I'd expected to spend Sunday afternoon at my dining room table working on a tricky part of the Book of Ruth. Instead, my oldest son, his wife and one of my granddaughters "nannapped" me and took me to the Hood River County Fair. It was wonderful.
My granddaughter's favorite books from my hand-me-down collection include those with pictures of farm animals. And when we read them together, I say the animal's name and she answers with the sounds they make. We've got our own call-and-response thing going. Sometimes I tease her by arguing that pigs say "woof woof" and she looks at me puzzled, before she bursts into a grin, realizing, I hope, that I am only teasing her.
The drive to the fair was wonderful, speeding up the Columbia Gorge, through a typical Oregon mist, the deep blue river on our left and rocky cliffs and water falls on our right. It was the perfect prescription for a life lately grown too hectic. We left the freeway and wound through the hills around Hood River on our way to the fairgrounds. I know these roads well from decades of Apple Quests (so named by my husband), the October search for the perfect pumpkin and summer Sunday drives. I got a little weepy as I sat behind my son while he did the driving, knowing he'd sat behind his dad on so many similar trips before.
The Hood River County Fair is small, steeped in all kinds of 4-H competitions. We took in the kitchen entries, walked along tables of cookies and jams. But we lingered longest in the animal barns. My granddaughter, who says "whoa" in a way that makes me stop, take notice and smile every time she utters it, repeated the word each time she encountered a new animal. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens, roosters, goats, sheep, pigs, cows and horses greeted her with the same sounds she'd been practicing at story time. And she seemed incredulous.
You get the drift. There's no way that I can describe the wide-eyed delight on that little girl's face as she realized these animals, who looked just like the pictures in her books, spoke to her in languages that she recognized. I laughed all afternoon. What an unexpected surprise. One that has me smiling today as I sit at my dining room table working on a tricky part of the Book of Ruth.
This week I drove to Mount Angel Abbey, about an hour from Portland, to use the theological library. No matter how hectic the day, turning off of I-5 to pass through Woodburn and turn off to the hills of hops on the way to the abbey is a healing experience.
I climbed the stairs from the parking lot and turned to the left, to follow the brick path around the quad to the library. Immediately two pieces of blue tape caught my eye. It came to me that someone had marked the uneven bricks in the walk so that the spotter or another worker might repair, or level, the bricks so passersby didn't trip.
I continued to meander around the walk and thought about the arguments over racism, what constitutes a religion and who should stay in the United States that I'd left behind when I left the freeway. A voice inside my head noted that I've marked several troublesome spots with my own cross of blue tape and, in my mind at least, I know where they are. Now it's up to me to work on leveling out those uneven places, maybe going so far as digging up a brick or two and resetting them.
I know that other people are working on these trouble spots, but I need to find ways to help more with that work. That became the prayer in my heart and on my mind as I wandered through the library in pursuit of journal articles. Escaping is a good thing, but one must always come down from the hill and unevenness always awaits us.
I have been remiss in writing for this blog. A new grandchild, a book project and a knee injury have kept this personal writing low on my "to do" list. But I attended a remembrance of the Srebrenica genocide this past Saturday night and I can't stop thinking about it.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, here is a link describing how Bosnian Serb soldiers killed more than 8,000 Muslims in a Bosnian village that the United Nations had declared a safe haven 24 years ago. Here in Portland, we have a large community of Bosniaks who have created their own mosque and community center. Determined not to forget, they sponsor a commemoration of this tragedy every year. This was the second time I have attended, asked to speak because of my work with the Institute for Christian Muslim Understanding,
It was a difficult evening. The two hour program was conducted mostly in languages that I don't speak, so I sat and thought about how it feels to be the one who doesn't understand the readings, prayers and songs that surrounded me. The brief videos were hard to watch -- because of the horror they portrayed and the weeping of the women seated behind me, whose ties to the massacre were so much closer than my own. I spent a lot of time thinking about my two sons and their late father and how impossible it would be to live without the people I love most in this world.
Since that somber evening, I'm left with three things I simply can't absorb:
The men who conceived and carried out this massacre represented the victor in the Bosnian war and the village where the evil unfolded is their village now. A survivor observed that students do not learn about the genocide in the village schools.
In this world, where we pour out prayers and promises on bloody ground as we vow to never forget, voices are proclaiming that the genocide never happened.
And, finally, I read this morning that some religious leaders here in the United States are arguing that Islam is not a religion and so it's believers are not entitled to the same protections as Christians and Jews and other people of faith.
In my talk Saturday, I touched on the need to examine ourselves for the fear and loathing that can so easily be stirred up by politicians lusting after more power. I fear for all of us, especially those who imagine a world where anyone who disagrees with them is dead and forgotten. We cannot become fertile ground where evil thrives.