6:14 AM- The coffee percolates in the pitch-black kitchen. The ezan, the call to prayer, goes off from a crackly speaker somewhere in the neighborhood. It’s the first of five prayers of the day and also serves as my alarm clock. I use my phone to take a blurry picture of two mugs in front of the coffee machine and toss up my own silent prayer that I can finish my cup before my daughter, Esther, wakes up for the day.
7:21 AM – Everyone’s awake and I was able to drink 1.5 cups of hot coffee and even enjoy the last .5 with Afshin, my husband—a morning win. I take a picture of Esther standing in front of a wall of Polaroid’s near her crib, still donning pajamas and bedhead. Every day, we say good morning to the photos, naming each family member. Good morning, Uncle Erik. Good morning, Auntie Jenna. We’re spread out over three different continents and I want her to recognize everyone’s faces. She kisses her grandpa’s picture.
8:02 AM – Breakfast is well underway in the kitchen—Afshin’s job most mornings. Today he’s serving oatmeal and bananas. I record a short video of this scene that more or less happens similarly every morning: Afshin by the stove with a wooden spoon in one hand, raised high, the other hand on his hip. He’s singing a children’s nursery rhyme in Farsi. Esther is wiggling in her high chair, both arms also stretched above her head.
At the beginning of November, blogger Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #onedayHH challenge (One Day Hour by Hour). Thousands of Instagram users like myself committed to posting a snapshot of our day at least every hour. This wasn’t meant to be a time to share curated, beautiful photos, but an opportunity to share the “behind the scenes” look at our everyday lives—piles of laundry, working at a desk, walking the dog, dinner cooking on the stove.
I chose to participate for the first time this year because I was curious to see if I could find something worthwhile to snap a photo of every hour of my day. So often I feel that our life here in Turkey is only made up of waiting, a placeholder until our life really begins.
I chose to do this because I’m tempted to think that when we’re out of Turkey, settled and rested, then I’ll have something worthwhile to post or write about. I’m also tempted to overlook the little nuggets of goodness, like doing so somehow dishonors the grief and trauma my family carries in our day-to-day lives.
9:55 AM – Esther and Afshin are out the door. Today he’ll drop her off at my mother-in-law’s down the street on his way to work, which means I have the next couple of hours free. I take a photo of our freshly washed blankets and sheets clipped to the clothesline. The string of multicolored blankets is heavy and causes the line to bend under the weight. A neighbor across the courtyard secures her own family’s laundry to their clothesline.
10:30 AM – After picking up the house a bit, I take advantage of the odd free time and sit down to trudge through Farsi language learning. I snap a quick photo of my setup: a notebook, highlighters and pens, and one of Esther’s picture books I’m translating. It’s slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
11:21 AM – I start on dinner preparations before Esther gets back, kneading grated onion, coriander, and dried mint into a bowl filled with ground beef which will later turn into Turkish kofte. Afshin forwards me a video of Esther listening to Persian dance music at my mother-in-law’s while she picks up orange slices off a plate and pops them into her mouth.
In one of the final essays written before his passing, Brian Doyle wrote, “Sometimes we are starving to see every bit of what is right in front of us.” Only moderately familiar with his work, I read this particular quote of his the other week. A friend had posted the words on her Instagram, set against a beautiful sunset. I took a screenshot of it and found myself flipping through my camera roll to re-read the words several times.
I yearn so much for a life in the future, yet fail to see how it’s happening right in front of me. I’ve held off on painting rooms, buying a rocking chair, decorating for the holidays, and starting family traditions because I’m not where I want to be. But life has a strange way of moving forward whether we want it to or not. I have a daughter who is no longer a baby, who now has opinions and preferences and a very loud voice as she takes her first steps into toddlerhood. And my husband and I are still taking steps forward (then backward, then forward) in the thick, overgrown, and often unjust forest of immigrating to the US. Our circumstances bellow out for a resolution yet pages are turning and chapters are forming right here and now.
