Uncategorized

Every Bit of What is Right in Front of Us

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.

A Blessing:
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”.

Photo by Philip Moore on Unsplash

Uncategorized

The Awkwardness of Holding Both, the Permission to Do It Anyway

There are thirty-one boxes of mine taking up real estate in my parents’ home, much to their protests. Isn’t that what inevitably happens when children grow into adults? They don’t have room at their place for sentimental keepsakes or items not needed at the moment, and so it all makes its way back to their parents’ basement.

In any event, I have boxes of all sizes sitting like pieces of Tetris on storage shelves there. I know the exact number because I counted and made a list the last time I was home. None of the boxes are opened. A brand new set of kitchen knives, baking dishes, blender, rice cooker, espresso maker, cheese grater, and more wait to be cut open, taken out, and used. Almost everything was bought with gift cards given to us when we got married four years ago and again as graduation gifts when my husband finished his master’s last year. 

It is there, deep in a basement in North Dakota, where our imaginary future lies—one we had envisioned together even before we got married. Those boxes were meant to be used in our life in the US, a sort of nest egg put together by bits and pieces over the years, representing our dream of a life no longer overseas: a Kitchen-aid mixer placed on the counter in a just-moved-in apartment, begging for someone to mix a batter of cookie dough; a spice rack filled with tiny glass jars, a colorful representation of our bicultural family; a coffee machine waiting to be brewed faithfully every morning. 

But then a travel ban happened, barring my husband from entering the US solely due to the passport he carried. It forced us to get married in a country that was home to neither of us, our lives coming to a screeching halt. During four years, deadbolt after deadbolt was installed and latched, pushing us further from our future. After the implosion of the US immigration system, we scrambled to find anything that might be a key. The dream of living in the US was a shore that drifted just out of reach, a place of refuge that we could never quite grasp. We remained in Turkey.

Over time, those boxes became buried under plastic totes filled with photos taken decades ago and other boxes containing childhood stuffed animals, Christmas decor, and china sets. My mom would add a cloth shower curtain, and my sister a picture frame and some coffee mugs, signs they hadn’t given up hope, even though our imaginary future began to collect dust. 

For so much of our marriage, we have been living in the short term. This is seen in how we’ve furnished our apartment in Turkey. Most things were bought second-hand or were used items passed on to us from friends. I can probably count on one hand how many items we purchased new and at full price. If we had to leave at a moment’s notice, we could easily shed this current life for the one we desired because none of the pieces held much sentimental or monetary value to us.

It took us well into our daughter’s first year of life before we even considered putting together a nursery for her. We had the spare room, that wasn’t the issue, but the emotional energy it took to put down even shallow roots was a lot. But as she neared her first birthday, we did it anyway. We needed to and she deserved a space of her own. We didn’t paint and we bought very little, if anything, new. This helped quell the sting of making our house a home here and not there. What was once a dream reserved for our life in the future, was altered to fit our life in the present.

***

The other night, Afshin and I sat on the floor of Esther’s room, getting her ready for bed, something we tag team each night. He was reading a book in Farsi to her, one where daddy animals kiss their babies. He read a line: “Daddy giraffe kisses his calf’s neck,” causing Esther to squeal and run around the room, anticipating kisses from her dad.

I sat cross-legged leaning up against the wardrobe with a sippy cup of warm milk in hand, watching as they finished up this part of the nightly routine. I must have had a strange look on my face because Afshin lifted his head from the floor where he was now laying, curious to know what I was thinking. The book had ended with smooches all over and somehow Esther had gotten herself on top of him, each leg straddling his stomach, no doubt retaliating for the kissing. If the effects of my husband’s life of displacement had touched her in any way, it didn’t show. She forced him to lay back down with a shove and a mischievous smile and continued bouncing. 

