Song of the Outdoors

And I must go down to the river again,

Where the Ninnescah weaves its way

Like a silver band through the lonely land

And I’ll hear what it has to say;

Then we’ll stand on the bridge (my horse and I)

Gaze into the waters below

And listen to the song that is ever so long

That grips me and never lets go.

 

And I must go down to the bottoms again

And find myself once more

In the rolling plains with its sweeping strains

That sing to my inmost core;

Then we’ll ride to the hill (my horse and I)

And listen to the gypsy wind

That plays its cry to notes in the sky

And clings to something within.

 

And I must go down to the creek again

With its secret glens and glades

Where the sunlight hints with dappled glints

Of light beyond the leafy shades;

Then we’ll ride through the prairies (my horse and I)

Through the whispering grass that sings

To the muffled beat of my horse’s feet

The song that within my heart rings.

 

-written by Lori Hershberger, October 2010

 

First published in Echoes of Eternity in 2013, this is one of my favorite poems.  To order a copy of this book, click on the title.

Change

I cried that time when I came home

From the land across the sea

When I walked across the autumn grass

To see my favorite tree

 

We stood there in the evening light

My favorite tree and I

Remembering the countless times

I’d climbed its branches high

 

I tried to climb the strong old limbs

As I had done at eight,

But I could not, for those limbs were gone;

The changes were too great.

 

So when I left my friend alone

Beneath the darkening sky

I cried and cried with unchecked tears

For he had changed and so had I.

Lists

Because lists are fun to make, especially when you’re waiting on your wash to finish so you can go to bed.

And they’re random, not neat little lists of ten.

Books I have read lately: (Not an exhaustive list, and not all read all the way through. Just books I’ve read in the recent past)

  1. Go Dogs Go, by Dr. Suess
  2. The Thread That Runs So True, by Jesse Stuart
  3. Growing Up Amish, by Ira Wagler
  4. The Atonement Child, by Francine Rivers
  5. Belles on Their Toes, by Earnestine Gilbreth (this is a sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen. I reread it recently and embarrassed myself by squealing with laughter at a coffee shop. This and anything by James Herriot never fail to make me laugh out loud. Henk, henk, henk)
  6. Intended for Evil, by Les Sillars, a book about a Cambodian Christian who survived the Khmer Rouge.
  7. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalinithi
  8. Rivers to the Sea, by Sara Teasdale
  9. Saving My Assassin, by Virginia Prodan
  10. Nang Ai, a Thai novel
  11. Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, by Jim Logan
  12. The Insanity of Obedience, by Nik Ripken
  13. The Wall, by Gloria Jane Evans
  14. Anne of Avonlea, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Curious George, by H.A and Margret Ray

 

Things I love:

  1. Mist on mountains and rivers
  2. Airports and the excitement and pain that go with them.
  3. Snowflakes falling down in little whirlwinds, under the glow of our yard light at home.
  4. A young man helping an old lady or a small child.
  5. Familiar faces waiting at the airport after a 36-hour journey
  6. Lisped “I love you’s.”
  7. Rain
  8. Hot lattes on rainy days with a good book
  9. Speaking languages other than English
  10. Poetry that says exactly what you were feeling when you didn’t even know that you felt that way.
  11. Kind people at immigrations

 

Things I dislike

  1. People complaining about foreign food, and worse yet, making faces (woops, just a few weeks ago, I found myself doing this)
  2. Loud karaoke coming from the bars in the backyard at 11:30 at night
  3. Reckless drivers, usually those with Bangkok license plates, careening down the road. (If you kill yourself, that’s one thing. If you kill others, that’s another.)
  4. Seeing young Thai girls with dissipated old rich white men.
  5. Losing my keys, again
  6. Having no milk in the fridge
  7. Racist or ethnocentric attitudes
  8. Pens that don’t write smoothly
  9. Cool people who belittle the less cool as a way of climbing up the social ladder

 

Things I miss about home:

