I’ve added a new category; I’ve written so many posts in this vein, and it looks like I will continue so to do. Might as well add it as a staple: Stranger in a Strange Land.
Probably the first mention of that phrase in literature is in Genesis; Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the desert where he meets a nice girl and marries her. He refers to himself as an alien, a stranger in a strange land. Both Jewish culture and Islamic culture put a high value on taking care of the stranger. Our bible is full of references to taking care of the alien.
Here is one of my favorite stories about what my friend Donald Rumsfeld calls those “unknown unknowns. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
I was at a party, and in a conversation with two women who are widows. We were talking about some of the difficulties, and what has caught them by surprise.
I said I didn’t know how they got through it, that I had a feeling if AdventureMan goes before I go, I’m going to be really really angry, tearing my hair out and shrieking angry, shredding my clothes angry, not wanting to be around other people angry, so so so so angry because if I let myself feel sad I don’t know if I can ever pull myself out of that abyss.
The newest widow just looked at me like I had said something culturally inappropriate, which, it turns out, I had. There was one of those brief silences, you know, it may only be seconds but it feels like it goes on forever because you don’t know what you said.
“If you were from around here,” she said, “You’d know what to do. You go into Southern Belle mode. We’ve all seen it all our lives, so we know how to do it. You pick out your clothes. You smile and shake hands. You put your guests first. You stand and smile until the last guest has gone.”
I was stunned. “You hold yourself together through all that?” I asked.
“Well,” she said with a smile, “You have a plan. You know where you can go with a friend or cousin after the funeral, a place where you are safe and where you can get knee-walking drunk and do your wailing where you need to and no one will ever know.”
She didn’t even have to say “You must not be from around here” but I heard it, loud and clear. There are standards. No weeping and wailing, no public display of emotion, no lack of self-control, oh-my-goodness, I think I must be back in the Middle East. I am in my own country, and still, very much a stranger in a strange land.
It was our house guests’ last night in our area, and we wanted to do something special and memorable with them, so we booked on Olin Marler’s Sunset Cruise out of Destin. We found this trip several years ago, and while our guests enjoy it, we do, too!
It is mid-season in Destin. The Spring Break craziness has just ended, and the Summer Madness has not yet begun. A boat for forty holds ten of us tonight, plus the crew, and the crew knock themselves out to show us a good time.
We had a gorgeous sunset, with dolphins
We had a whole bunch of dolphins, grown ones and little ones, and they were having a great time. They stuck around, and we watched for about half an hour, no other boats in sight.
As we were leaving, the full moon rose and gave us a glorious ride home:
We can’t promise future house guests this experience. We’ve never had it this good. Maybe our guests brought this good luck?
Several months ago, we noticed a wren flying close to our house, flying out, flying back, flying out, flying back, and she was always carrying something.
“I think she might be building a nest in our watering can,” I told AdventureMan. He checked the can, and sure enough, it was full of little straw and twigs and pieces of string. Her mate showed up, also bringing strings and twigs and grass clippings.
Weeks went by, and we enjoyed their company. We gave the plenty of space.
We had houseguests, and as we were about to leave one day, AdventureMan spotted four tiny little wrens, trying their wings for the first time. He quickly snapped a shot with his iPhone of the two not yet flying. It is a good thing; by the next day, they were gone. We were just so thankful we got to see them, and our house guests got to see them, too!
What fun! We hope they will come back and nest with us again next year!
We’d been up late. This was the first text I received, early this morning, as we entered our day a little more slowly than usual.
“Shoot-out in Pensacola! Are you OK?”
Yes, we are OK, and we were in the thick of things last night. We’d both had long days, and we were headed to bed a little earlier than usual. I had just finished my prayers when I heard a very loud screech of wheels going around a nearby corner. Usually when the screech is that loud, it is followed by a crash or a thud, but this time the car seemed to be OK. Very soon after that, however, I noticed flashing lights on the ceiling, flashing and dancing in red and blue.