I didn’t know how to describe what I was thinking, watching my family play and laugh together in this room in the middle of Turkey. It was this realization that life was happening right here, right now. Our tiny family of three was all under one roof, growing and blossoming, making memories, and settling into a calm pattern. These are the good old days. I felt a pinprick of guilt needling its way in as soon as that thought crossed my mind, like, if I acknowledged that this moment was good—a joyful little morsel amid hardship—that it would somehow seem as if I’m dumping aside any hope for the future. 

When I do spot a sliver of delight while living here—whether it be posting a photo of our family on the beach or a video of us at a playground on a warm day—I’m met with well-intentioned friends commenting on how it seems we are blooming where we are planted or how we’ve let God use us in this hard season. I cringe at these comments. Is this what our life looks like from the outside?

I think of how one-half of my family is living in displacement. When I post videos of our weekend vacation, what people don’t see is the stress it took to make that happen. No one sees the permission my husband had to get from the police to leave our province—something never guaranteed for a refugee and is a stark reminder that they have no rights here. My mother-in-law applied three times and got denied each time. No reason was given as to why and she had to stay behind. There was also the stress of evading police check points along the way to the beach. Police are notoriously fickle, even with the right papers, and could send my husband back to our city at any point. No one sees how he’s missing half an eyebrow in those seaside pictures—an outward sign of how he copes with the inward turmoil and trauma of being displaced.

Blooming we are not.

It takes a special kind of privilege to be able to bloom where you are planted, to grow and thrive and accept your circumstances. In fact, you cannot bloom where you are planted if your feet are being violently forced into the ground by great powers above you. You cannot bloom where you are planted if the soil is poor and shallow.

What good is a weekend vacation when the waiting is indefinite and no country wants you? To make someone wait indefinitely is one of the most twisted abuses of power, is it not? This is the life of a refugee.

And this is the source of my guilt.

***

Every day after her nap, Esther and I walk to the park behind our home. It was unusually windy this particular afternoon, while we squatted under a group of trees, examining the dried leaves already on the ground. Autumn had made itself known and the trees were a smattering of golds and scarlets that weren’t there a week ago. 

We fell into a simple game of me picking out a leaf (the crunchier the better) for Esther, where she then crushed it in her hand and disposed of the little pieces in a pile by her feet. Back and forth we went. But we’d stop our game each time the wind picked up. The already fragile leaves clinging desperately to their branches could not withstand the gusts of wind, causing a flurry of color to rain down around us. The leaves came alive, collectively chattering as they skittered across the pavement, creating a welcome mat on the ground for the coming colder, barren months.

I’m not one to use the word “magical” to describe everyday things often, but I’d use that word now. To watch my child’s eyes in wonderment, her hands outstretched, as a great whirlwind of leaves circled us, was magic. 

Maybe this was autumn’s way of laughing even though it was grieving summer’s end. Maybe each time the wind picked up, the swirl of leaves, dropping like pieces of confetti, was a gift from a season before and a gift for a season to come. 

Whatever it was, I found myself thinking those guilt-drenched words again: These are the good old days.

It takes a lot to face this monster head-on and shout that the good and the beautiful are happening right now. But I’m learning I can spot a sliver of good now while still honoring the grief I carry for our imaginary future. My hope for a life beyond this one still clings to me, like a child to his mother’s hem. Those thirty-one boxes aren’t going anywhere. They’re stacked in a basement an ocean away, waiting for our homecoming—a gift for a season to come.

Looking for the good doesn’t mean you’re blooming or that you’ve given up hope for a better tomorrow. It may mean you’re only surviving, remaining dormant until conditions change. Like the crunchy leaves raining down on us, it may look like a tiny spark of magic in a desolate season.

It feels scary to acknowledge the good during the hard, but here’s your permission to do it anyway. May we not overlook the magic in the everyday as we stretch our eyes forward. But may we also not lose hope for a future safe and secure. 

Hold both the good and the hard in all their discomfort and awkwardness. I’ll do the same. While yearning for a world that has yet to exist, we’ll be over here, making room for delight to thread its way in.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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 “Unmasking Fears”.

