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India is built on levels. I am stumbling over little ledges and uneven stairs, every day. I am slow to learn that a walk across a floor or a sidewalk or a road does not assume the surface will be smooth.

After three weeks, I am more cautious. I expect a few challenges as I move about. I accept the stubbed toe with less frustration over the different-to-me architecture and remind myself to lift my feet higher or move more carefully than I do in my familiar homeland. I try to do less charging around and to be more observant. I remember that I am the visitor. And in the dark, I take the arm of my son, whose eyes are better than mine and whose steps are less practised in stubborn habit.

There is a metaphor here for the traveler, I suppose. A lesson for me, at least.

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the market in Shillong

the market in Shillong

I would have missed him if Ray hadn’t stopped and pointed him out.

“How would you like to make your living like that?” he says.

I look down and see him, sitting in a little window-like depression in the wall, half-buried below the road, his knees up under his chin and his head tilted forward. A folded up man; he could have fit into my suitcase. On the ground in front of him are locks and keys, his wares for sale.

My hand finds my phone in my pocket, but I can’t bring myself to pull it out and take a photo. I feel every inch of my white skin, standing there, looking down at him.

I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know the things he thinks or feels, whether he has a family, what he will eat for supper or where he will sleep. I can’t begin to understand his life.

For a half a minute, in the busy Shillong market, I look at a man in a wall like I’d look at an animal in a zoo. I can not bring myself to photograph him. I walk by and on the next block I buy a scarf. This is India.


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I have been asked to teach a class to a room full of women. I sit on a chair and smile at them, and they sit around me on chairs and wooden benches, and smile, too.

English? I say.

They look at each other and look at me and we smile at each other some more.

I am teaching a class to women in Lalmati, in the province of Assam, in India, and I do not have a translator.

I tell a small story. I act it out with flapping hands and waving arms and pointing, using all my limited acting skills, and they watch, intense and focused. I know they are not understanding but we try, together.

I pass around pictures of my family and my town. We manage to learn a little about each other, mainly the number of children we each have.

I give each woman a snowflake Christmas ornament. One woman who can speak a tiny bit of English, says, “Flower?”

“Snow,” I say, and I spend fifteen giggling minutes trying to explain snow to women who have never seen it.

Wendy and I bring out plastic beads and gold elastic, and they jump up, eager to each make a bracelet. It seems a cheap thing next to their beautiful saris, but they are excited to make and wear a pretty thing.

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I am tired, walking down the mountain at the end of the day. It seems, perhaps, a silly thing, trying to share stories with people to whom I can’t talk. I don’t know their thoughts or impressions or ideas of what we did together. I don’t quite know my own.

We sat in a circle and smiled and struggled to know each other a little and, common language or not, maybe now we do.

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

Guwahati, Assam from my hotel window

I haven’t been in India long enough to know much about it, other than first impressions. The things I was told are true. India is loud and the traffic is crazy and the smell is a hot, aromatic stew of spicy food, rotting garbage, and sweating bodies.

It is festival time here in Guwahati, in the province of Assam. India is celebrating Durga Puja, and in the evenings the streets are flowing with people. They trek from temple to temple, accompanied by horns and whistles and noise-makers of all sorts. It’s a headache-making kind of noise, like a junior high school orchestra warming up.

I won’t presume to know anything about anything. I can simply accept the experience as it unfolds. I think I am falling in love with India, but we are at the very beginning of this relationship, and new relationships are always exciting and full of unknown promise and uncertainty.

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Mountain view from the classroom window at Bread of Life School

Yesterday, my friends and I were the only white people walking along the market street, and people took pictures of us. Today, we drove a ridiculous mountain road to Bread of Life School, where we laughed with children and ate rice with our fingers and watched a brown monkey scamper across a rooftop. The boys climbed to the top of a mountain with a new friend, and I hugged a dozen beautiful, gracious women.

India is a colourful first date right now. I suppose we might disappoint each other at some point, but like any new relationship these beginning days are meant to be exciting and intoxicating, and so they are.

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A popular blogger was kindly chastised the other day for not using people-first language. She’d referred to her friend’s cute baby as a Down’s baby (as opposed to a child with Down’s Syndrome) and her comment section lit up. People-first language, please, was the gist of it. My initial thoughts, I confess, were along the lines of, Oh, great. More political correctness to stumble over. More silly this-is-how-we-say-it-now. But after a moment’s consideration I realized, of course.