  1. Fresh chocolate chip cookies and tall glasses of raw milk with windows opened to green lawns and fresh air
  2. Snow, snow, snow
  3. Abundance of cheese
  4. Family (really that goes without saying)
  5. Long solitary horseback rides in the moonlight
  6. Being able to go anywhere or do anything that you want to (like lying out in an open field) without fearing that it is either: improper, dangerous, or weird.
  7. Magically having food in the fridge without having to be the one to buy or make it.
  8. Cows
  9. Living off the land, instead of the grocery store, or even the market
  10. Youth group
  11. My mom’s pies and cinnamon rolls
  12. The sound of horse feet on the highway
  13. Nice cuddly pussycats
  14. Talking Pennsylvania Dutch

People Are Interesting

One of my favorite parts of traveling is watching people. I love the way that God designed each individual to be his/her own colorful character.

Like these colorful characters above.

Recently I took a trip to Laos to the Thai embassy located there. I needed to leave the country and request a student visa at an embassy outside of Thailand. (perhaps more on that change later)

I realized again how much I’ve lived in my own little world in Chiang Mai, going back and forth to work each day, attending church at my Thai church and at the local group of Mennonites. Leaving the three- year-old “familiar” of Chiang Mai and traveling into the “unknown” of northeastern Thailand (also known as Isaan) and southern Laos was exciting. And considering it was my first day off of full time kindergarten teaching, it was a bit of a shock.

There were some people I met that I wished sincerely I hadn’t. Like the tuk tuk driver that poked his head around the bus door in Nong Khai even before I had fully descended.

“Tuk Tuk? Where you go? Tuk tuk?”

I perked up.

“I need to go to the Friendship Bridge,” I said in Thai.

“Oh, I will take you there. But do you have your Laos visa yet?”

“No, I will get it at immigrations in Laos. I just want to go to the bridge.”

“Listen, listen. I will take you to get your papers for the Laos visa first. Then I will take you to the bridge.”

“No,” I said. “All I want to do is go to the bridge.” I had heard about these people. They take you and they do stuff for you that you are perfectly capable of doing yourself and charge exorbitant prices.

“But listen to me. I will explain it all to you.”

I have never been able to say no to these people, usually because I myself don’t know enough about what I am doing. But I used to think that once I knew Thai fluently, I would be able to say no, and to harden my heart. But I can’t even haggle at the market. I just give in to the price they ask, even if it’s ridiculous.

In the end, I gave in. It was my first time crossing this border, I was by myself, and I was unsure. It was stupid of me, and I was mad at myself all through the next hour until I left the Laos entrance. I was mad at him too, for persuading me.

“You see,” the man said as we sputtered off in his tuk tuk, “They will cheat you at the Laos border if you don’t do it beforehand.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought bitterly to myself. “Like you are doing now.” I ended up losing 600 baht. (close to 20 dollars)

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Friendship Bridge that spans the Thai-Laos border, view from the Thai side. Photo credit: LH

The next interesting character I met was a red-haired Norwegian who reeked of perpetual smoke. We were sitting in a van going to the Thai embassy in Vientiane. He leaned forward from behind and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you a nurse?” he asked, pointing to my veiling.

“No,” I said, and explained.

“Oh,” he said, and proceeded to tell me all sorts of things about Amish people. I nodded and smiled to myself. As if you knew.

The girl beside me was from Palestine, and worked in Pattaya in Central Thailand. Then I chatted with the aged cab driver, who spoke Thai well, and told me tidbits of Laos history and language and how the police lock up his wheels when he parks beside the road for even a few seconds. I felt like his granddaughter.

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The Patuxai War Memorial was erected after Laos fought its battle for independence from the French. Photo credit: LH

 

One of my favorite parts of the trip came on the way back the next day, headed back to the Thai-Laos border to cross over into Thailand again. The cab driver was gruff and honest. He talked mostly Laos with a spattering of Thai, and I talked Thai to him with a spattering of Northern Thai. (Thai, Northern Thai, Isaan Thai and Laos are languages that are very closely related. Usually one can understand the other quite well) I wanted to share with him, but felt at loss on how to begin. Finally I told my Father that I would at least ask one question and then if the man wanted to listen I would share with him.

