roadblock. And like a growing awareness of just how extra-ordinary our own lives really have become….