Gray sky, blue sky
A cold winter
— that is why
A day of joy,
A day of doubt
All I need to remember is not to pout
When the sun warms
And when it fades
When there are times
I’m left in a daze
To hope for a new day,
to hope for a new life
It’s impossible to always get it right
Even when we try, and even when we don’t
Life feels like a toss-up
Although Divine Providence would never
have that be so
In all that I am and
in all that you are
Baby Jesus has called us to Himself
— no matter how little,
I’ve recently finished Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and was inspired, daunted, and fascinated with Chevalier’s rich content, complex plot, and overall intense story line. I’ve written a reader’s response to best capture what I thought was a highlight about the book, which includes a quote taken directly from my favorite part of the book, me capturing the way in which Griet, the main character thinks, and a review of what this book has to share. _______________________________________________________________________
Favored Quote: After Griet finds out that her master wants to paint a painting of her, her master’s friend tells her some undeniable words of wisdom:
“You watch out for yourself, my dear.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“You must know that he’s painting you to satisfy Van Ruijven. Do not get caught in their battle. You could be hurt.”
“I do not think he would ever hurt me, sir.”
“Tell me, my dear, how much do you know of men? You see, competition makes men possessive. He is interested in you in part because Van Ruijven is.”
I did not answer.
“He is an exceptional man,” Leeuwenhoek continued, “his eyes are worth a room full of gold. But sometimes he sees the world only as he wants it to be, not as it is. You must take care then…” He stopped. “Take care to remain yourself.”
I lifted my chin to him.
“To remain a maid, sir?”
“That is not what I mean. The women in his paintings – he traps them in his world. You can get lost there.”
Young women are the potential for so much. Our sense of intuition, our ability to connect with others and make lasting relationships, our God-given talents of multi-tasking, the flexible workings of our fingertips which aim to create beautiful things through the intricate workings of arts and crafts. We’ve been given the ability to be selfless, giving and compassionate, not only to our loved ones, but to people especially in need. While women have been given these traits and talents, the cautionary-side to women is we have delicate hearts and can risk giving ourselves above and beyond our duty to be self-giving. Griet’s situation in Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring proves this exactly. Her desire to be accepted and loved spills over into the work she does as a maid when she’s asked to help her master – the painter – mix his colors for his paintings and clean his studio daily. Griet grows an appreciation for his paintings, his talent, and becomes especially attracted to his demeanor: mysterious, masculine, and subtle. It is this part of her work that gets her though the gruesome days of being a maid to a family of six children, and the overbearing mother. For how simple of a 16 year old Griet is, she becomes a complex array of emotions just within a matter of months. Simply working among his presence and learning his different modes of communication is what prompts her to fall for him, despite the fact that he had never outwardly shown interest in her.
Without this confirmation or clarity, it allows Griet to keep up her feelings of admiration for her painter. This only leaves her stuck in her own mind, guessing at what his subtleties might mean, and what her image as maid meant to him. A clear conscience is too beautiful of a thing to be lost.
I was reflecting on my life as a maid 10 years back and couldn’t help but to remember the affection that seemed to circulate that attic where he would work. His paintings, his easel, his materials, his tables, chairs, and his supplies for colors were always within reach, and always my responsibility. But how I loved it! I never would have admitted that then, but I sincerely and whole-heartedly loved that my work also involved him. The young girl I was – naiive, innocent, and perplexed by the environment around me. And yet, how I obediently listened to him.
As I went up the stairs to his attic, I heard the chit-chatter from below. It was Catharina and Maertge. I should have known. Always suspicious of my work, I should have realized by now that whatever I do will always be held against me. My life as a maid was a never ending journey of pinpricks…So much to the point that I have to yell out to ask my God, “What next? What will my next battle be?”
I’m not a very daring person, but a few months ago, I made the bold decision to shred 10 journals I had written in starting from 2011. Three years is a lot of time. To me, looking back at a three-year time span was to re-live some of the most important days of my college career. As I opened my journal from the summer of 2011, I was immediately brought back to that unforgettably defining summer. Simply reading through the various entries I wrote in just one journal was like inviting a friend to stop by for a visit on a rainy day. I could tell from the look of my handwriting in that particular journal that I was happy and carefree. The way my “y’s” curled at the very ends to the exclamation points that appeared after each sentence was a personal indicator of my happiness. It seemed like nothing could shatter the perfect world I had going for me: Freedom, summer bliss, friends, camaraderie, days spent at the beach, late nights, and so much laughter.
For how beautiful and free that summer was, the following fall semester carried a very different tone. I struggled to keep my grades up, and had no concept of what time management actually meant. I remember struggling to find time to journal, and at times ended up putting precedence in that over my studies…Needless to say, I was an inexperienced student with a very unclear path and offset priorities. I guess I wasn’t so different from other college students, but looking back, I can see all the ways in which I desperately lacked at the things I should have been exceptional at. Hindsight is so telling.
