Here is the essay I produced for an assignment in Advanced Compostion class in 1994 which required we write a “nostalgic essay.” Later we were also required to write a “humorous essay” and a tabloid-style article about the same event on which we chose to write our nostaligic essay. The former will appear later; the latter is lost to posterity, I think.
On July 10, 1987, a world came to an end. You say you don’t recall any cosmic catastrophe occurring then? Well, you are right. We still have our eight dancing partners for our waltz around the sun–at last check anyhow. But, nevertheless, a world did come to an end that day–my world. That day, rolling along its well worn track, it hit a hard, immovable object and shattered into a thousand pieces. On that day, at around eight in the evening, I graduated from high school…. (For full story click “Permanent Link” below)
If the truth be known, it didn’t entirely come to an end. I happened to pick up some of those thousand pieces to comfort myself and before I knew what I was doing, I stared to build a new world. And I didn’t even know you could do that. But I am getting ahead of myself. My world began in a dusty corner of Pakistan in the relative cool of the winter. My childhood was normal, I suppose, if that statement can ever be made without being made an oxymoron in light of the varied and creative exploits of children. But it had its share of joys and fears and tears, and in the sense that every childhood seems to have each of these in some proportion, my childhood was indeed normal. Being normal, though, did not mean that it was not unique, and from the start it was apparent, though thankfully not to the mind of a child, that my life would be lived in various different worlds.
Mom was from Southern Illinois and Daddy from Pakistan. She was a nursing student in Boulder and he a psychology graduate student in Austin. And somewhere in the Rockies, in the dead of winter, the spark was kindled that would leap into the flame of a blessed life together on the steamy plains of Pakistan.
Such were the contrasts into which I was born, but thankfully they were never set in antagonism to one another. And even though our home environment was western, the local dialect rolled off my tongue as easily as English until I was twelve and local children were welcome companions in childhood games: the games of war with clods of dirt in our expansive garden or playing hide-and-seek long into the warm summer nights, sometimes varying it under the intrepid leadership of my oldest brother to a game of “scare the night watchmen.” Then we would crawl on the roof above where he was on watch and loft projectiles into the bushes. The poor, old man, being virtually blind and armed only with a club and flashlight, would leap up and cry “Who’s there?” much to the delight and encouragement of us on the roof.
Life was peopled with a variety of people: my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother of my father’s side of the family; then “aunts” and “uncles” in the missionary and local community; and on the occasional furlough to America, still more aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents from my Mom’s side of the family. I am fortunate to be able to associate those words of “aunt” and “uncle” with closeness and concern and with people deserving honor because of the influence and love I received from these varied sources.
If life were peopled with variety, its experience was varied even more greatly. The influences of East and West flowed into my mind as naturally as the tides and sought to mix into some common level It was Mom, really, who made of these parts a consistent whole. She worked creatively to maintain the American side of our heritage, giving Christmas and other holidays their traditional American flavor, while at the same time celebrating them with vigor in Pakistani setting as well.
Christmas meant stockings and stories and Christmas dinner and singing carols around the glow of the advent wreath as we contemplated the meaning of the season. Christmas also meant going to a plethora of dramas at local institutions; greeting the local carolers with traditional oranges and peanuts; watching the midnight procession to the church with its camels and candlelight; going to church, burgeoning with a perennial influx of members; then going home to have dinner with our extended family, with spicy curry and meatballs and rice. The differences were less like the two sides of a coin, than the separate threads of a tapestry, woven together into a whole, mainly because of the influence of Mom.
Her life testified to the understanding that all people were important. She worked countless hours at a hospital, but sill managed to teach me through third grade and my brothers through fifth and seventh, to provide a quality English education for us. She walked to work, an unthinkable action for even middle class people in Pakistan. Her route took her through often squalid streets, sodden with backed up rain water, and past the walls of houses patterned with drying buffalo chips, the fuel of the indigent. And when she saw need or a woman who would greet her, she would stop and talk, often bringing much needed medicines, to the effusive thanks of those who received them. At work, she would often roll up her sleeve to give blood when a patient’s relatives refused to do so. Among our family in Pakistan and all others who knew her, she was loved beyond words. There were a thousand other things that I cannot begin to write about her, but simply stated, her life was a testament and a model which has shaped mine more than I will ever know. The first day of fourth grade found me walking nervously into class of a real school. And in that walk, wobbled by hesitation and dread, my world changed for ever. It was not a destruction of my previous world, but merely an adding to it, an adding, though, that would enlarge and deepen my world. The school was Murree Christian School, a boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas with the coziness of having just over a hundred students in twelve grades from close to twenty countries and fifty or so staff representing equal diversity.
Boarding life was not easy at first; many a night in those first years tears soaked my pillow and I anticipated holidays with gleeful impatience. But while life without Mom and Dad was rough, life with a cluster of new friends became more and more pleasing all the time. And through the years we discovered together that rather than simply being friends, we were really more like brothers and, to a lesser degree, the girls our sisters. I say “to a lesser degree” because you don’t really want to date your sister.