Our Story

Red Light Green Light

A little finger pokes itself into my eyelid causing me to fully wake up. The thick blanket I threw over the curtain rod does a pretty good job of blocking out the sun, but with a cloudless sky, the morning light still finds a way to push through the window.

Before having a baby, I swore I wouldn’t bed share. I read in a book how French parents never let their kids into their bedrooms much less their beds, something about creating a sense of mystery about adulthood I think. I didn’t totally catch the reasoning but it sounded great to pre-kid me. Of course, I’d do that. Why didn’t everyone do that? Keep those babies far away from me in the early mornings. Let that mystery abound…or something.   

But here I am at 6:45 am with a chubby finger pinching my eyelashes and a wide-eyed baby staring at me. She glued herself to my side for the better part of the night forcing me to sleep in one position on the very edge of the bed. I remind myself that I am solo parenting this summer and she did spend the first few hours of the night in her crib at least and that makes me feel a little better. 

“Eyes. Those are mommy’s eyes,” I say drawing out the last word, my voice still groggy. I try to remember the Farsi word for eyes, feeling guilty for all the English commands she’s starting to understand. But it’s too early in the morning for a bilingual lesson. She paws my face away and laughs, quickly growing bored of naming body parts.

What was supposed to be a six-week trip back to the US to visit family has turned into a whole summer. For various reasons, the departure date changed three different times—first to the beginning of July, then to the middle of August, and now to the beginning of September.

Since marrying Afshin, who holds refugee status in Turkey, we have lived in a way where the endpoint is continuously moving. Maybe we’ll be gone by Christmas, maybe the New Year, for sure by the summer. Like a single cord, the shifting conclusion constantly pulls us forward, and before I know it, five years have passed. 

This summer was no different. Six weeks turned into two months which turned into over 100 days. When Esther and I left Afshin at the airport this May, we’d only expected to be away for a short time. We hadn’t planned to be gone all summer. Hence my concern over Esther’s lack of hearing much Farsi and only seeing her dad through the phone. 

I wish I remembered where I read this, but someone likened this last year and a half to the children’s game of “Red Light Green Light”. Stop go stop go. Freezing for who knows how long on red then sprinting as fast as one can while on green. The writer was referring to the pandemic but I think it aptly describes our family’s reality over these past several years. That tiny thread drags us forward, stops us in our tracks, then yanks us into motion again. 

“But did you see the video of the baby?” I ask Afshin who is on the other side of the screen 6,000 miles away. I’m curled up on the couch in my parent’s basement with the video monitor next to me. He is in our apartment in Turkey, his phone propped up on the desk, his focus on his computer just off screen. Esther is napping in my high school bedroom where there are still picture frames of teenage friends lined up on the bookshelf and magazine clippings of sappy quotes tacked to the wall, remnants of my life from over a decade ago. Now I’m back with my own child this time. But my husband has stayed behind, still waiting for his allowance to enter the US, still waiting to see my life here, still waiting for stability and certainty. 

“A baby. Someone gave them their baby.”

I’m referring to the video circulating the internet where desperate people crowd US soldiers in Afghanistan. In one clip, an infant is offered up above the crowd. A soldier reaches down over the barbed wire and takes the baby in his arms.

I bristle at my husband’s cavalier response to seeing the video and I am once again reminded of how we function as a couple—half US citizen, half refugee, always one foot on each, straddling that messy middle.

After seeing the video of the baby right after watching throngs of people holding onto a military plane taking off, I had to delete Instagram off my phone for the weekend. I thought of Esther napping a few feet away from me. It was all too much for my heart to take. More guilt seeps in as I know how privileged I am to be able to shut out the horrors of the world just by the press of a button.

But he’s seen this before. His own people have gone through this. He’s living this now. The desperation, the willingness to do anything if it meant safety. The agony and fear running so deep that handing over your flesh in the name of security is the only option. He can’t shut it out. 