I asked him if there were any C’s in his country. I knew very well there were.

“Yes,” he said, and gave some other facts. Then he leaned over, turned down his radio and said, “Tell me what you believe.”

So, in the best Thai I could muster, I gave the story of the Father in a nutshell. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but at the end, I asked him if he understood.

“Yes,” he said, but didn’t say much else.

The rest of the ride we chit-chatted, and at the end I gave him a J film. He was very excited for it.

The next person I met was a French lady who traveled the world. She was at least 60. I was sitting under an outdoor shelter that had a beautiful view of the Mekong River, the river that divides Laos from Thailand, at my guesthouse in Nong Khai.

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A Laos boat on the Mekong River. Photo credit: LH

 

“Do you have Skype? Can I use your Skype?”

“Sure, you can,” I said. As I was getting signed in, she told me all about herself.

It turned out that she travels the world as lightly as possible. She told me the amount of underwear she carries with her, (5 pieces, I think and sometimes she washes them out twice a day. Sorry.) how many changes of clothes she takes with her, (two, and she rarely uses the second one), a blanket or a scarf, and a good pair of shoes, and several other small items that I forget (not as memorable as underwear, obviously). So, that was why she was using my Skype, since she packs only enough to get by on.

When I had successfully signed into my Skype, she called her home in France, only to have her mother answer.

She switched from French to Dutch, “Alles is goot!” Her mother was very hard of hearing, so the rest of the guests at the hotel got in on the conversation as well.

After a short conversation, she hung up and turned to me. “Will you be here in the morning? Can I use your Skype again?”

“Sure,” I said again. She offered to pay, but I didn’t let her, wondering to myself what was the best method for cleaning spit off a screen.

The next morning I hauled out my books and laptop and was going to enjoy the river view when the chain smoker lounging at the end of the table spoke up, “Are you Mennonite?”

“Similar to Mennonite, yes,” I said, looking longingly at my breakfast omelet that had just been delivered. We chatted as I ate. It turned out that he was from Chiang Mai, from the same neighborhood as a few of my Mennonite friends. So he knew about Mennonites in Chiang Mai.

“What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?” he asked.

As I was explaining, a face appeared beside me.

“You are still here!” It was the French lady.

She used my Skype, while the chain smoker looked on with a bemused expression (in light of our recent conversation on Mennonites and Amish.)

“This is ironic,” he said. I laughed. The French lady finished her phone call. She addressed the chain smoker, “You should stop smoking. It is very bad!” And proceeded to give him a piece of her mind.

We chatted some more. He was your typical “farang” living in Thailand. There for the cheap, easy life, with a Thai daughter and a Thai ex-wife. Bored with Chiang Mai. Smoking away his life. He pumped me for information on Amish and Mennonites. He had a live one on his hands and wasn’t letting the opportunity pass.

“I hope you don’t mind these questions,” he said. “It’s not every day I can ask someone these questions.”

I actually didn’t mind. Much. I only wished he would stop smoking.

We discussed separation from the world.

“I guess you and I are separated from the world,” he said, with a nod at the other hotel guests. “We’re sitting in the smoking section.” I almost choked. Not because of smoke.

“So have you ever thought of like,” he stumbled over his words as if unsure how to ask. “Like you’re over here. You could dress like you wanted to and no one would ever know. Like if it were me, I would hate to get noticed like that. You could just dress like everybody else. Like, sort of like, undercover Amish?”

I laughed. Undercover Amish. Like, what is the world coming to?

Looking back, I feel like there would have been better ways to answer some of his questions. But I always do that—think of those things I should have said.

I left Nong Khai for Udon that evening and in Udon, caught the bus back to Chiang Mai.

“Excuse me,” I said to the girl in the aisle seat as I went to slide into the window seat in the front row of the top story of the bus.

She looked up. Beautiful dark eyes, pale skin, cultured face.

