Romanian Grace

The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

25 January, 2007


So there I was. Ortho guy sitting in a folding chair at a particle board table in the middle of the examination room. He spoke English, so we had less trouble communicating. He looked at my x-rays, then prodded around on my foot.

"This hurt? This hurt? How about this?"


"You do not have a fracture. It is only a bruise, but it could take a month or more to heal. Here is a prescription for pain medicine."

"Oh. No thank you. It really doesn't hurt that much."

"You mean you don't want the prescription?"

"No. I can sleep at night just fine. It only hurts when I put pressure on it.... You're sure it's not broken?"

"I am sure. Here's the pain medicine prescription."

"Thanks. I'll drink lots of milk. Maybe that will help?"

"No. Only beer."

Five minutes after entering with a fracture on my heel, I left with only a deep bruise, some drugs, and a recommendation to drink alcohol. I wonder if he meant with the pills or no?

* * * * * * * * * *

I was part of a discussion recently in which we began talking about the [places in God's Word that talk about "a sacrifice of thanksgiving." I had never thought of it this way before, but thanksgiving is not a sacrifice when it is easily rendered. When all is well with life and with my circumstances, it is very easy to be thankful. God's Word challenges us, however, to be thankful not just in spite of difficulty, not just in the midst of pain of various kind, but because of those very things. How can we thank God for the pain in our lives. For the difficult people? For the unsettling of our souls by events all around us, out of our control?

I believe God tells us in his word that He sends these things to those he loves, that his children can expect them. I have had very little suffering in my life. Extremely little. Truth be told, I have probably caused much more suffering in this world than I have felt. Regardless, without fail, the result of suffering is that I learn a little more to trust our Lord and all his promises to deliver us, all his promises that he only gives his children good things. When I am wounded, I am weak enough to stop fooling myself that I can handle whatever comes my way. I learn and relearn to trust in my Saviour. Then I forget and re-forget quickly. And so on.

Last night I was in the home of an older man who has just had his second leg removed just below the hip. These days, he can sit on the couch and watch TV, and that's about it. He drinks his juice shakily and eats next to nothing. He no longer can play the piano and is too weak to hold an accordion, which he used to play for weddings. His wife and granddaughter tend to him every hour of the day. He cannot move out of his place or go to the bathroom without their assistance. In the world's eyes, this man is an invalid, a half-man, useless. In the eyes of our God, who continues to number every hair on this man's head, he is a precious child, worth the life of His perfect Son. I pray that Domnul Nicolai will nearer to our Lord in his weakness. I pray the same for myself.

24 January, 2007

the ortho-guy

A friend of mine threatened me with physical harm if I left the story unfinished from the other day (which would be fine with me since she would have to come over here to do it). I will attempt to do so now, but my muse is already sleeping. It is past eleven, and I should not be at the computer but in bed.

I finally made it to the ortho guy, no thanks to the x-ray man. I still don't know where he told us to go, but we wound up going back to the GP and talking to her, and then she told us another ortho-guy to go to, even called to set up an appointment. She hung up the phone and said I would be number twenty, not to go for a couple of hours.

A couple of hours later, I walked in. Piles of people filled the hemorrhoidal benches lining the hallway. I sat down, somewhat painfully since hurting my foot doing something stupid had been immediately preceded by hurting my butt doing something stupid. I had brought along the book, A Tale Of Two Cities, to read, and I was soon immersed in the emergent plot. Jarvis Lorry was just bumping along the Dover road talking to a ghost when the door swung open. I saw everyone look at the number in their hands, and someone walked in.

"I ought to get me one of those numbers," says I to myself. Probably at the front desk.

"Speak English?"

"Nu!" She smiled at me pathetically and handed me the number 20 on a card. Wonder how she knew I was the American who was going to be coming in? She then spoke something else to me in very slow Romanian that I understood no better than anyone else's fast Romanian, and she pointed at the door where the doctor was letting in another patient. When I looked sufficiently confused, she said, "THREE. DOOR. THERE."

I thanked her and walked back to my bench. On the way, I asked someone what number they were on. An old man and woman simultaneously answered "six" and "seven." They began arguing about which number had actually just been called when I said it didn't matter, that I was number twenty. They looked at me either with a look of deep pity or, more likely the look I get often that says, "What on earth did you just say?"

In a small recess in the hallway I found some padded chairs. Since I was going to be there a while, I thought I might as well be comfortable. It seemed unlikely that I would make it in before closing, and I began wondering if I should hold on to my number until the next day or perhaps come early enough to jockey for a better position. The benches began clearing after an hour or two. I moved into the hallway proper, closer to the door. Still about four or five people waiting. The front desk lady came walking down the hall and seemed surprised to see me there. I guess she said something like, "What are you still doing here?!"

It made me feel like I had done something wrong.

She immediately poked her head in to the doctor, then poked her head back out to me and told me to do something that I did not understand but thought it best to smile and agree with. As she walked away, the man next to me, number 18, was motioning for me to go in. I poked my head in and interrupted some private meeting, it looked like. They told me to wait. I sat back down next to 18. I tried to explain to him that, sine he was #18 and I was #20 (I now felt like we were inmates in a French prison camp), that he should go first. He just smiled and shook his head. Then that other Romanian look that says, "You really just don't get it, do you?"

Look. The last thing I wanted was to be the American who got special treatment at the orthopedic office. A nurse opened the door from within and said something I took to mean next. I motioned to the other guy and he motioned to me. Somehow he communicated that he was more serious about this than I, so in I went.

