Pair o’ Ducks

When I left Poland and came to Pennsylvania in 2015, I stopped taking pictures. I gave away my little digital camera because why would I need it anymore? Over a year later, I got my first smart phone, but even then I didn’t use the camera except when I went overseas.

My camera use and my minimal pictures indicate how I saw my States-side life. It wasn’t worth documenting or noticing–not compared to my colorful students and the old world charm of Europe. I have megabytes of photos from there, but not from here.

This summer will mark seven years since I left Poland and came to the US for one year, which stretched to now. I still scan the horizon and the road sides and trees and food for photogenic moments, and I rarely find something to document.

I can hear howls of protests from readers who love their home state, and I concede that my few pictures reveal more about my poor vision than about the world I live in now. The beauty of this blog is that no one pays to read it, and if my dismissal of the USA offends you, stop reading here.

Stephan Gingerich spoke at REACH about Third Culture Kids like me with excellent insight and advice. He said those of us who return to our passport country should be quiet for two years, and I’m sure he’s right. I bite my tongue every day to stay quiet about another life and another world that I know and love. But indulge me for a minute while I list things in America that make me cringe and want to be a million miles away.

  1. People put sugared, candied nuts on salads. This is a grave confusion of the proper place of sweets and savories. Salads are for any kind of crunch and textures and colors, but they are to be strictly savory, not sweet. Mixing candied, caramelly nuts is offensive to the character of the bright flavors of cheeses, garlic, and herbs. Along the same line, people bake ham and cheese sandwiches doused with a syrupy mixture with poppy seeds. The first time I had this, I honestly thought the cook was serving us a mistake. Now I know they have recipes for this, and I can’t imagine a poorer use of calories.
  2. I opened a fridge door recently (not mine) and saw not two or three, but FIVE different flavors of coffee creamers. This baffled me on several levels, not the least of which: how is dairy-free, artificially-flavored so wonderful? I wondered if five in a fridge indicates the next level of entitlement and it also reminded me of how incredulous I was when I first saw the rows and rows, shelves and shelves of creamers at Walmart.
  3. To kneel for prayer in traditional Mennonite churches, people whirl around, half standing, half crouching, and put their faces into the place they were just sitting. It’s awkward and illogical and embarrassing for anyone unfamiliar with this tradition. Why not gracefully kneel forward and lean your elbows on the seat back in front of you? I cringe for the visitors most of all.
  4. People talk SO LOUD on their phones and at restaurant tables.

Sometimes I catch a whiff of loveliness, a view that takes my breath away. It took me a long time to look past my bias against the US and recognize beauty here. People might not be as whimsical or colorful as my English students, but I meet gifted, passionate, fun people here. They tell me their big, beautiful, impossible dreams and stories of healing and generosity that remind me that Aslan is on the move here and life is wonderful and worth celebrating here.

Last summer I was gifted a missionary debrief retreat. Those sessions helped me start to acknowledge and name the vast chasm that spans the various worlds I’ve lived in. In many ways, I’m living my best life now, but I still cry from the losses of my former life.

The retreat leaders had a word for this: paradox. This word gave me permission to hold opposing realities simultaneously.

During the first evening of the retreat, each of us was given two rubber ducks and a Sharpie. We were told to mark up one duck. I eagerly and generously covered one duck with stitches and a black eye and broken heart and bruises. He’s the yuck duck and the other is the yay duck, and I hold them both in one hand. Both yuck and yay are true and real at the same time.

Because I tend to live in an all-or-nothing mode, and because I love tactile lessons and puns, the pair o’ ducks gave me an enormous step toward wholeness. Now I recognize paradox in many places. And instead of rushing to one of two opposing views and camping out at one place, I slow down and recognize that both the yuck and the yay are here, and neither of them ignores or denies the other.

I can’t tell you how freeing this concept is for me. I see paradox in people, how we’re all beautiful and broken. I see paradox in events or situations, and the blend of terrible and wonderful. As a TCK, paradox gives me permission to love the present while mourning the past.

The Apostle Paul lived with paradox too. In II Corinthians 4, it’s like he’s holding his own pair o’ ducks.

I may never completely settle in the US or come to peace with plastic creamers and startling traditions. But my ducks remind me that not everything in Europe was yay, and there is wonder and joy right here. The ducks are odd desk ornaments but I have a hunch they’ll sit here a long time.

15 thoughts on “Pair o’ Ducks

  1. So much in this post resonates with me and I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. That retreat was very healing for me as well (I’m glad you got to go!), and the pair o’ ducks gave me a word for a feeling I’d had a hard time expressing. Blessings on your journey! (I know that’s cliche but it’s what it is …)

  2. Anita, I can feel for you. Not in moving to another continent but in moving to a new job. Some things are just never quite the same. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t at peace where we are at but there is a sense of loss.

  3. This makes my eyes sting. I hear a lot of grief in your words. Dare I say anger? A sort of flailing against all the loss and discomfort. You really have had to let go of so much in this journey. And yet, I also see you fighting forward and pursuing reconciliation with a life that stretches you past your ouch points, and even to thrive in it. I love your honesty, and I love your ducks. Life really is so much more “both/and” than I used to think. Hugs!