At first, she had her earphones in. Then she took them out and we started talking.

I’ve never experienced such a quick bond of friendship before. We clicked. Almost instantly. She was 19 and her name was Mint. We discussed family and friends and dreams, usually looking straight ahead at the road in front of us because we both got sick easily.

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View from the top story of the bus. Photo credit: LH

She was studying to be a doctor in Phayao. She wanted to go to the poor mountain regions of Thailand and be a doctor there. I told her of my dream to be a teacher there.

Her eyes lit up. “Let’s go together!”

I grinned, “Sure!”

We both liked the color green. We both love eating gummi bears. I tested her English a bit and taught her some words. She asked if I had Facebook.

“No, I don’t. But I do have Line.” (a popular messaging app used a lot in Asia.)

She was getting off in Lamphun where her boyfriend was working, and I was getting off in Chiang Mai. Before we reached there, I told myself, I would get her Line ID or number. This was a friendship for life.

The night drew on and we both fell asleep. Her head would come bouncing over onto my part of the seat as we hit bumps and I would stick my feet over on her part. We were both awakened in the middle of the night by a group of tourists that came on the bus, babbling in some European language. For some reason, both of us thought the sound was hilarious. We giggled hysterically.

“It sounds like when we were children and would just talk nonsense,” she whispered to me. I agreed, and we tried to smother our giggles in vain.

We fell asleep again and suddenly we woke up and the sign said Lamphun. It was only a short roadside stop, so she had to hurry and was gone before I could sleepily scribble out my number on a piece of paper.

I felt a loss that I couldn’t describe. Like I had met a little sister for a brief 12 hours and then suddenly, she was gone.  Only an act of God could let us ever meet again.

But I am glad I got to meet her. And the others, too. No matter how short the time that I got to know them, in some small way, each person impacted me, whether it was my pocketbook or my heart.

Which reminds me, I still haven’t cleaned that spit off my laptop screen.

Dusk: Doi Sutthep

Below is a poem set to the same style as Sara Teasdale’s  Sunset: St. Louis  

 

Hushed in the still gray fog of July rains

When humanity teems below in wild chatter

How many times have I seen my eastern mountain

Dream by her city.

 

High and still, shrouded in fathomless mist

That feints and flickers in a fickle ballet

Beneath muted sky she stands silent and strong

In lengthening shadows.

 

And when the light from the western sun breaks through

In soldered bars of gold and bronzed creation

Striking the clouds, my mountain still stands shining

In green and gold glory.

 

But I love my mountain most in rainy haze

When the gray rains come furtive and silent at dusk

And the lights blink on, gleaming through mist as my mountain strong

Dreams by her city.

-July 2017

 

Life Is Beautiful

A few weeks shy of my 27th birthday, I tapped the brakes slightly on my motorbike, and as a result, went sliding down a rain-washed mountain curve, leaving a 15 foot long scar on the pavement and a barely noticeable bruise on my leg. Shaken, but not hurt, I righted my bike and continued down the mountain in a proper fashion.

A few days before that, I finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi while sitting in the waiting room of a hospital waiting for a health certificate in order to renew my driver’s license. Finishing the book at the hospital seemed fitting, even when I had no reason to be there other than to get a piece of paper.

Kalanithi writes poignantly of his battle with cancer and even more poignantly of his search to find purpose and meaning in life. Somehow when you read a book in which you know the author dies in the end, you read it with an expectancy of being on the brink of learning a great secret of life. It’s like leaning breathlessly over a death bed trying to catch the last words of someone who is ready to cross over to the other side of that blurred glass. You feel that someone that close to death must have a key to the purpose of life.

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Perhaps that is because death and life really are not that much different.

The gist of Kalanithi’s story kept echoing in my soul several days after I put the book down. Kalanithi’s words, the fact that I slid down the mountain, the fact that I am close to adding another full year onto my life, and various other factors turned my mind to take a deeper look into my own life. One afternoon as I was patting one of my K1 students to sleep, a thought exploded in my brain.