It is my bedtime. I will have to finish this later.

23 January, 2007

vocabulary building

If you want to eat out in a foreign country, there are a few words you must know. Bathroom is one. Anchovies is another.

One of my favorite places for pizza was a place called (strangely enough in Romania) El Barrio. I went there one time with my friend Darin, and we were both munching away on pizzas, which we had slathered in garlic mayonnaise, when I looked up at him and said, "Does this garlic sauce taste kind of fishy or something?"

" It tastes garlic-y," came his reply.

"Mine tastes kind of...fishy." I took another bite and as I was chewing examined my pizza. In places, beneath the grease and cheese landscape dotted with capers were several greyish humps. I disected one with the tine of my fork.

"I discovered the source of the fish flavor. That word I couldn't read on the menu, it turns out, was 'anchovies.'"

"Would you like a slice of my pizza?" Darin is what we refer to here in Romania as an "om bun (ohm boon)," or a swell guy.

+ + + + + + + + +

That was about two months ago. Yesterday we went to El Barrio again. One pizza, the Napolitan, caught my eye. It caught my eye because it was cheap and had capers on it.

When it came out I looked at it and one of those deja vu or cell memory shivers crawled down my spine, performed a little jig on my spleen, and swung in a hammock in my stomach. Ten little greyish humps. That same fishy smell. I spread the garlic mayonnaise on thick and tried to convince myself that starving kids in Africa would love to have this pizza. I also tried to eat it contentedly enough that Darin would not completely pity me (or laugh at me (which he would never do because he is an om bun)).

This is what we call experiential education.

19 January, 2007

To my health

I have become the unofficial test dummy for medical facilities here in Brasov county. In the last three weeks I have been to a general practitioner, the x-ray man, the orthopedic guy, the amputee ward of the hospital, and the dentist.

The gp was easy enough. I hobbled in there on a foot hurting from a stunt too stupid to repeat. If you know me and all the stupid ways I’ve injured myself that I don’t mind sharing, you will understand. Then it was on to the x-ray man. We went to this private clinic called Hyperdia, which was supposed to be much nicer than its state-run counterparts, which, once I got there became absolutely harrowing. I sat and waited with Ed, team leader, in a poorly lit yellow hallway on a simple wooden bench and watched several doctors walk by in pink and mauve bathrobes. Seriously. They were fuzzy. My mother had one like them when I was young. Most of them wore matching slippers. It actually did not occur to me that they were the doctors at first. I thought they were patients, and I remember feeling pity for a couple of the more pathetic-looking ones, like the one who turned out to be the x-ray man. We sat out on that bench for a while because the sign on the door clearly said, “Wait outside! Don’t come in here uninvited!”

Eventually this one lady who worked there said, “Uh…why don’t you just go in?” So we went in. And they told us to get out. So we waited outside. Finally the x-ray man with yellow skin and disheveled hair came out the door and asked me something in hurriedly mumbled Romanian. I looked at him as a chimpanzee might return your stare through its bars if you were wearing shiny earrings, a kind of stunned and quizzical silence. The man sitting next to me said, “What country! What country!” Oh. America. I followed the doctor into his chamber and began explaining to him my problem. He held up his hand, motioning for me to stop trying, and I handed him the prescription the gp had written. He showed me into the x-ray room and told me to take off my boot, and I did so and climbed onto the megalithic device, and he, very gently, flattened my injured heel onto the frigid metal. I tried to explain to him that that hurt. He pretended not to understand.

After a few x-rays, during each of which he disappeared into the next room to zap my foot with his radioactivity, he slouched into the room and motioned me back to the hallway to await results. Ed had returned, and we marveled together as we watched patients unconscious on stretchers without straps or rails being whisked around corners by orderlies apparently running some kind of grand prix time trials. The doctor came back out and, holding the x-rays up to the light assured me that my heel was, in fact, fractured. He kept pointing to this one spot of bone that looked just like every other spot of bone in the picture. I figured he saw something I was to unsophisticated to notice. He told me to go to the ortho-guy and turned to go back to his vault. “But…where is he…?” I asked. “Go! You must go now!” Was about all the help we got.

This is too long. I will have to finish in installments, I’m afraid. Tune in next time for: ortho-guy.

15 January, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Future

My tree has been assembled and decorated for over a month now and still going strong. We think he can make until Valentine's Day at least.

recalled to life

I'm not dead...yet. Some of you (though not nearly enough of you) have expressed some concern based on my lack of e-mailing and blogging. Communication has been scant, and I will happily attribute that to my lack of rigid structure over the holidays. I am not one of those people who handles loose schedules for very long. I was always the kid who needed clearly laid out boundaries and such. I still have some growing up to do.

But. We are back in school, and I have a purpose to my life again. I am teaching poetry, which is not part of any curriculum we are using, but I cannot imagine having a year void of poetry. So we have been reading some of my favorites: Frost, Hopkins, Shaw, Collins, Blake, and a few others who are interesting for various reasons. This week we will be writing our own poetry, which to me is even more exciting, at least from this teacher's perspective. Why do we learn all those big fancy words? What are dictionaries for? You mean I notice and enjoy beautiful things just because they are beautiful? Why? We get to continue the work begun by Adam when he named his first aardvark. Annie Dillard says, "Beauty and grace are performed whether we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." Poetry, I think, is the practice of "being there." With my students' permission, I will be posting some of the things they write over the next few months. Maybe some of mine, too.

Since it is late and I have a full day with my students tomorrow, I shall sign off.

Lost but not forgotten (I hope).