We video chat throughout the day, as much as an 8 hour time difference lets us. Through our conversations over FaceTime, I am struck by how we can jump so easily between topics these days, shifting from the good and the not-so-good without missing a beat. In one breath we chat about the size of diapers Esther is in now and when she napped that day. In the next, we wonder how long we’ll be in Turkey and the absolute injustice of being displaced. We talk of the sadness of leaving my family coupled with the goodness of the three of us being back together.⁣ 

I fill up Esther’s sippy cup and buy ranch-flavored puffs while thinking about being a wife and mom and what it might be like to raise a daughter in Afghanistan or Iran. How lucky we are. And I say things like, “You should have seen her eating her rice last night!” and a minute later, “You should have heard the things they said about refugees.” 

There are video calls showing Afshin the inside of Walmart, discussing our uncertain future while putting salad kits and rotisserie chicken in the cart. I send videos of Esther taking her first independent steps and then footage of people’s bodies falling from the wings of a plane. Pictures of a Starbucks cup, freshly painted nails, cities under siege, fleeing on foot. Giggles and horror. The everyday and the unbelievable. It’s a pendulum constantly swinging or maybe it’s just a chaotic swirl of everything, too complicated to pick apart.⁣

It’s never just joy and nothing else. These days, there’s never a time to savor joy, really savor it, letting it roll around our mouths without any other competing emotion. It’s tiring feeling joy and _____, both/and, always juggling the two. Always swinging back and forth just like we jump back and forth between topics.

Because I’ve lived in on the corner of bitter and sweet for some time now, I’ve learned the importance of looking for even just a speck of good. In her weekend blessing, author Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes, “I hope more than anything else that you found goodness. Sometimes it’s hard to see through the fog of what surrounds us, but I just keep reminding myself that it’s there, somewhere, just through that fog, waiting to be gathered by the handful when the time is right.”

I think about that—the fog that surrounds us, the hard and the heavy—as I hold Esther’s hands up above her, walking in tandem around my parents’ front yard. We stop to examine a damp leaf, crouch down to touch the rough gravel, stomp our feet in a leftover puddle. She’s getting over a cold and her nose is a faucet and her tissue is my pant leg. I think about how our neighborhood aunties in Turkey would be clicking their tongues if they knew Esther was outside in the cool air with a cold. The sun shines through the trees casting dancing leaves across the siding of the house, catching Esther’s attention. A swirl of light—such a hopeful, beautiful thing. Goodness through the fog.

Maybe I can’t fully savor joy all by itself. Not right now. But the little moments of abbreviated joy, uninterrupted for only a second, are worth noting too. 

I wish I had the words to share about what’s happening in the world right now and in our life. I wish I knew where we are in the story, when the conclusion will come. I wish I knew how long this chapter would last and if I should buy blackout curtains or make do with a blanket over a curtain rod, if I should pack Christmas decorations or if we’ll be gone by then. I wish I knew when the light would turn green and stay green. 

But all I have is a sleeping baby one room over who pokes my eyes and laughs when I blow raspberries on the back of her neck, who naps with her bottom in the air and a fuzzy blanket grasped in her fist. Peaceful and simple and settled. And maybe that’s life. Everything and all the things. The hard, the good, the ordinary, and the unknown.⁣ I don’t know when the conclusion will come, but in the meantime, when it’s right, I will try to gather the goodness—by the handful.

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

Our Story

For Some Things There Are No Wrong Seasons

Hefting the damp fabric over the line taut across the balcony, I secure the freshly washed bedsheet the best I can with the clothespins between my teeth. Our landlord and his wife are down in the garden below. He’s tilling the dirt inside the perimeter of freshly laid pavers, preparing for a summer garden, while his wife watches him work a few paces back. No doubt she’s throwing a nagging comment or two his way.

