Tuesday, April 3, 2012
LOST on my own island
Stubborn, inflexible, pigheaded vs. determined, persistent, tenacious. These words are listed as synonyms. Each of them has been true of me more than one time in my life. I blame my father. If I were to choose one word, one quality that he worked hard to encourage and build in his two daughters, it would be independence.
I think it was because Dad knew my sister and I would be leaving our home on Okinawa after high school and figuring out how to live in the U.S. on our own. We would be separated from him, make our own decisions and be self-sufficient in a land we did not know. I don't know how he did it, but my earliest memory from childhood illustrates his success.
I'd like to think I was showing signs of being a child genius at age five and that is why my father decided to have me skip kindergarten and go straight into first grade. Most likely he was anxious to get me into the classroom and away from home where it was a challenge for my deaf-mute mother to care for two young girls.
The first day of school required some careful planning on the part of Dad. Since he was a civilian employed by the Marine Corps, he had to obtain housing off base in a local Okinawan neighborhood. He was able to buy a home in the middle of the sugar cane fields.
The journey from my home to the grade school was not an easy one for a little five-year old to take. My dad had to plan the route and teach me how to get to school. This meant walking a half mile or so on a gravel road from our home to the main paved road where I had to catch a local bus, pay the fare, ride for a couple miles and then get off at a specific stop near a busy intersection closest to the base gate. After stepping off the bus, I had to walk around the corner or take a short cut through side streets to get to the bus stop designated for the American yellow school bus that would take me through the gate and drop me off at the elementary school.
Though I don't remember, Dad must have taken me on practice runs because on the first day of school, a little five-year-old girl made the journey there without a hitch. Except there was one thing my dad forgot.
How to get home.
Perhaps he had confidence that I would be able to think backwards and make my way home. The only problem was the bus stops were on the other side of the street. Nothing looked familiar. I sat on the yellow bus driven by a man whose task was to be sure the kids got off at their designated stop. Of course, being the first day, he didn't know us and assumed we all knew where to get off.
But I had no idea which stop was mine. So I stayed on the bus. Each time it stopped to release a student or two, I looked frantically for some sign of familiarity. None came. I observed enough details to realize two things. First, we were definitely off the base and in foreign territory. And second, we were heading in the opposite direction from where I sensed my home was. I distinctly remember thinking that I was too embarrassed to ask for help and that I was determined to find my way back home without it. I took note of two major turns made by the driver and figured I could work my way backwards. I ended up waiting until the driver reached the end of the bus line where the last student disembarked. And so did I without a word to the driver.
My five-year-old brain pictured the route it had mapped out and my five-year-old legs began the journey of several miles in the opposite direction.
After a couple of miles I recognized the corner of the major intersection where I was supposed to have transferred from the yellow bus to the local bus. I felt relief but the long walk had taken all the energy out of my five-year-old body and I couldn’t take any more steps. Despair set in when I realized I wouldn’t make it home. In the exhaustion the tears began to flow.
Then I noticed a policewoman standing on the sidewalk observing the busy late afternoon traffic. She didn't see me. There was still some residue of embarrassment and I couldn't bring myself to ask for help. Instead I willed my wobbly legs to position myself next to her and hoped she would initiate a rescue. And she did!
Soon I was sitting at the nearby police station waiting for my father. Apparently he had called the police when I did not get off the local bus as planned. Soon I was reunited with him. But before he drove me home, having realized his incomplete instructions, Dad took me to the stops I should have learned for the after-school trip. The next day I successfully completed the journey to and from school. Without any help.
I can’t imagine doing this to any of my children when they were five. Though life was certainly different back in those days and on the island, I still don't think it was normal for a father to push a five year old to that limit. Nevertheless in the end he was right. I needed to be independent in order to survive my first years in college. However, my journey to the U.S. was not only as an independent seventeen-year-old but also as a new follower of Christ. And independence or self-sufficiency was not exactly a quality a Christian bragged about.
It's been 38 years since I left my 464 square mile island and journeyed to America. During those years I have been "lost" several times and have had to decide whether to ask for help or figure out the way on my own. I have discovered there is a place of tension between dependence and independence.
Dependence is unhealthy if it's co-dependence, if it traps me in a state of neediness or if I refuse to take responsibility for my choices. Independence is unhealthy if I am disconnected from people, self-centered in my choices and prideful in not asking for help when it's appropriate. As these words intersect my Christian faith, I have discovered that I am learning to be independently dependent.
At the same time that I find my identity in Christ alone, I find my place in Christ’s body. At the same time that I bow my knee to Christ alone, I bow my knee to serve my sisters and brothers. At the same time that I seek Christ alone to meet my needs, I humble myself and ask for help when I need it. At the same time that I enter a place of silence and solitude to hear the Spirit’s voice, I sit with my community and listen to their counsel and perspective.
“Lost” is when I am extremely independent or extremely dependent. “Found” is the middle place where I am both independent and dependent.