I know those lights. When we lived in Kuwait, we lived on a busy corner, a corner where the Kuwait police frequently set up check-points to check people’s residence cards. AdventureMan could sleep right through them, but sometimes I was wakeful, and would watch. There was a lot of drama as the cars had no where they could go, there was no where they could turn off, they were trapped. Many people who lived in Kuwait illegally, or whose visas had expired were caught and taken in to be processed and, if they couldn’t prove someone was sponsoring them, deported.
It was ugly, and heartbreaking, and sometimes . . . comical. Ancient Arab men would talk to the police, it was begging of a different sort, and kiss the policeman. Kissing a policeman is just something that would never occur to me, so to me, it looks absurd, but in the context of Kuwaiti culture, it is perfectly acceptable. Sometimes the old Arab man would get a pass, just as a pretty girl in the US will sometimes get a pass.
So I “arose from my bed to see what was the matter.” There were big SUVs with flashing lights blocking traffic to the south, seven or eight cars in an array to the north, cars blocking entrances to several streets to the east. The only traffic were Sheriff’s department cars, trucks and SUV’s, some with flashing lights, some unmarked. They were all working together.
I called the Police Department.
“I live at blah blah,” I said, “and there appears to be a lot of activity, flashing lights and stuff, is there something I should know?”
“We’re looking for some suspects,” the officer answered tersely.
“OK, thanks!” I chirped, not knowing any more than I knew before.
There have been gangs of kids who come through the neighborhoods from time to time, looking for unlocked cars to steal cash, guns, or even the cars if the owner leaves the keys in them. Recently three young teens in Pensacola stole a school bus and drove it for about three hours before being stopped. This response seemed a little extreme for neighborhood looters, even more grown burgers. There were a lot of resources involved, people, cars, canines, a lot of man-hours and teams of people going door to door, searching the backyards with flashlights and the dogs.
They searched our yard twice.
We have a high fence and keep our gates locked. When I saw the team methodically making their way towards our house, I called out to AdventureMan to go down and unlock the gates. As the team was trying to get in, I opened the window, and flashlights zipped up to illuminate my face.
“My husband is on his way now to unlock the gates to let you in,” I said.
One of the guardians of the law looked at me, astounded, and said “You lock your gates?”
It seemed very funny to me at the time, considering the activity, but I didn’t dare laugh, clearly this was serious business, and around then AdventureMan opened the gate for them.
It was a cold cold night in Pensacola, near freezing, and I felt sorry for the pure, hard work of searching house-to-house in the very cold temperatures.
A part of me also felt sorry for whoever was being chased, hunkered down somewhere, being chased by dogs, and, once the adrenalin wears off, being really cold.
Cars raced here and there, the teams continued their searches and we kept watch. We heard a helicopter, briefly, and we don’t know if it was a police helicopter or a news helicopter. Then, around 12:30, all the cars raced off. Somewhere. It was very quiet, and we gratefully went back to bed.
This morning I didn’t feel quite so sorry for the couple, who had invaded a house in our neighborhood, held a couple hostage, and then stole their car to escape. Those were the last few minutes of a man’s life, and he spent them terrorizing and stealing that which was not his. After another – their third – dangerous fast car chase, they were trapped, and a gunfight ensued, killing the man. During this final gunfight, Blake Fitzgerald used his girlfriend, Brittany Harper, as a shield.
I was never afraid. If you had seen the number of police / sheriff’s deputies out last night, you would understand. They were focused and professional. They were given an opportunity to practice their skills. They performed as a team, and you could feel that they were excited to be doing the job, on a grand scale, that they are trained to do. They stopped a couple on an interstate spree of kidnapping, abducting, robbing, invading houses, burglarizing and terrorizing. They can feel good today, about what they accomplished last night.