I lived a constant schedule as a student, and was never shy of adding new outings to my already full agenda. Reading through my journals of 2012 and 2013 showed this tremendously. Early mornings and late nights were unavoidable, so were days full of classes, hard studies, and endless errands. There were days I had a million things on my mind, and so much of that was seen from my entries.
I guess what drove me to shred all of these journals was I didn’t want to have access to the past in that way. While my entries were about an assortment of topics, I had so much more to say about past loves, getting over hurt feelings, and making the conscious effort to move on. Interiorly, I knew the best way for me to move on was to remove all temptation of accessing these memories, and to finally put them to rest. It’s amazing how much weight the past can have on our futures, if we’re not careful. Making new decisions, forking a new path, making new friends…these types of things are decisions we make because we anticipate a change for the better.
“If you wish to travel light, take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears.” – Glenn Clark.
I grew up in what I thought was a small town. A town that had a lush greenery to the trees, the shrubs, the bushes – everything was always green every summer. The perfectly mowed and watered front lawns, the nice display of flowers and plants that occupied the middle barrier that separated the flow of traffic on my street…my hometown had a way of being perfect. Nearly everything on everybody’s front yards – bushes, shrubs, and each blade of grass was cared for with perfection – all of it was vibrantly green.
The community pool was always full of children where screams, laughter, and rough play could be heard. During the summer months when I’d sit by the pool with my siblings, I remember seeing little children play hide-and-go-seek on the open field of grass, while others shrieked in excitement as their friends threatened to push them by the water’s edge. There was always a daredevil who threatened the dreaded punishment – a forced cannonball, or worse, a belly flop into the pool’s murky and choppy shore. But this was summer. During the rest of the year, that pool is locked up, closed, and has nothing to offer but memories that are always forgotten by everyone.
Summer in my hometown is to re-live my childhood. Every now and then I’ll see some kids hold a lemonade stand outside of their house and it reminds me so much of when my siblings and I were younger – we would do the same thing. In 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina stuck, my younger sister 13 and my brother 10 at the time, held a lemonade stand right outside our house, advertising that their proceeds would go to the victims of Katrina. I didn’t help with their set up much, but I remember watching their determined efforts from my upstairs bedroom window. Later in the afternoon, I came downstairs for lunch, where my brother was mixing the concentrated lemonade in the already over-flowing pitcher… he was all smiles as he told me about their most recent customer – a woman who offered them a whole $20 and didn’t take even a sip of their lemonade. They both knew they had struck gold. Kids have a special desire to give of themselves even in the smallest of ways – inspiring.
When I see the young kids in my neighborhood riding their bikes or playing at the park, it sends me back into a time zone I forgot I had once lived in: childhood freedom! There was once a time I used to see the world at that pace, and with that ease. Why does time have to fly the way it does? As children, we can’t wait to grow up and prove ourselves to the world, desiring the independence granted to adults. But when childhood fades, we are left with the realization that our adult life has greater weight than we could have ever imagined. These realizations come to me perhaps because I have spent the past 3 summers away from my hometown. Being home for an entire summer will remind me of what my childhood summers were like. No matter what we’re doing, sometimes being in a particular place makes us feel as though we are re-living something memorable.
Something I have always loved to do is to go on runs around my neighborhood park near all the homes that intersect where I live. When I go on my runs, I go by many of my neighbor’s homes where I pass by the house of a family I used to baby-sit for when I was in high school. Behind my backyard is an entire street of huge 2 story houses, some with upper decks, and some with an extra garage. There are a few homes, however, that have stayed humble – the ones that are small and a one-story. Whenever I pass these homes, I think about how many of my neighbors I don’t know. While I may not know many of my neighbors’ last names, I do know some faces, and for some, I can even recall their names.
Case in point: There is a family with 2 boys about my brother’s age who lives along my street. The only reason why I know their names are because my brother used to play with them, but that was years ago. Another example, I used to swim on my community pool’s swim team and I got to know the daughters who live in the 2 story house close by mine. I know they have 2 brothers and both their parents were super loud – always yelling at swim meets, and in some way, always seemed to bicker with each other. I know all their names. Another instance, an old woman who lives in the house adjacent to mine, while I don’t know her name, I do know she used to go for walks around the block in her long gray jacket every day. She walked slow, and always looked lonely. I heard stories from her next door neighbor that she was a grumpy old woman who was widowed, lived alone, and liked to bark at people for not taking care of their lawn. She always looked scary to me.
It’s strange to live in a place with so many people and to not know about those people’s lives, to not know about the family that lives across the street from me, to not consider my neighbors as friends, comrades, confidantes. No. Many of my neighbors are strangers. I hope this isn’t what most neighborhoods experience. Perhaps it’s the effect that comes with affluence (what my hometown is known for). It’s something that makes people separate from each other, confide in no one but themselves, and hide from public appearance. It’s a cycle I’d like to break when I get my own house.
To me, it’s funny how even though I have neighbors all around me, it can sometimes feel as though they aren’t really there. I thought I grew up in a small town. What I thought was small, has indeed become very big.
