by Becca J.R. Lachman, guest contributor
Photo by Daniel Peckham/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
February 1. 65 degrees in SE Ohio. Our minds shift to “April” “earth,” “skirts.” We check lawns for daffodils-in-the-making, our laundry remembering how to flap. No one checks the 10-day forecast. We don’t want to know.
On my way to play piano for a ballet class, I spot a sunflower the size of my palm on the sidewalk ahead. Escaped from a bouquet? I think, excited, Or a sign that spring’s settled in? I reach down to be its rescue—find out it’s plastic. The rest of my day feels the same.
A college town openly displays its secrets, especially when snow finally melts. Crushed green glass and leopard bikini briefs, abandoned; an open pizza box with a necklace inside; cigarette butts, the tail-ends of conversations never finished. This time of year, the ground can reflect us.
For seven weeks, I gently build up to two questions, give my poetry students hard homework: What does it mean to be a writer in a time of war?, What would you ask a soldier if you could ask anything? Only half the class shows up to answer. I come home and pull covers up over my head, just another bulb.
The full moon pulls out dreams like silk pajamas from open drawers. For weeks, my sleep’s been filled with characters in plain dress, actors in bonnets or suspenders pretending to be something they’re not. I am the one who calls them out, reveals their false identity. Exact accusations from these dreams: “Who’s your bishop?,” “What have you given up?,” “What’s your favorite cheese?” The question I get most often about my upbringing: “What makes you different from me?” Sometimes, it also feels like accusation.
Last night, I was going to build a house on the edge of my grandpa’s farm—but in the dream, I didn’t recognize the land. I wake up frightened.
The wind stirs up more questions, allergies, afternoons under the quilts. How long can a Mennonite last without community?, Have the squirrels eaten all the daffodil bulbs?, Could my students spend a whole day in silence? Could I?, Who will shake our lives gently, tell us, ‘Shhhh—You’ve just been dreaming’?
Even Thoreau kept secrets hidden by the louder things he said, had his mother do his laundry. The wind blows our socks from the clothesline and into the woods. The president gives a speech. We forget what we’re funding. It’s too warm to care. I may never know what my students have learned from me.
Accepting the shape of one life takes practice. Remember asking for someone to help you trace the outline of your body on a sheet of torn-off paper? Did you recognize yourself as only border? I swear, just now, I smelled what the garden could be.
Becca J.R. Lachman is a poet, college writing instructor, and singer-songwriter living in Athens, Ohio. Her first book of poems, The Apple Speaks, investigates her Swiss Mennonite roots along with being an “AMK” (adult missionary kid), and is slated for release in April 2012.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments
by Bruce Stambaugh, guest contributor
Forty years ago, the very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church was on non-resistance. It was exactly what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.
Four decades later, I accompanied my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of their physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day roundtrip. In his situation, Dad needed extra care.
Given my non-resistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. I needed to go with him, regardless of my personal convictions.
As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon landing at Reagan National Airport, fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner — a ritual usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played the patriotic music of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and “God Bless America.” Dozens of bouquets of red, white, and blue balloons tied to posts and chairs bobbed in the air. Hundreds of volunteers young and old vigorously greeted us.
The entourage visited several war monuments in the U.S. capital that day. At the circular, granite National World War II Memorial, strangers approached the vets with reverence and emotionally shared their gratefulness. They shook the vets’ hands and thanked them for their service. I quietly took it all in, tears streaming, emotions and thoughts mentally whirling. Still, I tried to focus my attention on caring for my elderly father.
Returning to the airport later that same day, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said his experience ranked right behind his marriage of 67 years. With that comment, I was glad that I had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored and glad he was able to go. Dad died three months later.
Despite all the hoopla of the day — or perhaps because of it — the futility of war became all the more obvious to me. The events reinforced my non-resistance stance. In listening to the vets on the plane and buses that transported us throughout the day, I heard them all say that they hated what they had to do. I also remembered the words of Jesus, who said to turn the other cheek and go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.
For a day, I had one foot on the foundation of God and country and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world. Because of this experience, I bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. Yet, I knew I could not have done what they had — not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.
I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my Father in heaven. In that paradox, I found no conflict whatsoever.
Bruce Stambaugh is a retired educator and a freelance writer living in Millersburg, Ohio. You can read more of his writing on his blog at Roadkill Crossing, and Other Tales from Amish Country.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
The best — and perhaps quirkiest — aspects of being Mennonite were on display in northern Indiana last weekend. The Michiana MCC Relief Sale is an annual fundraising event for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a world-wide relief organization. The sale is part quilt auction, part junk auction, part garage sale, part bake sale, part county fair, part family reunion.
Although there are 30 MCC relief sales in the United States and 14 in Canada each year, Michiana (Indiana-Michigan area) hosts the largest, attracting between 20,000-25,000 people and raising upwards of $350,000 annually. It also happens to be in my old hometown of Goshen, Indiana.
So this past weekend I made my pilgrimage to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds with two non-Mennonite friends who have always wanted to experience this sale. They weren’t disappointed, and I was proud to call myself Mennonite.
The Mennonite denomination, like many others, has struggled with divisive issues over the years, and I haven’t always appreciated how these issues have been — or have not been — resolved. But this weekend we were at our best. Progressive Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Amish worked hand-in-hand to raise money for a belief they all share in common — that it is our joyful duty to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Church groups have been working all year: quilting, woodworking, baking, and canning to donate these goods to the sale. The weekend of the sale, groups and individuals are selling their items, staffing the quilt auction, cooking food, planning logistics, and cleaning the fairgrounds. Our differences are forgotten as we work toward a common goal.
The sale runs Friday night through Saturday afternoon and features multiple auctions, a garage sale, children’s auction and activities, a 10K run, and lots of food: pies, sausage, cheese, pancakes, kettle corn, moon pies, elephant ears, apple dumplings, and new ethnic foods. For my parents, Friday night is the night to buy their year’s supply of sausage from Mishler’s Meats before they sell out. So, my friends and I went with them.
Walking through the crowds on Friday night with our bags of sausage and Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken was like being at a family reunion. In addition to Goshen being a small town, many Mennonites are related and/or know one another. Mennonites in the area go to the sale; Mennonites who have left the area come back for it. Running into relatives and friends I haven’t seen since my last relief sale in 2007 felt like “old home week” at the fairgrounds.
One highlight of the year is the Penny Power fundraiser in which each person is asked to save pennies as tokens of the privileges and abundance he/she has. During the month prior to the relief sale, participants put aside pennies each day based on a Penny Power calendar. The way the Penny Power project links giving and self-awareness is evident in some of these example days on the calendar:
But, without question, the crown jewel of the weekend is the quilt auction. Hundreds of quilts are carefully and lovingly created throughout the year and are put up for auction to around 300 bidders. This year, the quilts alone raised $102,000 with one quilt selling for $5,000.
Perhaps most moving was the traveling quilt. The traveling quilt is a beautiful quilt that began traveling earlier this year. It has gone from one relief sale to another across North America, always going up for bids but never sold. Instead, everyone who bids on the quilt gives his/her bid as a donation to MCC. Bids started at $1,000 for a quilt you can’t take home with you and ended with $25 bids. And now it moves on to the next MCC Relief Sale to be held in Virginia this weekend.
Ultimately, the relief sale is not just about giving to help the poor. It is also about acknowledging our relative wealth and the resources we have. The sale helped me once again appreciate the values with which I was raised — be generous, care for others, work hard, give till it hurts, work for peace, be the hands and feet of your faith.
Photos by David YoderComments