People-first language, please?

Of course. Yes.

Because people are always people, first.

I’m conscious of it, now. I’m more deliberate in my thinking about you. I try to consider people in a people-first way. I’m more intentional about looking past the easy, first-glance descriptors, past the first impressions. I’m exercising my Jesus-eyes, those eyes that look deep into hearts and souls. So …

The checkout girl at the grocery store is, instead, the woman who woke up early and went to work to earn her dollars by helping me pay for and pack my family’s food, so I sincerely thank her and wish her a good morning.

The homeless man wandering the downtown streets is, instead, the man who, for reasons unknown to me, does not have a place to live, and so I look at him and smile right into his face as I walk by.

The bratty kid in the park is, instead, the child who is having a hard time making friends, so I put a hand on his shoulder when I ask him not to push and I smile at his momma.

I’m trying so hard to negate all those years of first-impression eyesight. I’m trying hard to not see you as the snobby woman or the crippled guy or the blonde girl or the disrespectful teenager or the needy friend. I’m even trying to go beyond seeing you as a perfect mom or the smart girl or the lucky one, because that’s not fair or accurate, either.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself, too. I’m trying to see myself as a person, first. I am trying to look into my own soul and my own heart, and to see what He sees when He calls me Beloved, to see myself as a girl who is smart and beautiful, as a woman who loves to laugh and enjoys a good story and takes courage and tries her best.

We are people first, friends. All of us.

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I was one of those who drank the Tiny House kool-aide. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those websites and links with words like off-grid and financial freedom and eco-friendly and how to build a house out of a shipping container for $2000. I drank a tiny glass of all that tiny wonderful-ness and I imagined an amazing tiny life and I thought:

How cute. How adorable are those tiny sinks and tiny toilets. How wonderful to pare your home down to such a basic level. What freedom! What an awesome way to disconnect from consumerism and materialism.  How lovely to miniaturize everything. How easy it would be to clean and organize.

Then, without really planning for it, tiny living happened to me, and it looks like two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an itty-bitty multi-purpose space in the basement of our friend’s home. (He is so sweet. He could not be sweeter.) We share his upstairs area (kitchen and living room) while trying to give him the space he needs for his own busy life. We’re paying him a tiny amount of rent and in return we have the gift of time. A year or so to settle in and live in this town and figure out what *it* will look like for us.

Reality is often less adorable than the dream, isn’t it? Reality right now is an ugly second-hand couch (ugly couches are my lot in life, it seems) and a lot of close-quarters navigating. Reality is tolerance and accommodating each other and sharing. Reality is crowded.

It’s kind of a fun challenge. It’s not the tiny home of my dreams, maybe, but life is not a dream. Life is real and complicated and requires grace and flexibility, and if you embrace all of that, it can be a tiny bit wonderful.

May we live all kinds of tiny graces today, friends, no matter the sizes of our homes or the expanses of our lives. May we find polite ways to share our spaces, whether at home or in the grocery store queue or online. May we use our words in healing, supporting ways. May we share coffees and cookies and rub elbows instead of throwing them. May our close quarters invite intimacy, friendship, and cooperation.

May we experience all the unexpected crowded blessings life offers.

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When I moved from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, I was expecting some things. I was expecting to enjoy the weather and the view. I was expecting to have a few anxious moments along the way, and to miss my friends and my familiar Saskatchewan life. I was expecting some fun/uncomfortable/stretching feelings as we searched out new grocery stores, coffee shops, and churches.

What I hadn’t expected was to begin remembering myself.

I’m remembering myself here, on the shore of the Shuswap Lake and on the bank of the Enderby River and on the deck of the house of the friend who is letting us stay with him. It’s coming back to me in slow waves of warmth and a gentle soul-awakening. I’m waking up, is what it feels like. I’m turning, returning, to the girl who loved the lake and the sun and baggy shirts and cutoff jeans. I can feel her stretching inside me, turning her face up and smiling toward the sky.

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It’s not the place, really, although there is no denying the beauty of British Columbia. It’s the change and everything it took inside to make the change. It’s the bravery of saying goodbye and the courage to say hello. It’s less stuff and better goals. It’s opening up to possibility and the freedom of starting fresh. It’s a longing acted on, and believed prayer, and going when it seems right to go. It’s accepting the hassle and stepping off the curb.

I’m remembering myself in all of this. I’m fifty-two years old, and I’m the youngest I’ve been in a long long time.