We were under the care of house parents for all our years at school and in the early years they closely resembled parents, soothing us when we were hurt or homesick and making certain that we ate properly and got enough sleep and dressed and washed properly. Under their supervision, I continued much as before in the reckless pursuit of play, with a whole new set of friends to play marbles and “dinky” cars and games of chase with; and in the holidays there were Mom and Dad and all my old friends as well. Life was sweet indeed.
Growing into junior and senior high, our house parents mirrored those whom they replaced, both in allowing us to grow in independence and in dealing creatively and collectedly with the flood of energetic that such growth produced. Life was living together, studying together, worshipping together, and together experiencing a host of simple pleasures: picking up a game of basketball on lunch break, moonlit walks to the local village for tea, or camping on the top of a windswept mountain.
People came and went; there were those you had know for years and there was the serendipity of newfound friends. But the reality was that you had to get along with everyone at least at some level since you went home with them at night. And while life together was not always idyllic, friction provided the benefit, perhaps only seen in hindsight, of learning to live with people you did not like very much at first. And there was friction over any number of things like nationality, personality, and even theology. the picture of junior high boys alternating bedtime discussions on different nights between which girls they each liked and a heated debate over predestination seems somewhat amusing now, but we were earnest in our seriousness as well as our frivolity as perhaps only growing innocents can be.
It was not only people that made Murree so endearing, but the place itself. To this day, my images of beauty in nature are largely shaped by those images, and the deep feelings the elicited, that I encountered in Murree. There was the beauty of subtle beams of sunlight filtering through pine trees to fall dappled on the forest floor carpeted with rust colored needles. There was the wet, grayness of fog that rolled over the hill when the rain was taking a respite during the monsoons, which would ensconce mountain, wood, and village in a shroud of silence, punctuated only by the drip of water and the eerie call of the cicada. There were the true mountains that rose across a vast valley, as naked, jagged peaks in the summer and were softened in the fall and winter and spring with a covering of snow. And when the winter came to our own hills, there was the silent falling of snow that clothed the pine trees in white and beautified the dingy village. All these images spoke quietly and deeply to my mind and wove an underlying strand of glory into the tapestry of life.
The crescendo of life a MCS came in my senior year. At the beginning of my senior year, a major par of my world was shattered before it totally shattered in July. My mother was killed in an accident. By some reports, four thousand people came to her and the impact of her life became apparent. Life for me would never be the same. But go on it had to, as it always does, and grief and memories slowly eddied into the still backwaters of my mind as I returned to the busy-ness of school.
As senior years always are, ours too was a series of “lasts.” Thirteen of us sighed as we went on our last campouts, our last sports tournaments, our last prom, and as we experienced a host of common activities that before we had taken for granted but that now took on a glowing, golden luster as the sun began to set. Would we ever sing and worship with friends as we id on Sunday nights? Would we ever know such fellowship again, of being able to enjoy the pleasure of simply walking or of drinking tea and talking together? Would we find new friends at all? And as these questions echoed, slowly and relentlessly the end of the year approached, with its promise of new possibilities, yes, but also with the dread of having to leave so much behind for the unknown beyond.
The final weeks were filled with dinners and dramas and recitals and ceremonies, and then finally it came, the Friday night we had all been waiting for. There was the gymnasium packed with most of the missionary community of Pakistan. Then came the ceremony with “Pomp and Circumstance” and addresses and consecration, and then, with the flip of a tassel, a world came to an end.
It would not sink in just then, however. Next there was the receiving line. The “wailing line” we used to call it, and everyone in the entire gym would walk by to congratulate you and you spent the next hour alternately giving a polite handshake or “wailing” on the shoulder of a friend you might never see again.
Now the destruction was starting to sink in a bit, but not really, there was still a formal reception and an entire night of fun. Then somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, it was time for good-byes, as one by one friends would leave. Then the tears would freely flow and, finally, there was nothing left to do but to stumble home to bed, to sleep, and to oblivion. I do not claim to know how the survivors of Hiroshima felt as they rose to look at their ruined city, and I hope not to do them an injustice by comparing my relatively painless experience with theirs, but in some small way I think I felt as they did on that “morning after” graduation. It was afternoon, actually, when I got up, but I can remember feeling at first just dead (probably from the lack of sleep), then empty, and, finally, devastated by emotion. Today, friends I loved would be flying off to different parts of the world; and a large number would be staying as I too would leave for America in a few weeks. It was like having pieces of my heart torn and taken to the far corners of the globe and the tearing was painful, unendurable, I thought then, and for weeks and even months afterwards. This then is the beginning to the ending. As to how the ending became a beginning. . . well, that would take too much time to explain just now, but though my world did come to an end, a new one was already begun as I picked up those pieces, cherished them, and looked to see how God would cause the pieces of the future to fit in with them.
Worlds collide all the time.
Not with cosmic clouds of dust
Or fire in the sky,
Within my mind.