Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ilona: Back In The B-USA

Ilona newly arrived, like Spring, in Pau. Posted by Picasa

To get this chance is very difficult. To be born as a human being is very difficult. Among uncountable sperms and are here. Wonderful chance. Congratulations!

---Soen Nakagawa

You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to come down again....One climbs and one sees; one descends and one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting the memory of what one saw higher up. When one no longer sees, one can at least still know.

---Rene Daumal

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms...

---Mary Oliver

Ilona's been back in the Bush United States of America for 10 days. I don't mean to politicize this essay, but they were her first comments: all these flags everywhere, all these pushy, frightened people. Since March 20th she had been in France, away from all this: blaring news reports of optimism, military state of mind, body searches, and thoughts of terrorists at the front door. "They don't have that in France," she said...and it was impossible to imagine.

The first couple days she spoke in French all the time. I found I could understand what she said pretty well, and so I became interpreter for her mom and grandmother. I know I couldn't have translated exactly, and certainly not spoken back...but I did OK with my occasional replies. Amazing! So now it was possible to imagine how someone only 14 could go to another country, take the remainder of her 9th grade there in French, make new friends, and have an absolutely wonderful time.

These first days we have learned a lot. I knew that would be the case, but had no idea what it would be like. She is calmer, stronger, deeper. I don't want to suffer illusion here, but she seems to perceive herself with new and more maturity. Is it possible? As I think this, she says so herself. She tells us she feels she has learned true compassion for other people. I know that's pretty abstract and a far reach for 14, but indeed she has maintained an equilibrium.

And Dana and I certainly have inadvertently provided the challenge. The weekend before her flight touched down, we had been in Columbus at a highly-charged political intensive for 2 days. We still were chomping at the bit to get change happening at the grassroots! I think on the drive home from Cincinnati, Dana launched into a complaint about the Ohio legislation pending to ban all abortion in this state, no matter how the pregnancy was caused or what the result might be. Ilona wanted to plug her ears. How grand it had been to live free of a restrictive society for some months!

Then almost immediately, Dana and I were off to Columbus again, this time to volunteer during the first couple days of the Episcopal General Convention. Yeah, that's the one about whether a bishop can let anyone know he's gay or not. Ilona was back. Plus, there have been evening meetings to help organize congressional campaigns for the upcoming election. And I'm preparing for a 2-week theater run of Inherit The Wind, the monkey trial play. I mustn't forget being on the phone and computer all the time planning for the memorial for Tagliabue...which will mean a trip for us to Providence for a few days shortly.

Ilona said, "Oh let's keep going and get out of the country for the Fourth of July." Rebellious talk, but she really means she misses that French countryside so much already. And her new friends, who sound so delightful. Do you know what they did? They gathered together and greeted her and her friend at their school on the final day. They had made a card, with all their pictures on it and each signed a special greeting. It is so beautiful, and certainly her most prized keepsake of the trip.

Well, there were some problems over there. We had tried to prepare the family chaperoning Ilona she might have homesickness and physical upsets along the way. The homesick part passed quickly but there were some maladies here and there that probably were stressful. And there's always cabin fever, even just among a family of 5, never mind adding an outsider. Her new digital camera was picked out of the pocket of her friend at the Louvre. There were too many American tourists in Paris, and the shopkeepers were impatient. Alas, Paris was the biggest disappointment. (Papa confesses a little relief she didn't meet some boulevardier there for whom she wants to pack her bags and go back to a Moulin Rouge life.)

She hiked the Pyrenees with her friend, and his mother and stepdad. They were up there for days, spending nights in little lodges, bed & breakfast kinds of homes, and Easter in tiny Lascun. She has a couple hundred photographs of the experience, and it truly looks to have been idyllic. She loves the Basque traditions. She brought us goat cheese, and made sure we had some while we still were in the airport parking lot. It was heaven!

Dana has whisked her off again this weekend for family business in Western Pennsylvania. They should be back tonight though...and I so look forward to see her. (And yes, Dana too.) Her brother Jeroch was over here yesterday and he reflected too how she has grown in every way. He and I hiked through the woods before taking off for a baseball game with a community team he's on. I had such a great time, and his lady Karen was there to keep me company. Hey, troubled as this Old Glory may be these days, we still have hot dogs at the ballpark. And jazz. I'll try to remember that when the French girl gets back.

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