Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’


At the train station; in addition to the packed lower class cars, young men climb up top.

Throughout my work in education and inter-religious dialogue, I refer to Piaget’s idea of “disequilbrium.” The uncertain, nerve-wracking, unpleasant feeling that happens when we encounter something new in the world.

I think my knowledge is intact, I encounter something previously unknown, and things shift for me…eventually, I am able to incorporate my new understanding, and then I have learned it. We cannot learn without disequilibrium.

India is a place par excellence for experiencing disequilibrium. And yet, I also experience so many moment so grace, or delight, or unexpected pleasure. Some examples:

Moments of disequilibrium:

  • Eating the same brown chipati and cooked vegetables at every meal
  • Wanting to stick to a time schedule, but things running too long, later, or not happening at all
  • Sitting on my bed and watching a woman clean my floor by hand, crouched constantly, wiping every bit of the surface
  • Being stared at, hearing “hello, hello,” by vendors and touts who want to get my attention, being photographed with or without my permission
  • Haggling: the weary, constant pressure of not knowing if I’m paying too much, compounded by the guilt that I could probably may more than they ask
  • Having access to places poor Indians or other women are not allowed, given my status as a white, Western woman
  • Not having any control over where or when or what I eat
  • Attending very long lectures with no discussion, not the educational style that is common for me
  • Communicating with the few Hindi words I’ve used, and few English words a driver or cook (for example) know, and feeling exhausted, unsure, and frustrated all at once
  • Riding in a bicycle rickshaw: feeling too heavy, guilty as we go up hills, a deep and panicked guilt that another human is sweating and straining to carry my weight—and yet, he eagerly sought out my business, and is happy to receive my fare
  • When I buy a votive from a little boy on the ghats, and a little girl of age seven, also selling votives, says to me accusingly (and correctly), “Oh buying from the boy but not the girl! That is not right!”
  • Hearing of progressive campaigns in the north that work to educate families that “Two girls equal one boy”
  • Feeling guilty when I throw trash on the street at the train station, but I don’t feel guilty when I throw larger amounts of garbage away in the US because I don’t see it
  • Begging: being told that we shouldn’t give money to child beggars, but they touch my hand and follow me when I avoid looking at them
  • Hearing that the woman who cleans my room has had to remove her daughter from school because she can no longer afford tuition; yearly tuition is $200 US
  • The washerman won’t wash my underwear; he will wash men’s underwear only
  • I am restricted from visiting temples if I’m on my period
  • Sour yogurt drink: I don’t like it, but people seem happy and eager to give it to me, so I drink it
  • The bird hospital: I don’t see the point of keeping dying and injured birds (mostly pigeons) alive and feeding them
  • Educational style: I feel torn between wanting to give advice on how things could be “corrected” (ie, made more Western) and learning to get along in a new style
  • I don’t like taking off my shoes to go into the dining room and eat. I hate the feeling of food and dirt on my feet as I stand in line to get food.
  • Non-Western toilets, especially on the train


The Jaipur chef preparing golgappa for us. I was definitely unsure about eating these, especially after he dips them by hand into spicy water…but they are delicious and I can eat ten at a time.

Moments of delight:

  • Finding food I like, complimenting the cook, and he remembers that I like it and makes it again
  • Coming across a wedding procession
  • Talking to children about their school, showing them pictures of my family and home, sharing songs
  • Fresh mangoes that have been chilled all afternoon
  • Clean sheets on the train, falling asleep and sleeping soundly on an overnight train
  • Strangers anticipating my question or need for directions, and helping me
  • The reverence for books: the highly cared-for libraries, with old texts behind lock and key, the solemnity with which the librarians let me take out individual books
  • Being welcomed into worship at the temple every time I go, getting to anoint the statues, placing fruit, singing, clapping, and praying
  • Looking at children’s work and art in schools
  • Feeling grateful for my healthy body
  • Feeling grateful for my education and opportunities
  • Feeling inspired to teach and learn
  • Having a shop-keeper move heaven and earth to find me a container of peanut butter
  • Experiencing Bollywood movies
  • Following Gandhi’s footsteps at the place of his martyrdom
  • Meeting teachers in their 70s and 80s who still have a deep passion for teaching peace and justice
  • Singing old gospel songs along with table and saringi

When I look at this list, the moments of discomfort seem small, individually, but being so long in a strange place—they all add up. They all work together to remind me, constantly, that I am [not yet?] at home here. I can encounter something completely unexpected at any given moment, and so must maintain a posture of possibility.