1:30 PM – With Esther down for a nap, I rest too, grabbing my paperback copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns and an instant coffee packet—a surprise find at the grocery store from the other week. When specialty imported items make their way to the shelves, any smart ex-pat will know to grab as many as possible because it’s uncertain when they’ll be back again.
3:42 PM – We head to the park, something we try to do every day. Two pigeons sit on top of the light pole overlooking the playground. Esther notices and shouts “bird,” the consonants of the word all smooshed together. The earthy-sweet smell floats around us as we stomp through piles of fire-red maple leaves.
4:47 PM – I finish cooking dinner with Esther next to me. She desperately wants to be involved in every task. We recently bought a kitchen helper stool for her to stand next to me when I cook, a purchase that made my husband and I wince. It wasn’t because of the price tag but more-so the investment of what that item symbolized. I teach her how to peel the cucumbers with my hand guiding hers. I mince garlic, chop walnuts, and mix the shredded cucumbers and more dried mint into yogurt.
I had a friend visit the other day. Over cups of coffee and Esther swiping little chocolate balls from the serving platter (which would later result in an over-hyped toddler chasing Turkish street cats up and down the alleyways long after the sun had set), we talked about the tension of being human and feeling all the jumbled up sorts of feelings all at once. While I wrangled Esther away from the sweets, my friend asked me to name some “little sparks” in my life at that moment.
Her question took me by surprise, forcing me to pause and reflect for a minute on the little bursts of goodness happening even in the middle of our trials. “The big sparks are nice,” she went on to explain, “but for me it’s the little sparks that keep me going.” Doyle’s words popped into my head again as I realized just how much I’m starving for the big sparks to happen—like getting on a plane with my husband and child on each side of me, finally crossing borders and oceans together as a family. But little sparks are happening every day if only I’d stop to take notice.
5:32 PM – We video call my mom in North Dakota, something we do every night. She reads to Esther and takes us on a tour with her iPad through her house. We agree that Esther remembers her summer spent here. After the books are read, Esther kisses the screen and we say goodbye.
7:32 PM – Afshin’s back, dinner is eaten, the kitchen cleaned, more dancing and reading and cuddling. Esther’s in bed for the night (finger’s crossed).
8:53 PM – Child-free, we try to sit down to watch the season finale of a series we’ve been watching—I’m even able to get a quick picture of the T.V. screen—but on this evening, we can barely keep our eyes open. We turn off the T.V., prepare the coffee machine, and head to bed. And as Afshin frequently says, “Tomorrow is another day.”
Trying something new won’t change your circumstances, but it may change your perspective. Committing to document a very ordinary Tuesday in November hour by hour opened my eyes to the little sparks of goodness in my life. It was something relatively simple to do, but through my phone’s camera, I saw the love between my husband and daughter, how they have a bond different than mine. I saw how Esther is growing and changing near-daily, making connections and trying out words. I took note of the beauty of the changing season and thought how maybe there is always a little beauty when things change. Maybe something is sparking in this in-between time.
Make no mistake, looking for the little sparks is not a way to guilt us into counting our blessings (believe me, I’ve done my fair share of making daily lists of gratitudes, hoping in vain it’d change my feelings). It’s deeper and richer than that. Practicing the art of pausing and noticing is an invitation to open our eyes to the goodness that buoys us above life’s choppy waters.
And while I yearn for our circumstances to resolve, making note of the little sparks of good that happen amid perfectly ordinary days might be what’s needed to stave off the hunger of the not yet.
To those of us feeling awkward giving thanks this holiday season,
To those of us tired of the futility of gratitude lists and counting blessings,
To those of us trudging through loss after loss,
May we continue to walk through the grief, knowing it will one day lead to healing and redemption.
But may we also give ourselves permission to pause along the way and notice the goodness, the gifts, and the little sparks that light the path forward.
May we recognize that doing so will not dishonor our grief, but instead, make room to let hope in.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Novel”.