Thursday, May 12, 2016

Time to Grow

When I was little and we lived in Bangladesh, we used to get letters from kids in Sunday school classes here in the States.  Almost everyone assumed we lived in a mud hut (we did not, though some of our neighbors did) and cooked our food in a giant cauldron over a bonfire.  Most weren't sure where in Africa it was (because it's in Asia), and there were often long paragraphs explaining things like baseball or football... Which I still don't understand that well.

One of my favorite letters, though, said something like, "It is Spring here.  Do you know what Spring is?"  My sisters and I laughed a lot about that one.  Did they think we were idiots?  I mean, of course we knew what Spring was.  We'd read about it in books!

Bangladesh had really only two seasons: the hot season and the less hot.  Okay, you might as well call it the cold season because even sixty-something degrees feels arctic when you have no central heating, and the house you're living in was built to stay cool in the oppressively hot, humid months that lasted the majority of the year.

As the less-hot months approached, we had the family tradition of "opening the barrel".  It was literally a barrel, about three feet tall and eighteen inches diameter, made of metal, and it stored all the clothes we kids had or were handed down to us.  We would get "new" clothes for the coming season according to what fit.  As the weather turned hot again, we put away the sweaters and pants and did the same with cooler clothes.  

My big sister Jenny was a long two years and eight months older than me.  I was always looking up to her, and I mean that literally.  Not only was she always infinitely cooler and better than me, she was taller than me (still is!), and I wanted so bad to be just like her.  Every time we opened the barrel, I had a chance to see if I had grown into her hand-me-downs yet.  It could be terribly frustrating when that dress I'd had my eye on for a year still didn't fit, and oh, it was a glorious moment when it FINALLY did!

When we spent a full year in Northern California, the year I was thirteen, though, I witnessed seasons for the first time.  (We had spent a year there when I was three and another when I was seven, but I hadn't really paid attention then, plus we'd lived in the Bay Area, which has more homogeneous, temperate weather.)  

And it was.... AMAZING.  I mean, there was summer, hot and dry and no rain at all.  Everything turned golden brown, and the air felt like the puff of heat when you open a hot oven.  And then suddenly it was getting cold at night, and the leaves changed color.  They really truly actually changed color!!  They turned orange and gold and red, and how lovely they looked against the crisp blue sky!

And then came winter, with its fog and California rain, which was so different from the torrential, warm monsoon rain that I knew from my growing up.  California winter rain is steady and cold.  And the fog... It was so thick sometimes that it swallowed trees in the front yard, just a few feet away.  I was cold all the time, and it was a cold that went deep into my bones.  But then...

Spring came!  Flowers started popping up everywhere!  The almond and plum and cherry trees blooomed till they looked like brides on their wedding days.  California poppies dotted the roadside with nuggets of orange-y gold, and lupine stood periwinkle on the velvety green hills.  It was amazing.  I wanted to tell everyone, "Look! The seasons changed!  They actually changed!  Do you see that?  It's just like in the books!  Isn't it the craziest, most astonishing thing?!" 

As I've continued to move around the world, I've watched the changing seasons in more places.  Spain and Florida offered more subtle changes while Washington state and Virginia were very impressive.  And here in Hawaii... Well, for the first couple years, I would tell you that one of the things I missed most was the changing of the seasons.  

But lately I've been rethinking that one.

I kind of started to notice it last year.  There are seasons here.  In the summer months, it can feel crazy hot, even though the temperature only changes a little, especially when there are no tradewinds. During the winter, most plumeria trees lose every leaf and flower, and since they are one of my favorite things about Hawaii, their absence feels kind of devastating.  Right about this time of year, the month that we arrived on the island, these certain yellow flowers that I don't know the name to light up the trees they grow on with this insane, almost neon, brightness.  I love it.  Then there are the mango trees.  Right now it's green mango season.  When the wind is blowing hard enough, unripe mangos fall to the ground, and trust me, they are so delicious in their own right.  And then when ripen... it's heaven.   

But I don't know if it's just living in Hawaii that has made me notice the more subtle changes in the seasons.  Maybe it's because I'm getting older, and I want to see some measure of progress in my life, even if I'm not trying on my sister's clothes to see if they fit. 

Just looking at the past three years in Hawaii, the obvious signs of growth are there.  When we moved into our current house from the one in Kailua two years ago, I did something rebellious (for me) that I hadn't done ever since I had kids.  I put pencil markings of their heights on the door frame of the closet under the stairs.  I measure them every six months, and I'm astonished by how much they have grown.  And we have the addition of Annalee, who is walking and clapping and copying everything we do -- so much growth.

But what about the rest, the things that can't necessarily be measured?

As I look back on three years of living in Hawaii, and think about how we will be moving again very soon, I feel that I was stretched and pruned as well.  I had to face challenges I didn't expect and fought battles I wish I hadn't had to.  I said words that I so badly want to take back, I learned to let go of things I had thought were so terribly important.  On the flip side, I made wonderful friends and received grace upon grace.  There were the hard seasons, the hard times that had no apparent end in sight, and there were, well, the mango and plumeria ones.

I know you're probably thinking, Come on, Joy, how hard can it be?  You live in Hawaii!

Time was, I'd have thought that, too.  But as I've mentioned before, our first year here was not great.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, I would say it was probably the hardest moves we ever made.  Sure, Hawaii is beautiful... But life happens, and it isn't always pretty. For one thing, I don't think I've ever prayed so hard for friends for my kids as I did here, and I was so thankful when we got them.  There are places on the island that put a lump in my throat because of a bad memory there.

Still, pushing through the hard times and learning to accept and love something (or someone) for what it is, though -- the good and the bad and everything else -- beyond the intoxicating allure of surface appearances, that's when real growth happens, I think.  

I've been looking around and thinking, I'm really going to miss this!  And even though I get an ache in my heart thinking about the day we will leave, I'm grateful.  Because I think the biggest sign of growth was that we made this our home.

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