And, it’s this openness to possibility, paradoxically, that leads to many of the things that delight me. A willingness to try to keep talking, or to sing, or to dance, or to sit down and talk to children. To try yet another new food. To get on the train, the boat, the rickshaw, without knowing where it goes next.

One of my professors wrote a book about social activism; she posits that those who spend a great deal of time outside of their own country become fundamentally changed. This change informs the way they work for justice. I pray that I will not lose my willingness to try new things; basically, I hope that each day, I am conscious enough of delight to live through the disequilibrium.


Pilgrim feet?


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One of the last days in Jaipur, several of the group wanted to do a tour of three Jain temples; we needed to send a staff person with them, and I was the only one available. Sigh. I didn’t want to go. I had seen the temples. I was tired of coordinating, of answering questions, talking to the driver, figuring out food and water… I wanted to stay in one place, get work done, and not sweat.

But of course, I was “happy” to go. Of course I want my colleagues to see these amazing temples, and besides: this is why I am here. I put on extra deodorant, baby-powdered my entire body, got two bottles of water and money for the driver, and headed out.

I once read a bit of CS Lewis where he talks about doing things one doesn’t want to do. He framed it beautifully, by first asking about one’s love for and commitment to God. He helps us imagine how we would rush to do any single thing for Jesus, if he only needed and asked. And I can imagine that–walking great distances to bring expensive perfume, or staying up all night in a garden. Of course I would do the very thing God asks me to do.

And then Lewis reminds us: What if the thing God asks you to do is this? To sit in class, for hour after hour, and study even when you hate the subject? To stay up with the baby, rocking and rocking, even when you are so, so tired? To listen for a little longer to the tiresome woman at coffee hour after church? To help your neighbor move, even though it’s hot outside and you’ve worked overtime every day this week.

I’ve often thought of this, in long lectures, long train trips, during stressful or tiresome conversations. I say, “This, this moment/chore/conversation/task: this is what I am asked to do, in this moment and on this day.” It helps me feel the whole picture–that all of the little things I do are connected to bigger things–and to remind me not to just do the brave/exciting/laudable things, but also to tend to the mundane.

So I called this to mind. I said, “Stephanie, this is the thing you need to do, today. This is the one thing you are here to do.”

It was a truly great day. At the first temple, on a huge hill overlooking the city, the rain clouds swept in. I sat on a bench and watched the green of the trees and the white marble turn bright and odd, as the gray storm light swept in. I knew my camera would never capture it, so I tried to tell my brain, “Remember, remember, remember.” The wind was cool and the leaves turned their backs.


By the time we got to the second temple, the rain had ended, but the air was cool and no one else was at the temple. We had it to ourselves. I wandered around, and found that alone, with the cool air, it was like entering a temple for the first time. I felt blessed and lucky to have access to such a holy place. With the sun hidden, the votives seemed more essential.



I found an empty part, either under construction or abandoned. A metal and stone dome covered the space. Either I was talking to myself, or praying out loud, because I realized the echo was fantastic.

And so, with no one around, I began to sing. Oh, it was the best acoustics I’ve ever experienced. If I held out a note long enough, and my voice was directed dead ahead, the echo would hold out the note long enough for me to harmonize with myself. I sang “Beulah Land,” an old hymn I always find near to mind.

When my grandmother died, my sister and I sang at her funeral. The night before, in my grandparents’ old farmhouse bedroom, we practiced. I had never really sung with my sister before, unless it was along to a radio or tape, or maybe in church. Her voice sounded like mine. Sitting next to her on the bed, I felt like our voices were the same–it was so strange, hearing two of the same voice.

I remembered that moment, and other times I’ve sung that hymn, as I sang there under the dome. I love that even when I am wrong-headed and stubborn, and reluctant to do something, I can still end up having an amazing experience.


By the time we got to the third temple, the light was changing again, for evening time. I had the rooftop to myself, and enjoyed peeking through the temple vimanas (towers) at the surrounding buildings.

I have sort of been taking for granted that I’m in India again. I’m distracted by logistics, by making sure things are going smoothly, with answering e-mails and preparing for the next group. And there are fewer surprises: I was expecting the smells, sounds, crowds, and heat. And yet, of course–this being India–delight and awe catch me up short, when I least deserve it.

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I love giving dinner parties. Dreaming about dates and reasons to party (saints’ days, old feasting days like 12th Night, anniversaries of literary things, or dogs). Thinking over menu ideas, things we have to make, the artichoke dip everyone loves, the olive spread I’ve been wanting to try.