If I live till fifty, I am over half finished with my life. If I live to 75, I am a third finished with my life.

I hated that thought and wished it away. It scared me. It made me panic.

You see, I’ve been living life in the same manner that I’ve been using crayons at work. In a classroom of 21 children, crayons are expendable. Once one of them becomes a little stub, it ends up in the trashcan without much thought and is easily replaced.

Life is not like that. But I’ve been living it like that. And suddenly with the realization that I’ve been alive for 27 years and at best have 60 more years left, comes the realization that I can’t afford to live life carelessly. I could die tomorrow. I could die in two weeks. I could die in 20 years. And the brutal fact remains– I’m not getting any younger.

My young students remind me of this daily. One day while playing “doctor” (I was the patient; they were the doctors) one of them discovered the white hairs in my head, exclaimed over them and made it her self-appointed duty to pick them out immediately. Just a few days ago, I leaned over a table, talking to a three year old, while raising my eyebrows. At the end of whatever I was saying, he didn’t respond, only wonderingly lifted his finger up and traced the wrinkles on my forehead. No, I’m not getting younger.

What does it mean to really, truly be alive in this world? This is the question that comes back to me over and over again.

There are lots of good quotes and words out there about what it means to really live, what a life well lived looks like. Cliché. Well meant. Good stuff.  But somehow I’ve reached a point in my life where I myself need to come to a conclusion about what it really means to live.

As I was trying to form a conclusion for this post, I only was able to come up with a hundred more, disjointed random questions and thoughts.

Like these:

Does truly living mean pouring yourself out trying to meet the needs and demands of the people around you until you are totally exhausted in the evening and lack the energy to even make your own supper?

Or is it the opposite, saying no to the needs around you so you can live your private life, follow the desires of your heart and stop and smell the roses and drink all the coffee you want?

I don’t think it means either of them. For the last few years, the former has been the story of my life. On some days I drag myself home at the end of the day, thinking, “Is this really what a fulfilling life looks like?”

But the fight within me continues. I have a hundred things that I would love to do before I die. I want to gallop across the Sahara desert on an Arabian horse with my hair down. I want explore Southeast Asia and visit the deserts of Mongolia and find my way into North Korea. I want to live in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border. I want to write another book, a really really good one.  I want to read books. I want to live at home and appreciate the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of my own culture. I want to live in a Karen or Akha village in the mountains of Thailand. I want to learn another language. I want to live in Tibet. I want to get married and have children of my own.

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Pu’er, China. Photo credit: Sarah Jantzi

But I only have one life. And it’s not my own.

Can I justify doing things to satisfy my own wanderlust and desires?

What do the words mean, “Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart?” Am I not in tune enough with the Father’s heart to have my desires be his yet?

What does it mean to enjoy the gift of life that God has given us to the fullest, and yet being in tune to the needs of millions in this world who lack the privileges of money and freedom I have been given? Can I justify using my time and money in following my own desires while others are struggling to simply live?

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Kampong Speu, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Sarah Jantzi

What does it mean to be a Mary who serves?

Is it wrong to spend time reading literature just for the fact that it is well written, even if its spiritual benefit is low?

When is it right to spend money on your own comforts when it is something you could live without?

How do you decide where to pour out your life when there are so many things you love to do and would love to learn?

Paul was an apostle who poured out his life so others could hear the gospel. But did he ever stop on a mountain peak and drink in the glory of the natural world? Did he rejoice inwardly in the beauty of each culture he visited and delight in the different stripes and colors of each country?

This life is beautiful. The people and the world around me are beautiful and deserve to be noticed and gloried in. There are hundreds of amazing accomplishments of humanity that should be celebrated, not because of the human ability behind it, but because of the gift of talented brains and gifted hands that God has given us. There are hundreds of beautiful cultures and customs that express the image of God.

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Chintaluruh, India. Photo Credit: Diana Weiler

To sum it up, the question that remains is, “How do I live and taste this beautiful life to the fullest, without getting wrapped up in things that take away from the purpose God has given me?”

What do you think? I would love to hear from you.