Before moving to Turkey, I’d never hung clothes on a line. I was strictly a dryer girl back in the States, but dryers are hard to come by here. After years of living here, I still wonder if there’s some sort of unspoken rulebook for hanging laundry among the Turkish housewives. Is there an official way to hang bedsheets so they don’t flip over the line when a big gust of wind comes, twisting everything together? What’s the etiquette when said wind blows your pair of jeans off the line and they land on your neighbor’s balcony (something that may have happened to me more than once)? And what is supposed to be done with underwear? Are they ever clipped to the line? Where else do they go? Lord help me if one of them ever blows off onto my neighbor’s balcony.

“Many refugees got their flights scheduled yesterday,” Afshin says. He’s on the other end of the balcony, holding Esther as she waves to a passing police car. It’s a new skill she’s learned but she only really waves to cars and dogs. We always try to get outside for some fresh air in an attempt to squeak out a few more minutes before her morning nap. We’re under lockdown though, so the balcony will have to do.

I’m crossing my fingers the landlord’s wife doesn’t notice me three stories up as I struggle to clip the wet duvet to the clothesline, possibly breaking one of those unspoken rules. I can imagine her tut-tutting at the foreign girl who knows nothing about keeping a home. The duvet makes a loud snap in the morning wind as the bottom hits against the wall of our building.

It’s mid-May and already the dry, arid Middle Eastern heat has made its presence known. Our landlord’s grapevines are just beginning to produce small leaves and even smaller grapes, creeping along the backyard trellis. The kittens born from the mangy street cats are mewling; the line of fuzzy ducklings follows their mother. As if on a cue unbeknownst to me, all the neighbors lug out their heavy carpets, musty from the months inside, and beat out the dust with a sharp, solid crack of a wooden pole.

I don’t say anything to Afshin’s announcement about the refugees going because what is there to say, really? Desperate people are getting their tickets out of Turkey, in part thanks to Biden’s raising the refugee cap. And thank God for that. After years of living in precarious limbo and weathering four years of an anti-immigration administration, they can finally move on. Relief for them is coming. But, as things would have it, we’re still here.

I continue pinning pillowcases to the clothesline—easier than the duvet and easier than responding.

I read once that the feet of displaced people are shoved into cement shoes when they flee. That may sound like a paradox, but when one runs from the jaws of the shark of war, persecution, and violence, they soon become stuck in the nearest country. And they are forced to stay there until another, third country maybe accepts them. This can take years. Sometimes this never happens. The feet that carried them away from danger now glue them into a place of instability and uncertainty. It’s difficult for roots to grow in instability for the ground is never solid for those who flee.

It’s been seven years since my husband fled his home, running from the hands of the monster of a government, seven years of wearing cement shoes. It’s been seven years of watching the light of his dreams flicker as he finished his 20s and now approaches his mid-30s this summer.

We feel left behind, my husband, daughter, and me—even though two out of three of us are U.S. citizens. But we cannot move back home without breaking up our family. And so, the anxiety mounts as we watch those who came before us leave, watch as our community shifts and moves on, as others put their dreams into action, get to flourish, and grow. But we are here. We’re still here, balancing carefully on a tight rope with an ever-shifting endpoint up ahead.

Mary Oliver has a poem called “Hurricane” that pops into my head while clipping the sheets to the line. The poem is about how a hurricane left devastation in its wake, and yet, towards the end of the summer season, the trees that had been decimated began to grow and blossom. It was the wrong season, yes, / but they couldn’t stop.

“That’s a good thing,” I finally tell Afshin as I gather up the leftover clothespins after Esther had enthusiastically tipped over the container. She loves to dump anything and everything out of baskets these days. “It’s a good sign that refugees are getting their flights scheduled. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Our time hasn’t come yet. I wrestle with that grief now more than ever as we raise our daughter oceans away from family—not like I ever imagined. This hurricane has slammed into our life, cutting down our branches and assailing our plans. But maybe we are not behind, not just yet. Maybe new things are happening and growing but we just can’t see them. Maybe that fragile cable we are balancing on is leading us to hope. In fact, I know that to be true. Maybe we are measly little sticks right now but somewhere deep down, green is growing, waiting to burst forth.

