I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college in San Pablo City, Philippines. A lot of you already know this, partly because I kept a Filipino flag plastered on my wall for several years after that, like I owed the country my allegiance. And partly because I didn’t talk about much else for a while. I was volunteering for a Christian organization called Open Door, which consisted of an orphanage, church, and school in one complex. It was the best summer of my life to date. (Unless you count the following summer I spent taking American Literature and working in the MC mailroom.) I’m absolutely positive that I learned more that summer than I taught, but, oh well. I learned that I can sleep on the floor for 8 weeks and not die. I learned that I cannot spend every day with the same people and not go a little crazy and that I was too immature to handle that communication properly. I learned that I can wear a t-shirt every day of my life and be happy as a lark. (But I think we all already knew that. Sorry Mom.) I learned that eating rice everyday doesn’t make you fat. Eating French fries every day makes you fat. (Sorry Mom.) I learned that I have a deep passion for pineapple. I learned that I like writing and journaling but that I really sound like an idiot when I go back and read it. Oh well. I learned that I can be far away from the familiar and be okay. I learned that despite my desperate desire to go and do and go again, I always miss home. But there’s one story that’s been running through my head lately that happened during the first few days I was at Open Door and I want to tell you about it. I’m not quit sure how it’s supposed to relate to my current life but, I feel like there’s a connection. And maybe writing it will help make sense. And maybe it will be eloquent. And maybe I will sound like an idiot. Oh well…Okay. So. There was a little boy living there named RJ. RJ has lots of brothers and sisters, but this story has just one focus. He was a bit of a fireball and a troublemaker. So right up my alley. He was fearless. And there’s a lot to be said for that. Because if my father had been killed and my mother was forced to put me in a home, I would be full of fear, not void of it. RJ was kind of one of my favorites. Not that I had favorites, because I don’t have favorites, but you know what I mean. We just kind of had a little connection. You could typically find us together if there was free time. He was either trying to climb on my head (because children have always associated me with jungle gyms) or throwing things at me. He often referred to me as “boyfriend”. I just always assumed he wasn’t aware of both of the masculine and feminine versions of that English word. RJ was about 7 years old when I was there. So now when I think about how old the kids are and where they might be living I just cry a lot. But that’s not the point of this story. RJ’s English was pretty limited, naturally as young as he was, so most of our communication was pointing and pulling and charades. Alright, so the other girls and I had only been there a couple weeks, which means the children were definitely excited we were still there but didn’t completely trust us yet. One evening RJ and bunch of the other younger kids were outside like any normal night, playing basketball and what not. Well, for some reason (I might actually have a lot to do with the reason) they decided to start doing flips off of each other. You know how you hold hands and one person climbs up the legs of the stationary person and does a back flip? Well, if you are a child or have a child and have never done that, I suggest you do it. Just make sure the stationary person has enough strength to support the “flipper”. Otherwise you end up like RJ, face-planting on the concrete. And there was a substantial amount of blood coming from RJ’s forehead. I was not outside when this happened. I did not see it. And it as probably good I did not see it, because I think I would have thrown up. I do not have a weak stomach. I have always been able to handle more gruesome things. But I was affected when this kid got hurt. One of the girls came upstairs to tell me he had gotten hurt and that they needed someone to sit with him for a while to be sure he didn’t have a concussion. And was all like PICK ME! So I ran. Ran. Downstairs to find him and he was sitting on a bench looking pitiful. He had been all patched up by the time I learned of the incident, so I just sat down next to him. It was just the two of us. He was abnormally quiet and still. And I had this knot in my stomach and this lump in the throat that I thought would never go away. I just looked down at him and put my arm around him and he rested his tiny little head on my shoulder and we sat there for about an hour. Just sitting. He was hurt and I was hurting. And I just kept thinking about how this is how my mom must have felt that time I wrecked the Jeep and almost killed (slight exaggeration) John-Mark and myself so she threw up on the side of the road a few times when she saw the wreckage. And now I know what you’re thinking. I can hear you.
Joyce Marie. Get your life together. It was a bump on his head. It’s not like he lost an arm.
Yes. I agree. And had he lost an arm I’m sure we would have been in a real pickle. Because I kept thinking the same thing.
Joyce Marie. Get your life together. This is not even your kid. You did not birth him. He is clearly not dying. His head is still attached. Why are you so nauseous?
Well. I learned something else that day in the San Pablo City. I learned that I didn’t need to know you my whole life to love you. And I don’t mean love the way I love my sparkly Vans. I mean be affected when something happens to you, good or bad. And you’re probably thinking how I’m going to connect this to my current Chicago/pastry/cake life. Because I’m thinking that too. But this is what I think my mind is trying to get through my fingertips. When I came back from Seoul and started school I knew it was going to be hard. Living with no furniture and 40 dollars for groceries hard. A lot of 16-hour days hard. Giving up my nose ring and covering up my tattoos hard. (Sorry Mom.) Having no friends and no church hard. But I didn’t think it would be people stealing my stuff hard. Which I know compared to a lot of things sounds trivial, and it is. But it’s started to make me angry. I’m angry that keep feeling like a “victim”. I’m angry that I keep having to spend money I don’t have to replace things. I’m angry that I’m angry. I’m angry that over the past 6 years I’ve become so selfish and so self absorbed that I’ve forgotten about all the RJ’s of the world. I’m angry that I keep getting knots in my stomach over people taking my tools and my phone instead of knots in my stomach over people. I mean, do I really need to chop things?? Who needs to call me??? Exactly. I want to be worried about the mom and little boy that live on the second floor of my building. Or the older lady who has trouble carrying her case of natty light up to the third floor. I started pastry school because I want to do pastry. I want to make cakes. Not because I don’t know what I want and I’m just trying things out. I want my own cake shop. I want my own business. I’ve always had this dream of a place that supports and is supported by its community. A business that cares about the families around it. That’s why I want it. Not because I think it’s gonna make me rich. People are probably just gonna steal from me. But because I want to put myself in a position where I can give money to the Special Olympics if I want to. Or hire women who are victims of domestic violence and teach them a trade. Or teach a cake class to kids at a local orphanage once a month. Or bake birthday cakes for homeless shelters, because homeless people have birthdays too. These are the things I want. And I haven’t thought about these things in a long time because I keep thinking about poor pitiful Joyce and how she has to keep eating ramen. I feel like every time I take a step forward I take two steps back. And maybe that means I need to make more forward steps or change my direction. I’m not sure. And I’m not sure that I won’t get angry again tomorrow. And I’m not sure that someone won’t take something else that doesn’t belong to them. But I am sure that there are new mercies every morning. And I am going to cling to that.