Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Look at her face

Tomorrow is my last day with students. There is other work to do, evaluations, clearing out my office, graduation ceremonies, etc., but tomorrow is it for a large part of my life's work. I'm still in kind of a daze at (for me) the momentousness of it all. I don't seem to be able to get very far with my thoughts about the past or present or future. The last time I looked at the clock last night it was 2:30am. The students had a wonderful lunch today - and included the promotoras and several of my community health friends. This evening I'm thinking about some of the people my students and I and others (especially Leslie) have been with over the years ...

Pheap T. - We took care of her for several years while she died of cancer and alcohol. I remember a student kneeling, praying beside the dirty little couch Mrs. T. stayed on - it was the only time anyone really touched her that I knew of. Photo - Outreach with Cambodian refugees
Tresia B. - When we turned her over the first time 100s of little roaches scattered from beneath her great bulk. She had the most amazing candida infection I've ever seen on anyone without HIV. She died from cancer, followed very shortly by ...
Nicholas E., the man who lived with Ms. B. He and I used to sit at the coffee table in their apartment while the students did what they were doing with Ms. B. Alison helped - like an angel.
The old Vietnamese/Chinese couple who fixed me cafe sua da every week. My friend Jay would come over and we would sit in the doorway of their little apartment in the back of 4400 San Jacinto, drinking the sweet strong coffee and watching the always happening parking lot - people walking through, children playing. When they moved to Cali they had us over for a huge lunch. We'd never done a single thing for them.
The little girl with the big nevus on her face who we got into Children's for plastic surgery - whose mother had this tiny little store in her apartment where she sold soft drinks, cigarettes and candy to people in the neighborhood. One day the girl and her mom were getting into my truck and she said, "My mother says that man over there has a gun." He was walking toward us and I was pulling the mom into the truck driving backwards through the apartment parking lot (1418 Annex) and over curbs. 30 minutes later the man and his partner were in a shoot-out with the police on Central Expressway.
Rith S. R. and Yan S. - Yan was about 4'8" tall - Leslie got her a job at a hospital - she looked so great standing next to her 6'6" supervisor. Later their lives were unbearably sad. We still talk every Christmas.
Tep K.S. - who Leslie did so much for as he died - when I took him to the hospital the last time - where he died in the hallway, I asked him if he wanted a stick of gum and he just shook his head. His wife and daughter sometimes bring us curry, still.
The man who died in his sleep and was kept for autopsy while his children went to another satte. His daughter would sometimes run naked and baying through the streets. Leslie was always the one taking care of her. Leslie was the only person at his funeral - you could do a lot worse than that!

The Vietnamese woman who had been a prostitute long ago and the student with her at Parkland going head to head with a doctor who wanted the woman to sign an (uninformed) consent for cancer treatment. The doctor called me to report the student and I was saying, "Uh-huh."
The girl the students and I sprang from her apartment prison - the students distracting the mother-in-law while the 16 year old girl tossed her possessions in 2 black garbage bags out of the 2nd story apartment window to me standing below. Then the students and the girl walked out past the m-i-l.
The Cambodian family that fixed a wonderful lunch for the students and I. Such a nice lady.
Lay Rith, beautiful beyond measure, taking us in as we took her in. I visited her and her husband in Long Beach - gunshots in the background, one of her boys showing me his pogs. Her beautiful daughter Re already a gangster. Photo: In the waiting room
The two teen girls the students found living together in an apartment with no furniture - just a couple of blankets on the floor, on the run from their molesting "father." One of the girls ended up in prison, the other still comes in to the clinic.
The two people we made suicide contracts with last week.
The 1000s of people who have a place to go for healthcare, thanks to Bobbie, Leslie, me, others. And the 1000s who were cared for at the East Dallas Health Coalition, thanks to Syl, Pauline, me, others.
The boys who were being molested and told Alison's friend, Sandy. They called on Leslie, who made everything else happen and the guy went to prison for life and Leslie and Alison were there when he was sentenced - gonna follow your casket down in the pale afternoon.
The girls Martin and I were talking to one day and the next day their father called me, crying - one had drowned and the other barely lived. Martin and his colleagues did the funeral.
The woman who was a terminal alcoholic who said to me one day in her cracked, quavering voice, "Help me mister." I said, "____, there's nothing I can do to help you if you won't stop drinking." She died that night - there was blood on the walls outside her apartment. The minister didn't show at her funeral, so two Mormon missionaries and I did the service.
Guadalupe S., taken care of by everyone. She lived in about the most run-down house in East Dallas. Leslie was there one morning and her husband was sitting beside the house having a beer and jalepeño taco (nothing but jalepeño on that taco) for breakfast.
The Dalai Lama was in Dallas and we managed to get him to Grace Church to meet with the Cambodians. This was about 1983. After his homily there were about 30 people around him and I was standing on the periphery. He had never seen me before and there was nobody there to tell him what I was doing. He reached through the people around him and took my hands like in a prayer, giving me a blessing, saying, "Keep doing this work." Photo: Something beautiful for God
The Mexican woman with rheumatoid arthritis - Leslie went with her to the doctor who said, he didn't think she was having much pain. Leslie said look at her face - tears running down ... Look at Her Face.
The young Muslim woman dying from breast cancer, taken care of by my students Megan and Stephanie (who taught us all about spiritual care), by Leslie, and by Diane - not to mention a Jewish oncologist and the Jewish dentist Leslie found who did the work free, then a Muslim women's association stepped in and paid for some of the dental work. Meanwhile her brother descended into complete insanity and the psychiatrist said, "I don't understand why you people are calling me."

