With less than a month until I return Stateside, I wanted to show all my readers a few highlights from this past year. I hope you enjoy.
For those who know me, you can attest to the fact that I am generally a “people” person. I love people watching, learning from people, and I especially love talking to people. I would consider myself an extrovert, and the many personality tests I have taken confirms that fact. Yet no matter how extroverted someone might be, everyone needs some alone time.
In today’s high-paced culture sound and noise surround us. Rarely are we allowed to be alone with our thoughts or to appreciate and embrace silence. If we are not filling the space with people, then it is some other device like the soft hum of a TV left on, or ear-buds transferring sounds from our ipods to our minds for an entire day. Today’s culture craves noise. I would even be so bold to claim that there is a fear developing in our society that avoids silence and clings to noise.
Thankfully, I recently had an opportunity to experience silence in a new way. Myself and 5 others went to a retreat center where they had individual cabins for people to spend a day in solitude. Although I was unsure what to expect, it turned out that a day of solitude was exactly what I needed. For the first half of the morning, we were asked to review the year in full, writing down our blessings and challenges that we had encountered. I was amazed at how many blessings I had forgotten about and even more amazed that my blessings list for each month was larger than my challenges list.
After the first half of the day, some of us gathered for a brief 15 minute lunch. I was honestly surprised when I heard a knock on my cabin telling me that it was time for lunch. I seriously questioned where all the time had gone. After the short interruption, we went back to solitude, this time focusing on our goals for the rest of the year and to take some time to pray. The second half of the day was probably even better than the first half. Alone to my thoughts and prayers, I was able to listen, really listen. During that time, I learned about myself, heard God talk to me through my thoughts, and was able to look forward with a clear, hopeful mind. It might seem exaggerated that I received all this from just a bit of solitude, but in all honesty, it was incredible.
Before we did the solitude retreat, we had been asked to read an article on solitude. The article explained that solitude, although can be difficult, actually enriches the time spent with others. When we spend all our waking hours with people and noise, we tend to lose focus on our own thoughts and can experience a fatigue from being around noise. We might not recognize the cause of the fatigue, and may even deny that it could have any relation to constantly being around people, but it does ware us down. When we take some time of solitude, we are enabling ourselves to be recharged and therefore have more endurance and patience when we are with others. Not only that, but we are able to discover new things about ourselves, confront what our hearts are telling us, and appreciate noise more fully after a period to ourselves.
For me personally, I hope to make it a goal to have a day of solitude at least one time a year, and I highly recommend it. It might take some feelings of slight discomfort, but if you can forge past the discomfort you will be able to perceive silence and sound in a new way.
Two weekends ago, I was in Dublin for a Christian retreat. After the retreat had officially finished, there were still a good number of the participants remaining in Dublin for an extra night in order to take advantage of our sightseeing opportunities. To start the night, a smaller group of us decided to go out to dinner.
As we sat around the table I was struck by the international diversity in our group. We had 3 Americans, 1 Russian/German, 1 Pole, 1 Singaporean, and 1 other German who had been raised in Vietnam. The sociologist in me immediately asking questions. How often do these demographics appear together when not in a work setting? What would outside observers see about this group? Would I ever meet any of these people if it wasn’t for the Christian community I am a part of?
Besides the uncommon nationalities coming together, the dinner also stuck me because we had all decided to order a number of dishes and share them in a family-style type of meal. I had met most of them only once and now we were going to be sharing food together. At least in Western culture, it is a bit unusual for near strangers to share a meal in this way. I suppose there are many possible ways for diverse individuals to come together, share an intimate meal, and treat each other with familial respect; but to me, these events seem more of a rarity than a normality which makes me appreciate them even more.
After the unique meal, it was time to join the larger group at an Irish Pub. On the way to meet the group, we heard some street performers. Two of the girls I was with had taken 7 years of Irish dancing, so naturally we stopped in the middle of the street to have an Irish dance lesson. After our practice dance session, we met the others in the pub, where there was a live Irish band playing and our dancing continued.
As randomly as the night began, the closure of the evening finished the same way. When a few of us had left the pub, we decided to continue walking around the city, but with a purpose. We decided we would initiate conversations with strangers and hopefully brighten up their day by telling them how much they were loved. We talked to a woman working at a food stand, a taxi-cab driver, a group of secondary students, and one other man. Though the people were always a bit surprised by our conversations, all of them seemed touched by our actions.
I know this all sounds strange and maybe a bit weird, and it was. I certainly do not go around on a normal basis telling strangers how much I think they are worth, but despite the oddness of the night, it was one I would not trade. At the very least, I can say I literally danced the streets of Ireland.
Recently I was asked to create a schedule where my housemates and I would go help out various mothers in the Christian community I am working for. Originally, the help was intended for young mothers with little children, but word spread like wild fire and soon I was getting requests from a variety of women of all ages and stages of life to help with a broad range of tasks.
One request came from an unexpected source. An 85 year-old Indian woman (woman #1) approached me and asked if I would be willing to help around the house. At first the request did not appear abnormal, in fact, I thought it made perfectly logical sense for this widowed woman to ask for help. As I finished arranging the details, another woman (woman #2) who had overheard the conversation came with a look of shock and asked “did she just agree to getting some extra help??” Not knowing where the question was going, I hesitantly replied “yes”. “We have been offering her help for a long time, and she always refused us!” At this point another woman (woman #3) joined the conversation and was very excited about the news, and then offered to meet me at the train station so she could show me where the woman lived. Relieved that I now had means of getting to the woman’s house, I gratefully accepted the help. Later in the evening, I had another conversation with a 4th woman (woman #4). She told me that she had persuaded the elderly woman to accept my help by convincing her that I was a nice girl and that extra help around the house would greatly benefit her.
The day arrived to help woman #1, and after traveling by train, tram, and foot to arrive at her apartment, woman number #3 and I began our mission: a thorough cleaning of the home. The apartment was tidy enough, but since woman #1 is a bit older it is difficult for her to scrub, dust high places, or clean as quickly.
As I was on my hands and knees washing the bathroom floor, I asked myself why I was so happy. Why did I have a smile on my face as I was doing something I hate? The reason was twofold. The first was because I found it truly satisfying helping someone who really needed my help, and where my work was tangibly benefiting her.
The second reason was sisterhood. It was sisterhood in action that enabled this woman to receive the help she needed. Me cleaning woman #1’s apartment was only possible when a band of woman came to the rescue. What was the scenario?
The problem: an elderly sister in need of help. Her apartment needed to be cleaned, and woman #1 was not able to do it on her own
The solution: sisters helping sisters.
Key players: Woman #1– The Classy Combatant: Description: Elderly woman in her 80’s. Height: 5 foot 0. A woman who has experienced immense difficulties in her life like many other women, but has the grace and poise that is not an absolute for women in her situation. Is a tough fighter, but can still use the help of others from time to time. Woman #2 – the Encourager/Catalyst: don’t underestimate the power of this role. You would be amazed the influence an encouraging comment can have. Woman # 3: The Nike Girl: This woman is characterized by the slogan “Just Do It”, because she makes things happen. She of course is made a go-getter only with the encouragement of the Catalyst. Woman #4 – The Persuader: specializes in convincing and negotiating. The finesse and patience this role requires is remarkable and cannot be done by any old Joe off the street.
Without each of these key players, Woman #1’s life would have continued as normal, but together these women made her life just that much easier. As you can tell, I was impressed and proud of the effort and effect the women had to make something happen. I was grateful for the opportunity to witness it and I aspire to imitate these remarkable women.