And I was just telling you in my last entry what a quiet life we lead . . . 🙂
Back in Panama City for our annual gathering with our sweet daughter-in-law’s family, we check in at the Sunset Inn on a glorious day in late November. The view that greets us thrills our hearts:
There aren’t too many people staying at the beach, go figure, it’s Thanksgiving and families are gathering, but this is a GREAT time to be here. We have a full kitchen, so I can still roast my garlic-broccoli, make my Mom’s Cranberry Salad and make the topping for the Soused Apple Cake all while having the door wide open and listening to the waves roaring to the shore. This is one of my happiest places on earth.
These small surf boards give a lot of pleasure on smaller waves:
I thought I was back in Kuwait, overlooking the family park in Fintas:
I can see things slipping a little at the Sunset Inn, carpets not being replaced, linens getting thinner from so many washings, small repairs not being made – and I know our days there are numbered. Sigh. What they can’t replace in the personal character of the management – I can run down and beg a couple pieces of tinfoil to cover my broccoli; it is their motel, they manage it personally. There are countless soulless condos and motel rooms in Panama City Beach, but only one Sunset Inn.
We are having a streak of amazing weather, cool cool nights with lovely mornings and warm, but not steaming afternoons. Yesterday, on the way back from lunch, we saw a gathering of hundreds of pelicans on Bayou Texar, munching away on whatever was plentiful at that neck of the Bayou. I really like pelicans; refugees from another era, looking like little pterodactyls . . .
At first, I thought oh, that is amazing, Florida has the lowest rate of all the states. Then, I looked a little closer . . . no data? No data on homicides related to male partners?
Here is what the report summarizes:
The States Where Women Are Most Likely to Be Killed By Men
Every year, the Violence Policy Center tracks which states have the highest rate of incidents in which one man kills one woman, a typical indicator of domestic homicide. The Huffington Post crunched the data to find the worst offenders over the past decade. Between 2003 and 2012, Nevada had the highest rate, at 2.447 women killed per 100,000. In 2012, however, the most recent year for which data is available, Nevada’s rate dropped to 1.83, and Alaska took the top spot with 2.57 women killed per 100,000.
It is horrifying in Florida; men killing their wives, their live-ins, their daughters, men and women striking or burning their children, or shooting them . . . but it is also horrifying that Florida can’t – or won’t – provide the statistics when every other state has.
It all goes back to the idea of women as property. Arrrgh, I am speechless with frustration.
Today’s meditation from Forward Day by Day deals with precious water. I think about how innocent we were, all of us in Pensacola, going about our daily lives as if every tomorrow would be so lovely, buying and planting new plants in our gardens, sweeping, cleaning, painting, all the things we do in Spring. And then – the deluge. And after the deluge, the “Boil water” warning (now lifted) because the water sources had been contaminated.
We have two cases of water set aside in case of hurricane. Two cases . . . really isn’t very much. We also have large containers which we fill – for hurricanes – so we can flush toilets (assuming the water mains have not broken) and keep a little clean. Those containers have not yet been filled for the upcoming season . . . Too much water – and then, too little.
After hearing the haunting strains of Nkosi Sekelel iAfrica just last weekend, I hear it again as I read the meditation:
SATURDAY, May 3
Exodus 17:1. But there was no water for the people to drink.
“Water is life—SAVE it!”
It was just a small sign on the wall next to the lavatory in a bed and breakfast, but it made a big impact. The word “SAVE” was written boldly in red block letters. Each time I approached the lavatory, my eye was drawn toward that sign. Each time, before I turned on the water, I asked myself, “Is this really necessary?”
South Africa is a water-challenged nation, and it shows. From small signs in bathrooms to national conservation campaigns to the removal of nonindigenous plants that use too much water, the country is trying to meet the challenge.
The South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees access to clean water for every citizen. After apartheid, the government extended water lines to all townships so residents without running water could at least get clean water from communal taps.
Our faith calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation. That includes the water we drink. Help us, Lord, to live out our faith by conserving, protecting, and sharing this life-giving resource that you have given us. Because water is life. Amen.