Matt and I gave a small 12th Night Party last weekend. Seven guests, and Matt went all-out cooking. Homemade tamales (with a sweet potato and black bean filling), a kind of Georgian (the country) filled cheese bread, quesadillas, dukkah (a crushed nut and spice mixture you can eat with bread), homemade salsa and hummus, fresh bread, olives, cheeses. I made white sangria, Matt made from-scratch lemonade. Homemade shortbread (yummiest cookie dough ever) and Mexican hot chocolate for dessert.

As usual, even in a small apartment, everyone ends up in the kitchen. Or near the kitchen, standing, eating the cheese bread and getting excited for fresh tamales. Oh, we ate. And drank and laughed. A few guests remarked that this was “pastoral,” and a good time for feeling cared for, before the semester began. That is, we work so hard, and those in the ministry spend lots of energy taking care of others– it’s nice to come to a party and be feted.

Back in the box of old photographs my cousin Larry and I looked through, we found that our Grandpa had saved the menu and program from a long-ago Navy base Christmas dinner. I love the lettering and the vaguely deco-reindeer.

I’m struck by how fancy everything has gotten, in this instant-everything global community. Chicken noodle soup. Fresh frozen peas. Coffee, tea, and milk.

Once in Chicago at Christmas, as an adult, my oldest childhood friend and I were taking the escalator at the Marshall Field’s on the Magnificent Mile. Even though we were adults, we were dazzled by the displays, the immensity of it all. We remarked to each other that we were glad we’d grown up in a very small town, where things were simple and often poor– and that now as adults we could still be dazzled.

I guess I’m also glad that I grew up in a time and place when the grocery store having bell peppers (which we, strangely, called “mangoes”) was exotic, as were Jell-O jigglers. I still get dazzled by the abundance of foods at my fingertips. Isn’t it crazy, in a way, that I can read any recipe on-line or in any cookbook, and feel certain that I could make it this very night? All ingredients are within my reach.

And yet, Sunday morning, for what did I have the most intense craving? Biscuits and gravy. We were up early and went to a great diner that never closes (the best kind) and I indulged. Not as good as my Grandma’s, or my Mom’s, or even mine… but still delicious. And not the kind of thing I’d make for a dinner party, but some of the best food I know.

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Good-bye, New York City.  It was hard, the entire last semester, to really understand that we were leaving. I was too busy, carrying too many last minute responsibilities, and the last semester at school was really, really hard.  I think only in the past few weeks have I understood that I am really gone– I won’t be back at my church, I won’t see “my kids” again, I won’t see as regularly my dear friends who are still there.

We spent July in Red Bay, Ontario.  Matt’s grandmother’s cottage: Matt’s mother has gone nearly every summer since she was a baby, so has Matt. Hammocks, water, sunsets. Stacks of library books, trying new recipes and cooking together, sleeping in.

We moved to California.  Flying West, as we crossed three time zones, and found ourselves over mountains, and then mountains and palm trees… so strange.  Is this real?  Do I really live here?  Are those _avocados_ growing on that tree?

Cessation of anxiety.  I was really mostly anxiety-free in Red Bay, which is unusual. Usually, when I am on vacation, or away from my home or routine, I feel guilty about leaving my jobs and responsibilities, and the unfamiliar landscape manifests in random anxieties at night.  This year, happily, I had a few days where I was (appropriately because of work responsibilities) stressed, but slept every night.

When I moved to NYC, I was deeply homesick, and horribly panicked. I suffered from panic attacks daily and nightly, couldn’t sleep, and became really brittle and sick.  I’ve been trying to be patient with myself with this move, to listen to my body and allow lots of time for “processing.”  So far, so good.  We are settled into our beautifully painted apartment, I’ve been sleeping through every night, and feeling occasional spurts of (natural, I think) nervousness tied to genuine excitement.

For all of this, I have been immensely grateful. I half-joked to someone in a letter yesterday that I hope God doesn’t get tired of us saying “thank you.” I’m like some kind of gratitude wind-up toy— walking about looking at hot pink trees and grapefruit, through the lovely village, around campus, finding lizards and bookstores, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” a dozen times a day.

In the Bible, there’s a whole entire book of lamentations. If one has grievances or pains to bring to God, there are myriad models for crying out.  Think about Job!  Think about all the saints, in their times of pain– even Jesus Christ gives us a model for “talking back” to God.  There are praise Psalms, but it feels like when I am happy and grateful, there’s no artful way to keep repeating myself.  I’m just happy and grateful. Luckily for me, I think I don’t have to be artful for God.

I should ask my friends if there are certain songs they play, or videos they watch, when they are feeling all is well with the world.  I need a gratitude/excitement/eagerness mix tape!