The closing line of Mary Oliver’s poem goes like this: “For some things / there are no wrong seasons. / Which is what I dream of for me.” May this be a prayer for those who feel left behind, for those weathering hurricanes, for those in cement shoes, for us all.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Our Story

Spring, Interrupted

Our town has a weekly outdoor market for locals to buy fruits and vegetables. Every Friday morning, trucks full of fresh produce back into an empty parking lot and vendors begin unpacking their inventory. Once set up, there are sections for endless fruits and veggies but also areas for spices, nuts, cheese, butter, eggs, and olives, and a place for clothing and household items that spills out onto the surrounding streets. At the busiest of times, shopping at the bazaar is loud, crowded, and chaotic. It’s not unusual to hear an amusing “HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY-HEY-LADY” shouted from the vendors trying to entice buyers with their products for a good price.

This past year, in an effort to keep Esther and me safe and healthy, I’ve stayed home from shopping at the bazaar. Instead, Afshin goes, carrying with him a collaborative grocery list written in both English and Farsi.

He comes into the kitchen armed with bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and apples, and hands me a coffee. Fridays are also the last day we can be out of the house until Monday because Turkey is back under weekend lockdowns. To help quell the sting of the approaching lockdown, he’s gotten into the habit of swinging by Starbucks each week after grocery shopping—a custom I am 100% okay with.

I start putting away the produce and rinse some of the herbs in the sink. Afshin begins making a Persian omelet for an early lunch with eggs from our neighbor’s chickens. The omelet is more like scrambled eggs but made with tomato sauce and cumin and served with crusty flatbread from the neighborhood bakery.

Lest anyone thinks we live in a Martha Stewart catalog, the strange neighbor out our kitchen window is once again setting small fires to unidentifiable piles of trash around his driveway. Why he periodically does this? No one knows. And a mangy street dog is sniffing around the perimeters of our building, hoping in vain that Afshin will throw down a bone or two from last night’s dinner. Esther is asleep across the hallway, so we’re putting the food away in silence, moving slowly, and sending a dirty look when the other makes too loud of a noise. Quaint and rustic it is not always.

I give the herbs a final shake in the sink and place them in empty pickle jars filled with water. Stirring the sizzling eggs with a fork over the stove, Afshin says a snowstorm is on its way and will hit this weekend. I glance outside while rotating the jars so the old, worn-off labels face the window, trying to make the parsley and dill look like intentional bouquets of greenery. The neighbor has gone back inside, leaving behind small blackened piles of mysterious ash along the pavement.

Pink blossoms bloom on the branches of a spindly tree that had somehow made its way out of the dirt ridge in front of our home. No one specifically planted the tree at the location—a mound of sandy dirt fortifying the neighbor’s wall. But deep in the dirt the seeds germinated anyway and the roots grew.

It’s well into spring. The flowers are blooming. The temps are rising. The mourning dove in the evergreen laments. And now the snow is coming.

April showers bring May flowers, but what do April snowstorms bring?

•••

Three years ago, Afshin decided to grow out his hair. I thought he was joking when he said he always wanted a ponytail but soon realized how committed he was to the growing out process. Ever a supportive spouse, I taught him how to use a hair tie (a skill I thought was innate in all of us but, boy, was I wrong), put his hair in a messy bun, and even how to french braid. But what started as a bucket list kind of thing—seeing how long his hair could grow—took on a deeper meaning.

In what I assume was a nod to the Old Testament, growing out his hair was a vow of some sort. And that once a visa was in hand, once God allowed the doors to open, once he could leave, only then would he shave his head.

Hair is a powerful thing. It’s something only the person it’s attached to can control—choosing how and when and why to cut or not to cut. This feels especially important now when the comfort of certainty and choice has been taken away. To be able to cut it once we were in the U.S. represented a dream, something for a time to come. It became a symbol of stepping out in faith, trusting that better things were ahead.