Each one of these little stories is a lot longer. It just goes on and on and on.

Friday, April 18, 2008

After all this time

Leslie told me that last night she dreamed that she was in the Avalon with David, Scott, Eric, Kevin, Daniel - all so happy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Dream

I dreamed last night that Ron C and I drove to a place near our home city where there was a village from Laos. It was set up in kind of an inverted U (ת); Ron parked at the bottom left corner and I immediately walked over to the right branch and started walking slightly uphill up a dirt path past little hooches (some Lao, some made of salvaged stuff from the US; most on stilts). There were Cambodians all around, some sitting in the doorways and I knew most of them from back in 1981-85. They were people who never made it in the US, but now they were happy and I was happy to see them. As I walked along we were speaking back and forth – “Oh, hey, I’m so happy to see you.” (I’m smiling writing this.) A young man was walking with me and when we got to the top (bottom of the U), we followed the path to the left and went underground. There were several large turtle heads sticking out of the wall like they were roof decorations but down low and there was fine detail everywhere, all dark and smoky looking and I was asking how all this could be here and the young man told me two women had gone to Laos and bought an entire village and brought it to the US. We went on to the last leg of the U and walking downhill came to kind of an infirmary with blankets over the two doors and I was thinking, maybe this a place for me. The door on the left was L&D and there was someone in labor in there. I asked the young man to ask if we could go in and he said something and an irritated looking midwife came out and said in Chinese, “Both of you go away.” We moved on and along the way, I told the young man I’d forgotten his name and asked what it is. He told me, but now I’ve forgotten it. He showed me how his eyes were all wrong, which I’d already noticed, but now looked closely at them, one rolling up and both kind of inflamed around the margins of his lids. When we came to the end of the leg, there was a building standing a little separate from the others. The young man told me it was a kind of church, and when I looked closely at it there were Kwan Yins and Virgin Marys painted kind of randomly on the outside walls and I realized that they are the same thing (Mercy) and always have been and I wondered how I could not have noticed that before. Ron was there and so was Leslie and we were talking about what an amazing place this is and Leslie was saying that she’d worked hard to make it happen and I remembered that she had gone up against some government entity to help the women bring it here. That’s all I remember.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weeks and days passing

Writing the I’m Retiring entry put a hold on my writing. Since then …

A couple of weeks ago I spent several days working in the garden and yard. In the back garden, the iris (bought at an Iris Society sale) are blooming, Zepherine Drouhin and Lady Banks are blooming, and some of the herbs are doing well (oregano, sage, germander, lemon grass, mint, rosemary, and savory). I had let the garden go last summer while we were in Asia, but the good soil preparation years ago continues to pay off.

In the front cottage garden, roses are blooming (Old Blush, Maggie, Zepherine Drouhin, Katy Road Pink, Marie Pavié, Hermosa, and the even more wonderful Cécile Brünner), iris are magnificent (white, purple, yellow, and variations), delphinium are starting up (white, blue, pink), oxalis are carpeting in pink …

A few nights ago I awoke thinking about what it will mean to not be doing mercy and justice. For many years these have been huge part of my identity, my self – not my thoughts or beliefs, but what I do, who I be – and I’m setting it aside.

As the weeks come and go and retirement nears, I’m in a suspended state. It all seems unreal, unclear. Yet my eyes, my mind are clearer. Photo: On the right, Leslie waiting for the bus in Nepal, 1978 and on the left, Leslie on the bus in Burma, 2007. Aren't these the greatest photos!

You are the best of all my days

I’m unable to say with clarity what I’ll do, except that I’ll be in the high mountains, first with David in July and later with Jeff and (maybe) Somsai in August and September. But that only says where I’ll be and who else will be there, not how I’ll be. Oh sure, I’ll be tired, dirty, sore, sunburned, hungry, and all that other good stuff. But how I’ll really be is …
Standing alone on a mountain-top,
Looking out at the Great Divide,
My soul rising, rising, rising,
Flying, complete.

I wrote in the last entry that after Vietnam I was committed to not wasting the time of my life. I have not.

This weekend the G5 men's Bible study group went to Jim C's lake house. Like last year it was a good time - good to be in Charlie and Alayne's old house (now Jim and Nell's); good to relax with Jim, Mike, Chuck, Ken, Chris, Bryce, Rick, and Dave; good to sit on the screened porch and watch the lake, Mike fishing, the birds; good to sleep out under the stars; good to be.