Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Overall, accelerating

Charles Kemp
I’m thinking about this. My life didn’t really take off until Vietnam, except I did fall in love before then. Vietnam - suddenly real, fast, hard and then the integration years 1967-1972 (Leslie and all). Then undergraduate school and nursing, then graduate school and hospice. Traveling. Our home, our marriage, working together. Teaching, refugees. David! Teaching, writing, refugees, community health, family, and finishing out at Agape, backpacking, traveling these past 5 years. Entering retirement. The point of this entry: all this and pretty much/generally it’s been accelerating or at least going forward all through! God, the energy that’s gone down, slowing these past few years (it’s ok). It’s all just un-____ing-believable! Photo: Christmas morning - 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

1604 Annex was a pretty rough place

Charles Kemp
1604 Annex was a large, densely packed apartment complex with dark wandery corridors with lots of corners and a number of hidey-holes under stairwells and whatnot. Most of the apartments were one bedroom with 3-6 people living in them. The gangsters hung out mostly at the two back entrances, but there was always a good-eye in front and back. I knew a lot of people who lived there, including a Guatemalan woman. She was friendly and nice and we’d talk now and again. One day she invited me to her apartment, which, like so many other apartments in the neighborhood was sparse. The only thing in the living room was a pretty funky old couch and I was sitting there and she brought me a coke or something and sat down right next to me – as in sitting against me. We were talking and I realized she was working as a prostitute and was offering me sex. I don’t remember exactly what I said – something like, “You’re really pretty and I dig you, but I can’t do this (I do remember sounding pretty lame to myself). But I guess she was okay with it because we moved apart some and talked and I finished my drink and left. We were friendly after that, and not even very awkward.
Photos from la clinica - above: He walked for three days and nights in the Sonoran Desert; at right: child with H1N1 and asthma

I think we all want to sing our song and have it heard. We want to be and be seen as we are. As we are: unarmored, clean, strong, hopeful, beautiful…

When you find out who you are,
Beautiful, beyond your dreams.

After years of no serious baking, I've started baking bread again. Coarse, crusty old loaves of whole wheat goodness. Last week I baked 4 loaves of whole wheat bread - just what they used to have (maybe still do) at the SF Zen Center. Whole wheat, water, honey, oil, yeast, a little salt. Kitchen warm, kneading and kneading the dough, the fragrance of yeasty rising dough, and then the aroma of baking bread, then the bread - with way too much butter ... It's fun to make pies, cookies, etc., and it's something more to bake bread.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Last Friday, after we were finished with patients (it happens now and then) Christina, one of our volunteer physicians and I were sitting in the pharmacy talking. She is associated with the Children’s Medical Center REACH Clinic, where children who have been physically or sexually abused are treated. If you think about it in any detail, it’s just unimaginable – a pelvic exam on a 5 year old – how do you process doing that? Having it done? I just don’t know.

We were talking about faith and work. It was one of those conversations that reverberate in one well after it seems to be over. Talking with Christina I mentioned, for the first time in years, our work with Jonathan’s Place, a shelter for battered, abused, and neglected children. Photo: Chris from Jonathan's Place and me.

What happened was that someone I knew called and asked if we could help with the children at Jonathan’s Place. They had lost their pediatrician and needed someone to do admission physical exams on the children in the first 24 hours after they were removed from their parent(s) and to treat any acute illnesses. I said sure. The way it worked was that someone would call to say they had two or five or however many children needing exams and they would bring them to the clinic at the end of our regular day. We (my students and I) would be set up for them so when they got to us we could move them as quickly and calmly and kindly as possible through the process. I’ll tell you truly it wasn’t easy, mapping out the bruises, lacerations, etc., and trying to be supportive to these frightened children.

I remember two girls, ages about 7 and 10, both raped by their father and the older child comforting the younger.

After we’d been doing these exams for a few months I called Chris, the young man who was our main contact at Jonathan’s Place and told him I was committing to do this as long as they needed it. He could call anytime and I would come anytime. And that’s the way it went for the next about 1 ½ years. Most weeks there were 1-3 children, sometimes less, sometimes more. That was one of my last commitments beyond my family, and in terms of how much energy I had it was really more than I should have made. But it was just a few hours a week.

I was thinking about how my students were involved in this and what a good job they did with the children. I was thinking what a great blessing it was that they were a part of something so much greater than school. And with that blessing, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” Luke 2:35.

So now that I’m leaving,
I’m weary as hell.
The confusion I’m feeling,
Ain’t no tongue can tell.

Photo: Sophea and science project in Phnom Penh (she's in middle, looking at the camera, to the left of the girl flashing peace sign). She sent this photo today and it gave me such great joy I wanted to post it - strangely, here in this painful post. So take a break, click the photo to make it larger and say hi to Sophea.