But the hair got heavy and too much to maintain. Showers took too long. And then there were the strands left all around the house. More than that though, the months rolled on and there was no visa or updates on our case. Emails to congresspeople and video calls with lawyers led to more dead ends. So, in a Samson-esque fashion, we buzzed off the long hair together.

***

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mother now, but the impending snowstorm had me worried about the fragile pink blossoms on the trees, especially on that skinny tree growing out of the dirt hill. Will someone protect them? How will farmers fair with the late spring frost? Are they concerned, too?

This is maybe a little embarrassing to admit, but I spent nap time researching what happens to fruit trees when an unexpected freeze comes in the springtime. Hey, we were under a weekend lockdown and didn’t have much else going on. And did I mention I was worried about those tiny, baby blossoms?

So as the snow fell over the weekend, juxtaposing the fresh, green grass and the chirping of songbirds, I learned about spring freezes. The untimely dip in temperatures can kill the blossoms, much to my dismay, affecting fruit production.

I thought about the apricot trees growing on the side of our building and the cherry trees in the yard behind us and the retired couple who spends hours outside tending to their garden. The snow blew sideways Saturday and Sunday and the flakes gathered on the ends of tree branches. And I wondered if the blossoms would survive or if they’d die before they ever got a chance to produce fruit.

***

The same weekend we buzzed his hair, Esther began trying to pull herself up on the coffee table and the couch. Much to our excitement, our little potato (who’s rolled over exactly three times in her life) was finally becoming interested in exploring her surroundings.

Time staggered forward as she turned 10 months, soon to be a year—a whole year of her life in Turkey, still an ocean away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins she’s never met. Life was growing here, but our dreams were dying. The hope of living together with our family felt like it was slipping further and further away.

We’ve had to bury a lot of dreams over the past several years. Some were big and some small, but losses nonetheless. For us, the last four years of our marriage are not how we imagined. It’s not how we would have written the story. We’ve had to get used to living in the infinite present. Today, then today, then today, never flipping the calendar to tomorrow.

We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t imagine it to be like this.

These strange days filled with uncertainty seem to echo the same sentiments of the unseasonably cold weather. Like a dam bursting, the sky broke open months after winter announced its goodbye, disrupting the order of things, tipping the balance. Winter screamed when spring should have been there breathing a steady sigh of relief.

Maybe that’s why I was so fixated on the blossoms surviving the spring freeze. Here was something beautiful growing, bringing forth the promise of fruit, of sustenance, of sunny days and life. Hope was blooming—until temperatures dipped below freezing until large flakes of snow blew sideways.

***

When Afshin cut his hair, it was the day before Easter, traditionally referred to as Holy Saturday on the liturgical calendar. It was the day after Christ’s death on the cross and the day before the stone rolled away and he stepped out of the tomb, alive.

I can imagine that particular day felt despairing and disorientating for Christ’s followers. Maybe it was heavy with stillness, questions, and waiting. Maybe it felt like all the hope that had been growing died right there on the cross. Maybe it felt as if life had been sucked away before it had a chance to grow.

These days feel a little like that, where there is no movement, no growth, no life. The fragility of hope has been interrupted by freezing temperatures, killing off any dream before it even has an opportunity to grow. Sometimes I wonder if losing a dream—something we never got a chance to have—stings more than if we’d had and then lost whatever it was we wanted.

But what I also learned while researching spring freezes over the weekend lockdown, is that healthy, well-established foliage can grow back. If roots are dug down deep enough, the tree has the strength to fight against the cold. It’s only a temporary setback. Once the snowstorm passes, the surviving blossoms will continue to grow and bear fruit in the coming weeks and months. Order will be restored. One needs only to wait.

On Holy Saturday, resurrection was at work and something glorious was happening, even when it was hidden. Now, we can only hope that underneath the brown mush and frozen branches, life is growing. Things are moving.

And rest assured, it’s still spring—and thank goodness for that. We need the spring.