Fog

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Suddenly I plunged into it. Up and upward I climbed, deeper into the heart of the mist. The echo of the Chinese tourists’ jabber faded and nothing remained but the winding road, the forest and the fog. I was alone in the world. Curve after curve we went, the fickle fog wisping in the hollows and around the mossy tree trunks, now fleeing in fear, now advancing recklessly, reaching around my hands, my neck, my arms, chilling me with welcome numbness. We climbed up  and then bounced down, my motorbike and I, through rutted tracks and mud, deeper and deeper into this alien world. When I stopped at the lookout to pull my camera from my backpack and turned off my bike, the silence hit me with a shout. Only the wind spoke its emptiness in the treetops, like a December breeze in a muffled midnight snow. Beneath me the fog rolled out in an fathomless ocean. I thrilled. I was alone in a world of fog. Alone.

Glimpses

Sometimes I have those moments of lying awake in bed at night and wishing I could take the next plane home, get out of the city, spend time with my family, visit my favorite haunts again, listen to the laughter of old friends, and tear down the road in a madcap gallop on a sorrel horse.

I do have those moments. In no small measure. But on the other hand, I also have moments of pure joy as I experience life in Southeast Asia.

It helps to count those moments. To look at pictures of them and savor the beauty and the joy. And the laughter. I face a thousand decisions a day and one of the decisions that come up the most is whether to laugh or to cry. Or lose my patience. And when I do make the right decision to laugh, it’s always a relief. Like the time I walked into the bathrooms after naptime and caught three of my three year old male students sleepily peeing into the toilet all at the same time. Sadly, the funniest moments are usually the most difficult to snap a picture of because they come at unpredictable moments.

Below are several snapshots of what life has been like in the last month. Beauty, laughter, and just plain cuteness.

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This is what life looks like for me most of the time. Minus the green and yellow. We only wear these uniforms Wednesdays and smile with relief when the day is past. This photo was taken at Wisdom Tree Home during the exercise part of the day. The rest of the day is spent teaching, playing, eating, napping, and prepping for more teaching. In my room alone, we have 20 students, age 3.

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This is Peem, one of my more solemn students. And sleepiest.

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We get lots of giggles, as shown in the picture above.

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Sometimes its really hard to wake up from naps, even when our blanket gets pulled out from underneath us.

We do art projects, we just simply look cute with our curls, we find worms and we fall asleep at the table. A lot.

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Sometimes this happens!

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Going to the market on Monday night is bound to bring me some sort of joy, whether its talking to the vendors, seeing people I know, or a tasty bite of fried chicken strips.

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One thing that keeps me sane is horseback riding, usually done on Saturdays.

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We got to go to a Karen wedding one Saturday.

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These two, a coworker and her daughter, keep me in laughter.

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And these two make me smile.

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We went to Maun Jam, a local mountain lookout one Saturday.

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At a local village, we spent some time with the children and later watched them play this game similar to volleyball.

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Sometimes just looking at the sky brings me all kinds of joy.

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One Saturday we spent time with a Thai friend at a 3D Art Museum.

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And when you combine rivers and coffee, life just becomes too much to handle. 🙂

Child That Never Really Was Mine 2

It’s now close to two years that I saw him last. Be was my first student at Wisdom Tree Home, and the one that left the most lasting imprint on my heart. I stumbled across a picture of him yesterday and floods of memories came back. Here is a poem I posted two years ago of him. I felt it would be appropriate to post it again.

*************

I miss you, I miss you, child of my heart

(Child that never really was mine)

Eyes so deep you’d think you’d drown

Drown in those tears of salty brine.

But child, child, I miss those hands

Brown and small that clung to my own

Clung to my hands and held to my heart

But now I hold alone.

************

The last time I saw you, child of mine

You looked so fragile and skinny and small

And I don’t know if I’ll ever again

Walk this way and hear you call

But child, child, I’ll never, forget

The way you hugged me that one last time

Child, I love you, no words can say

(Child that never really was mine).

-June 2015

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