One of the greatest things in life is getting the chance to start again. Two years ago, I went on a silent retreat right before Christmas – it was a perfect time to make a retreat. This retreat happened right after an intense semester full of work and studies…I couldn’t wait to get away and leave my stressful studies for finals and the brutally intense semester behind. I was in a desperate plea to get away and reflect on the crazy semester I had just finished. It was a semester where I felt I had lost total control of my schedule. I was a social butterfly beyond belief, and my studies suffered incredibly. It was not good. During the course of this retreat, one of the things I remember the priest saying was that we should give thanks to God for giving us second chances to start over – to take time away from our work, to reflect and learn. I had never thought of this. Here I was, on a retreat, in dire need of starting over, and in serious need of hearing those words.
I don’t know what sparked it, but on the first day of this year, I was brought to reflect again on those words that were uttered by the priest who gave my retreat. “We should give thanks to God for giving us chances to start again. Take time away from our work, reflect and learn.” Although I had not seriously reflected on those words since that retreat two years ago, those words resounded loudly in my thoughts as I sought to start again in a spirit of reflection and thanksgiving on new years day.
It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve finished my studies as an undergrad. Each day, and especially before falling asleep at night, I have visions and flashbacks of my life in San Jose. Biking from my apartment to my campus each morning and night, biking to my work to the Student Union, to the Cathedral downtown, to the grocery store, to the bank, and back to my apartment – I biked so much – I biked everywhere! And I miss that! I think what I miss the most is my 10 minute bike-commute from my apartment to my campus each morning. There was something really special about that commute. I lived 8 blocks away from my campus, so during my commute, I would bike past houses of every color, shape and size. It wasn’t until a year in to my commute did I actually start noticing what types of houses I was biking past. I remember one house that had yellow paint on the outside, and it had a huge front porch. Before the front porch were steps that acted as a leading path to the front porch. It looked like a house featured on the Wizard of Oz – giant steps that lead to the front porch, a huge front door, and enough room beneath the front porch for there to be a big basement.
Another one of my favorites was a house that stood on the opposite end of one of the many intersections I used to cross. Morning after morning, I would see an old man sitting in his rocking chair to the side of his front porch reading his newspaper, occasionally looking up to watch the passerby’s. He could have easily gone unnoticed, but on that given day, I noticed him. There were lost of things like this. In the early evening (if I got lucky enough to get home in the early evening!) I would often times see small children playing on their front lawns, fathers playing with their children on the lawns, mothers standing on their front steps watching the evening sunset, and a cat or dog perched near the front window – peacefully looking out at the world. It was the small things like this that started me on the right foot as I began my day, and added a special touch to the end of my day.
A lot of the time I would get home very very late. Biking in the cold was the norm, and sadly, there was never any way I could avoid it. However, once I got biking, my shivers and first reactions to the cold would subside and my thoughts would automatically attach to re-living the moments and happenings of my day. What I loved about biking in the dark was that I got to see the streets and my part of the city in a different way. The houses that I had passed in the morning were lit up on the inside where, if I looked closely enough, I’d be able to see someone grabbing something from the kitchen, standing in their front living room watching TV, talking with a family member, or drawing the blinds from their bedroom window upstairs. On my evening bike rides home, I’d reflect on the people that lived in these houses and apartment buildings. What were they doing? Who were they? And what are their life stories?
In a recent conversation I had with my brother, I told him about these thoughts – the people inside these homes that I would bike past, and their day-to-day lives. When I told him that I would sometimes wonder what people were doing, and asked him if he ever wondered those things, he came out with an emphatic reply, “Yea, they’re probably doing nothing!!” I burst into laughter.
Other things that remind me of my day-to-day life in San Jose is sitting at my desk. Even just the simple act of being on my computer while at my desk makes me feel like I’m back in my apartment again. I have no idea how many hours I was at my desk, but it’s the only place I’d be for long periods of time whenever I was in my apartment. The other day while I was at my desk in my new and improved room (the room my sister has graciously opened up for me to share with her 🙂 I had a very vivid flashback of being back inside my apartment, where to the left of me would be the big window that looked out to the park right across from my apartment complex, and in front of me would be my calendar – reminders of upcoming events, projects and assignments. It’s funny to me how simply being at my desk brings such an intense reminder of my late night studies. But I guess that only makes sense – that’s really all I did!!
I loved living in San Jose, I loved the apartment I lived in, and I loved the girls I lived with!I may not have the lifestyle that I had in San Jose for a while, but I feel very grateful to have had the freedom, the lifestyle, and the space that I did while I could live there.
Viva mi ciudad lejos de mi autentico ciudad – viva mi San Jose!!!!
Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!!
While I have used this blog as a space to reflect on my travel experience abroad, an outlet to express my love of the Spanish language, and a place to simply write — I have to say, my primary love in this life is my relationship with the Catholic Church, and so it only makes sense that I express that on a feast day such as today — Feliz dia fiesta de la senora de Guadalupe!! Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe!!
Thoughts and reflections from Pope Francis as he sends his love to the Americas ❤