  4. For a time, our Beachy church knelt forward for prayer, as you describe. It was easy since the pews we used had come from a Catholic church, and the kneelers were still attached to the pews. Even the most conservative members among us were in favor of doing this at the beginning, but I remember one of them speaking out later in favor of the old way because kneeling forward was just too uncomfortable. We eventually switched back to the old way, under circumstances that I don’t recall clearly. A college friend who once visited our church after the switch back said afterward that before he comes again, he’ll have to go home and practice his “wheeling and kneeling.” That was good for a chuckle.

  5. Just what i needed right now as i’m in a transition too! I find it comforting to remember it’s okay to grieve. -Kathy

  6. I love this SO much…so many relatable feelings….and then the beauty of paradox. I can love those people AND love these people. I can live here with joy AND miss my joy times from there!

  7. Your comments about finding beauty worth celebrating in people you meet makes me think you would enjoy a deep dive into the works of American artist Mary Whyte, especially her series “Working South” and her Veterans project. She is a gifted speaker as well as watercolorist, and hearing her heart for showing the image of God stamped on his creation everywhere is beautiful. She also moved from one culture to another entirely different one.

  8. 1. The other thing I wish people would leave off of salads is fruit. It is a tragic waste of strawberries, dried cranberries, etc., when they get mixed in with lettuce, cheese, salad dressing, etc.

    2. I use a flavored creamer every once in a while, but yeah, I generally prefer half & half. However, stores generally will try to sell what people seem to be buying, so there’s that side of things…

    3. I FULLY AGREE! I grew up doing the “whirl and crouch”, and the first time I was in a church where they simply slid forward off the bench and onto their knees, I was thoroughly impressed. @Miriam Iwashige, will all due respect to your church leaders, there’s no reason that people can’t choose to kneel either way they want. And, at the risk of politicizing this comment, “my knees my choice” may apply here. Or perhaps “my face, my choice”, since you’re also deciding where you park your face while praying. (Okay, that was my attempt at humor for the morning) 🙂 🙂 Thank you for posting this, Anita, I wish someone had blogged about it sooner.

    4. I haven’t eaten at restaurants too much in the last couple of years, but I’ll take your word for it. In my limited experience, restaurants in general are fairly noisy, not just the customers. And I’ve been in some pretty loud ones overseas, too, so maybe quiet restaurants are a Polish thing? Just wondering… 🙂

    I hope you are able to find some good reasons to take pictures. I find it pretty enjoyable, and some shots are a real challenge to capture properly. Not that I’m a professional, just speaking as an amateur/hobby photographer here.

    Hope your week is good.

  9. I get it–not taking pictures. I have so many pictures sitting in boxes that I don’t have much desire to take any more pictures. Even when I see photographic scenes, I don’t get much of an urge although I do enjoy sometimes seeing other people’s pictures.

    Recently Celine Cousteau, a world explorer, spoke in our county seat at a big meeting. A newspaper article reported that she admitted to probably boring her driver all the way home from the airport, marveling at the amazing sunset. She asked her audience later, “You guys get this sunset every night?” She has made 18 documentaries, apparently at least most of them about indigenous tribes from the Amazon rain forest. She has, however, trained herself to look for wonder wherever she visits. –Linda Rose

  10. You have such a way with words, Anita! This is great! I don’t think I think the same about everything you wrote about but I can definitely relate!

  11. I should add that I won’t be critical of you if you stop taking pictures, since a lot of mine don’t see the light of day very much I’m assuming yours might not, either. 🙃
    One thing that helped to show more of mine is that I was given a digital picture frame for my birthday a year or two ago, where I can simply throw a whole bunch of pictures on an SD card and let them scroll through in order or at random. I love it!

  12. This is too ironic – I was just asking Manu, yesterday, about whether or not you’d be able to go to the mall or the grocery store in RO and see someone in their pajamas (no, you wouldn’t)… then we got to talking about differences between Europe and the US, and I mentioned how you used to list the things you loved/hated about both places. Then I came home and saw you’d written a post about it! 😀

    I miss Europe, too!! Was just thinking about the train trip we took to Gdansk during our summer break and passing all the fields of wheat that had so many poppies and cornflowers growing in them… and the young Greek man on the train who was trying to teach us some Greek… the personal tour of Malbork Castle… Oh! The nostalgia! REALLY wish that it would have been practical for us to have come to the retreat!

    Along with the whole salad thing (though I disagree with you and LOVE putting candied nuts in my salads!) is the plethora of salad dressings here! Manu has taught me that a proper dressing for a salad is a sprinkle of salt, splash of vinegar and drizzle of olive oil! Now, I get in trouble, sometimes when I invite guests for a meal and have salad – I forget that Americans like their Ranch and Thousand Island and I almost never have a bottle of dressing on hand!

    • But on the other side of things, you should do a post of what IS nice about America/Americans! 😉 I’ve heard your list of dislikes about Poland/Poles, too!

      For instance, the difference between customer assistance: “Hi! Can I help you?” in a cheery tone of voice, compared to the almost resentful “Prosze…”

  13. I am glad you are learning to bloom where you are currently planted. That said, it also seems to be true that once you have lived in a completely different culture for any length of time, you can never really “come home” again. You will always be a bit of an outsider. I know my time in Africa and my 25+ years in Europe mean that I will always do things a little differently and have a slightly different mindset than my adopted home here in the far north of NH. Some things irritate, like the waste I see, and lack of understanding on just how good things are here, really. But I also wake every morning blown away by the beauty of the land around me, and the goodness of the people I am surrounded by. And fortunately I am not forced to buy flavoured artificial “creamers”!!

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