Orientation.  This is actually the first orientation to a new school program I’ve done properly. For my first experience as an undergrad, I came too late for orientation, straight from hospital, and missed all of that information. (Didn’t turn out well, either– I lacked a lot of resources that I never did find for myself.)  For my second go-round in undergrad, I started mid-year.  For my first time in grad school, I was sick with anxiety and tears, and sometimes couldn’t leave my room– so I missed some of the offerings.  This time, I went to every single thing.  Finally!  Even though I know a lot, I found it remarkable the things I didn’t know. I marvelat the resources availed to me.

Peace.  So, on the first day of orientation, I was noticing that I was feeling both excited and a little trepidation. I was listening, being patient with myself. And a package arrived for me from my Dominican spiritual mentor. One item in the package: a little terra-cotta heart with the word “peace” hand-stamped into the surface. Also included: the liturgy for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, which included a litany of women witnesses, and a celebration of “voices that challenge.”  Also: a litany of peace “as we journey,” including this prayer:

“God of peace, you are the center of our lives, a strong refuge in the whirlwind of living. When our hearts are anxious, worried, or fearful, bring your calm and serenity to us. Remind us often that we can come, resting in the dwelling place of your love, and be at peace.”

I like the idea that I am taking place (and adding to!) a “whirlwind” of living… but that I don’t have to remain there when it becomes too much.

This image, a photograph of a statue, appears on the front page of the liturgy. The Dominicans describe it, “Mary has been bent, huddled, distraught at the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Then she hears her name spoken, and turns, looking upward to Jesus standing behind her.”

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December 16 – Friendship How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

Gradual…  I think about my friends Tom and Eric and Jodut, and how they have influenced how I think about teaching, studying, being political in the world, taking care of my self…

I’ve grown closer to my friend Nick this way. For some reason, we hung out this year more than we have, and he went through some tough times that encouraged many deep conversations. He holds me accountable to my heart, and to living authentically.

Before the wedding, my friend Amy was a dream– I mean, she is always a dream, a gift, an inspiration, but particularly in the year before the wedding: she was everything to me. I am amazed at the grace, smarts, kindness, and humor that she’s able to bring to every conversation.

My friendship with Matt has deepened, of course. We see each other all day most days, and he influences how I teach, how I interact with students and colleagues, how I want to live my life… and all the little living details: cooking, reading, day-dreaming.

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Yesterday; scones

I woke up worrying in the middle of Tuesday night.  To make it worse, I had wanted to get up early on Wednesday to get ready for my ten o’clock Greek class.

Lovely Matt woke up with me, and reassured me.  Even better, he woke up before I did, and made made-from-scratch butterscotch scones!  When I woke up, the whole apartment smelled like cake.  I wandered out into the kitchen–beautiful scones, fresh from the oven, awaited me.

It made my whole day.  Ah, love.  Ah, baked goods.

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Ahh, the lazy summer Saturdays, with time to peruse recipes and the farmers’ market…  Can you tell I’m on summer break, and successfully finished Greek?

Saturday, we began gathering goodies for our first party in our new apartment, a housewarming on Tuesday.  I also found some fresh corn, lettuce, bunches of fresh herbs, and squash blossoms. I’d recently been noticing squash blossoms at various markets, and had seen some recipes for stuffing and frying them.  Basically, they are flowers.  You remove the stamen and pistils, and then stuff them with any tasty mixture.  I used yogurt cheese and pesto.  After preparing a simple batter, you dip each in the batter and fry them.  

I found the stamen and pistils strangely sexual.  Having focused on the Victorians for some of my graduate work, I knew that in the past, young ladies were not allowed to sketch or discuss the sexual organs of flowers.  I found that silly, until yesterday, when I peeled back the delicate petals and found my first stamen poking through, upright and confident.  I might have blushed.  All of the blossoms but two were male.  

How odd to be treating flower blossoms like a food, stuffing the blossoms and twisting the orange petals closed.  They were delicious. 

I found a beetle in my head of lettuce as I washed it tonight, in preparation for lunches this week.  It’s reassuring, in a way, to have such fresh food in the most urban of environments.  Currently, the herbs are all in vases on the dining table, in water and waiting to be cut, minced, and pureed on Tuesday.

Recently, I’ve been making entire lunches out of fresh corn and sliced tomatoes, with a side of yogurt cheese and balsamic.  I try to sit down and actually eat, to focus on the luxury of fresh, organic food, and to notice these seasonal flavors.

Coriander, parsley, and lemon basil


Did you know there’s one strand of silk for every kernel of corn in an ear?


Squash blossoms, pre-stuffing.


Stuffed with cheese and pesto, and fried.

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