I landed in the US with empty hands except for three elephant suitcases. My aunt and her family took me in, giving me room and a job. Another uncle and aunt gave me a car to use for the time being. Another uncle gave me a phone to use especially for when I’m on the road alone.
Ten days later, I found myself in a borrowed car filled with gas, a borrowed GPS, and borrowed CD’s. I headed from southern OH to the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA, a 6+ hour drive. I worshipped when I saw the light emerge in the mountains and the clouds playing below the peaks. The masses of trees and wild flowers were unbelievable.
I’d promised myself a treat at a Starbucks at a travel plaza, and waited in an interminable line. When I finally got to give my order, the man behind me gestured me on and said he’d pay for my mocha frappe. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I still think that all the pleasantries and wishing each other a good day, all these positive vibes wafting around in this country, all the “How are you’s” have to nudge people to pay it forward and think warmer thoughts towards strangers here more than in the post-communist country I’ve lived in the last five years.
I was on my way to the area where I lived 19 years ago. The occasion was the dispersal of my Yoder grandparent’s belongings. It was the last Yoder gathering of its kind, and I was the sole representative of my immediate family, since they weren’t able to leave Ireland and Kansas for this weekend. I don’t know why it was me who was able to be there, being the least sentimental of any of us, and not in a position to accumulate anything sizable for myself. Living from three suitcases rearranges one’s idea of Stuff in a hurry. But I had the fun of bidding on behalf of my parents and siblings, and indeed, they bid now and then via Skype!
The family auction was filled with understated, simple humor as only the Yoders can carry off. We made jokes and resurrected stories about the ancient hard-as-a-board green couch, but no one would be persuaded to bid on it. Food appeared at lunch and supper times as if by magic, the women having planned and scurried around and it looked effortless to me, but I knew better and soaked up the care and love and grace.
Several times I scanned our small army of aunts, uncles, cousins, and baby cousins, and kept thinking that our stories belong in a novel, and here we are living as if everything is normal, and the blazing sunset and blinking fireflies and the bumps and bruises and gifts of our lives are just nodded at for a second and seemingly forgotten.
But I think they should be celebrated and wondered at, and discussed and thanked God for. The stories that include interracial marriages, several foreign languages, multiple heart breaks, redemption, probation rules, health nuts, scandal, simple faith, and cancer–oh yes, and auctions–always auctions.
Sunday morning I went to the church that used to be ours 19 years ago, and saw white hair on my former teachers, and heard the same phrases that I always did in the prayers, and listened while the four-part harmony wrapped itself around me as if with warm skeins of undulating color.
While the message was going in full force, I heard a discreet little voice behind me. The little girl was born in Europe where cultured people drop their voices in public. “Mama, why is he shouting?”
Then her mom’s wise perspective: “It’s ok—it’s just the way he preaches.”
I identified with the girl because I wanted to push away the shouting too. I’m not used to the decibels in people’s normal conversations in this country, let alone a raised voice from behind the pulpit, and it might always make me cringe a little.
But I saw God revealed in people’s love for me, their generosity and looking out for others, my two dinner invitations and connecting with old pals. It was the little things that impacted me:
“Is there anything I can do for you Yoders?” “Go over to our garage and fill up your tank with gas.” “Would you like a cup of coffee for the road?”
Some things never change, but nothing is the same.