Her Name Is Ramah

Her name is Ramah. She stands on the edge of our circle too shy to join in, clutching her younger brother’s hand. When I look over, her dark eyes meet mine, and when I smile, she smiles back. I tell her my name and hold out a hand, and she grips my fingers tightly and tells me her name and her brother’s, and then giggles when I try to pronounce them.

In her perhaps seven years of life, she has already seen more suffering than I can imagine.

She lives in a tiny, shoulder-high enclosure, one of many, a crude blanket fort inside a concrete building like an abandoned parking garage. She plays on dirt and cement behind a chain-link fence guarded by Greek police, and if I am cold in a coat, she must be freezing in her thin shirt.

Earlier in the morning, I stood in the ruins of Philippi, and it did not feel real.

I touched the stones where Paul walked, saw the city square where he was beaten, sang in the theatre where Christians were martyred. I wondered, as I ran my fingers along the doorframe of an ancient temple to Caesar, why I was taught to be willing to die like an ancient Christian martyr but not to live like one—why my upbringing included dedication to defending my faith, but not unrelenting dedication to loving the needy.

And now in the evening, I stand in the refugee camp, and it feels too real.

I touch the dirt where they walk, see the shelters where they sleep, sing in the building where they live. I wonder, as I hold Ramah’s tiny fingers in my hand, why my country sends money to insurgent groups, but not to these desperate ones—why we fill other countries with our military, but don’t fill our own country with refugees.

Photo by Flickr user mehmet bilgin
Photo by Flickr user mehmet bilgin

We sang, and they cheered, and even as I laughed with the little girl who threw her ball higher and higher until I couldn’t catch it anymore, and even as I admired the little boys’ soccer skills, and even as I held a mother’s hand and repeated her name—I felt tears behind my eyes.

A man told us, “It’s good you came here. The children needed—” and here he pressed his hands to his heart and then raised them heavenward.

And I felt all the guilt of knowing I can walk in and out of their prison on holiday. I felt the shame of lifting their spirits only to leave without providing any material help. Hope is a powerful thing, but songs are not enough. Laughter will not keep out the darkness.

The children chased our bus out, waving and calling thank you’s, and we left behind people with no certain future. What I saw for ten or twenty minutes, they will see for ten or twenty months, years even.

We argue about economies, politics, immigration laws, while hundreds of thousands of people crowd into already struggling countries. We talk about statistics. We argue about “political issues” as if they were a hot potato in a game we hoped to win, but I have looked into their eyes, held their hands, and learned their names.

They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They are sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers.

And one of them is a little girl named Ramah.

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Lessons from the Children’s Section

Shelving is the neverending story of library work. You can unload cartful after cartful of books in the stacks, and when you turn around, there will be another shelf of returned books waiting.

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The easiest books to shelve are reference materials; they’re enormous, so you can spot the five-inch-wide empty space waiting for any given book practically from across the library. Of course, reference books all weigh a couple of tons, give or take, so perhaps the best books to shelve are adult fiction—small enough to carry in one hand, read often enough not to kick dust in your eyes, and interesting enough to distract you with cover blurbs while you’re searching for the right spot on the shelf.

But my favourite books to shelve are the juvenile fiction.

They can’t stand up on their own, so you have to keep a hand on the cart to stop the whole row from toppling. The shelves are a mess, because children are happy to chuck Dr Seuss, Patricia Polacco, and Eric Carle all together on the same shelf, never mind alphabetising. You spend more time rearranging chaos than actually shelving, but there’s something magical about the children’s section—something that doesn’t extend to the rest of the library.

In the children’s section, you never know what you’ll find. Jumanji might rest against Goodnight Moon one day and Cinderella the next. Books meant to teach children about serious topics—handling death or loving people with special needs—press against books meant to trigger unbridled imagination. Animals and children and monsters mingle together in a colourful blend in which the population is too diverse for stereotypes and the lines between truth and fiction blur. Illustrated historical fictions make friends with the wildest fantasies, and yet the whole colourful mass whispers one unified message, telling children to love, to learn, to dream.

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In my twenties, I still love children’s books. Over the years, I’ve grown from sounding out The Cat in the Hat to analysing Anna Karenina, but I can still hear the picture books telling me to explore thoroughly, live kindly, and dream vividly.

Green Eggs and Ham still reminds me to give new experiences a shot.

The Grouchy Ladybug still tells me to show compassion.

Harold and the Purple Crayon still promises that creativity can change the world.

No matter where I go, no matter what I learn, these incongruous worlds of colour and rhyme are with me. They underlie the jokes I tell, the choices I make, the dreams I pursue. They live in my memories and shape my ideas. And returning to them now, even if it’s just to put them in order after tiny hands have set them in disarray, feels like coming home, like visiting old friends who welcome me with love and send me back out with that one simple reminder that’s so easy to forget in the chaos of growing up:

The world is big, but not too big for you.

Superhero in Training

Being a university senior is kind of like being a superhero.

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It’s kind of like being a superhero in the first few frames of the superhero-in-training montage, where said hero still has no idea how to use her powers and does embarrassing things like slamming into billboards or falling off bridges, and she survives on pure dumb luck, and it’s a good thing that her homemade pyjama-style costume includes a mask, because it’s embarrassing for everyone involved.

By the time you hit senior year, you have a decent grasp on how some things work, and you’ve spent four years getting pumped full of new skills and ideas, and you’re ready to go out and save the world—but you also have no practice in most of anything, and you’re still more or less totally unprepared for the challenges (and, obviously, supervillains) coming at you. But you’re also an emerging adult, so you have this overdeveloped sense of your own prowess, which means you feel completely cool taking on your arch-nemesis supervillain immediately, despite being woefully unprepared to fight an evil that powerful.

And, of course, there are doubts. Clashing with the rash determination and blind confidence, there’s a certainty that you’re still just a normal human—that four years of training and preparation haven’t actually turned you into anything special, and that when you jump off that building, you won’t fly, but crash to the pavement, and people will crowd around to get a glimpse of your failure and shake their heads over your delusion that you could do anything special.

But here’s the thing about superheroes: they try anyway.

They fall off buildings, but they get back up again. They take a punch that colours the whole page yellow and red behind the massive, “WHAM!” and they keep coming anyway. They believe in something, and they fight for it in every frame. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes it’s lonely. And yet, you’ll notice, there’s always someone else ready to join the fight against injustice and oppression.

And even when it feels like you’re alone and powerless, when the giant robot or power-hungry alien or vengeful mutant is a hundred times stronger than you are, there’s always hope, and there’s always someone the better for it. If you’re too late to stop the bridge collapsing, you may still be able to shield that little girl from the flying rubble. There’s always a loss, but there’s always a victory, too.

So, seniors, as we finish this training and head toward that cap-and-gown supersuit, it’s okay to feel powerless and powerful all at the same time. It’s okay to overestimate our new skills and underestimate our impact. The excitement, the terror, the impatience—it’s all part of the experience.

We feel silly and small now, but it isn’t about the number of people pointing at the sky and speculating on our bird-like or plane-like nature—it isn’t about the good-guy-beats-bad-guy frame at the end—it’s about the attempt. It’s about knowing the odds and walking in anyway, because we refuse to sit back and watch the world fall apart if there’s anything we can do to save it.

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Between Bowls

Did you think I was done exploring the struggles and truths of transition times? Are we ever really done with transition? Here’s Amy’s take on moving home after graduating a semester early.


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I don’t like the in-between stages. I’m not sure anyone does. So when I came home after finishing university a semester early, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After sixteen and a half years in school, I had a routine down. In August, prepare for school and start classes. Early June, head home for summer vacation. Late August, repeat. But this year was different. I came home in February, not June, and my friends were all still in that routine, starting a new semester of classes and doing fun activities together while I sat at home trying to figure out a plan for this new stage of life.

After coming home, I took over caring for the family goldfish, Albert. He’s a happy fish, living in a good-sized container. He loves to swim around quickly to show off his gloriously large tail, and his bright orange coloring contrasts beautifully against the royal blue marbles at the bottom of his home. That is, for about a week and a half until his water gets dirty. All too quickly, the water takes on a dingy hue and poor Albert’s scales don’t seem quite as bright and happy. His water begins to evaporate, little by little, leaving a dirty ring around the top of the bowl and leaving Albert with less space to swim. Soon after these changes occur, I do what any good pet owner would. I scoop him into a small red cup and set him nearby on the counter while I scrub and rinse his little home until it’s clean and then fill it with fresh water so that he can swim freely and healthily again.

The only problem is that Albert hates the red cup. His big tail is suddenly a hassle, encumbering his movement for the five minutes that he is in a smaller space. He wants to dart and dive, but the red cup is just big enough for him to move around a little while he waits for his home to be cleaned.

In many ways, I feel like Albert. In this time of transition between college and “real life,” I’m stuck at home. I had a routine, but I’m being thrown into a new one, and it feels confining. Unlike Albert, though, I know better things wait on the other side of this transition. I know the in-between stage is just that—a time in between two good things—and that after this stage, I will be in a much bigger bowl, with plenty of room to dart and dive and try new things and with space to open my talents up wide and grow in new ways.


View More: http://tracifalderphotography.pass.us/taylor-cco-headshotsAmy Gaasrud recently graduated from Taylor University where she studied Professional Writing. She currently works as a freelance proofreader for InterVarsity Press. When she’s not editing or writing, Amy loves baking, reading, and finding pictures of cute animals to send to her friends. To hear more from her, follow her on Twitter (@AmyGaasrud).