Monday, April 18, 2005

Retreat II

So we had our second retreat this past weekend, back at that Basilian convent that we were at a few weeks ago, the one I thought was like heaven :). We went with a different group of people, younger, mostly, and a couple add-ins that aren't part of the mission program. It was a very different feel. Still about the Jesus Prayer, still led by the same guy. Still the same wonderful building, with good water, and an even more beautiful outside b/c spring has been progressing rapidly and the forest floor, which had been muddy and bland a few weeks ago, was now covered with a blanket of little white flowers. It looked like grass with flakes of a spring snow covering it - it was magical, like Lothlorien or something.

This time Roman had some comments for me - about making sure I"m not giving too much weight to my feelings in prayer. He read a part from the Way of the Pilgrim book that says don't worry about what you are thinking dont worry about what you are doing just do the prayer and the prayer will do the work for you. I think I got a little into the whole "is anything happening to me?" retreat pitfall, but by late morning on Sunday I was happy and happy to just see things more realistically.


Guess what, I'm in Krakow!!! Maria and I had an eight-hour layover on our way to Prague and we got to spend it in Krakow! It's SUCH a beautiful city! (Actually we've only seen about ten blocks of it, but still!) We went to the church with the icon of Our Lady of Czezstochova (however you spell that!) and they were having adoration in that chapel, too. It's the first time I've been to adoration in forever. (It's weird, you know, now my first reaction entering a church is to bow and cross myself three times like the easterns do and to pull out my Jesus Prayer beads instead of my rosary!) There's just so much COLOR in this city and SO many people (Lviv has that too, and ever more so as it gets nicer outside) and really cool stuff for sale on the street - paintings and handmade shoes and bags and stuff - more than just a million fruit/veggie stands like there are in Lviv - I don't want to sound harsh to Lviv, but this is the closest to the West I've been in four months and I can tell I've been missing it! I was just googly over the really cool shoes they have out (anybody heard of Diesel brand shoes? really funky) and there's this big square in front of the church we went to adoration in, reminded me of the square in Milan with all the pigeons. There was this little girl with down syndrome wearing a cute pink jacket, holding a plastic cup full of birdseed and surrounded by pigeons. Maria went over and played with her, shared her seeds, and I took a lot of pictures of it. Then I finally found an ATM that was working so I got some Polish money (zloti?) and we went to McDonald's cuz we were really thirsty and wanted a bathroom - you don't have to pay if you can flash a receipt. Now we're in the internet cafe. We don't have to be back to the train until close to 11:00 tonight. We're due in to Prague around 7:00 am. We have a three-bed room this time, closer quarters than my trip to Kiev, and we have a nice older man on a business trip with us.

But I don't feel so concerned with trying not to look like a tourist here, and a lot of people in the stores actually know English. Makes me wonder how long I'm going to be able to hang out in Ukraine once I remember what else is out there in the world!

Monday, April 11, 2005

There's nothing quite like it...

...being invisible, that is. I hadn't thought to put it quite like that, but a friend named Serhiy who was visiting Saturday from Odessa gave me the idea. He said it was like that for him when he was in Switzerland, like he was invisible. It's amazing that you can stand in a small group of people and have them talk over, around, through you and, since you can't understand what they're saying, you might as well not even be there. I feel like a little kid who starts dancing and singing and tugging on his mother's sleeve and making an obnoxious scene to get her attention. "Mommy's talking to Mrs. Snodgrass right now, Tommy. You need to wait. Why don't you go play over there?" That's when Tommy sulks off to the side and starts ripping out grass and chucking it at the neighbor's dog until he gets mad and barks so loudly that Mommy grabs Tommy by the hand none too gently and drags him off -- but really Tommy won, he got Mom's attention back away from Mrs. Snodgrass.

I have been thinking a lot lately about this one girl that I worked with when I had the autism job last year. Let's call her Simone. When I first started working with Simone, my sessions were one-on-one with here, but then they got more therapists for her team and it was decided that it would be better for her if we had two people working with her at a time, particularly because she needed to work on sharing and taking turns and stuff. Simone would get really mad when the other therapist and I would talk and not include her in the conversation, even if we were both walking with her, holding her hands, but for two minutes we talked about college or something she couldn't follow. She would stomp her feet or start interrupting or, my favorite, just sit down and make this great frustrated noise, like a big "Humph!" or sometimes it was more of a "Grrr!" combined with a little scream. Sometimes she would start to cry then. She didn't cry very often, but some days she was really tired, you could see it in her eyes. She hated school and her teacher didn't help matters much. How had she learned to cope with spending seven hours a day being yelled at, told to be quiet, to sit still, to do work that maybe she didn't understand, or maybe she did, but without the meaningful human interactions that make our days worth living. During training for that job, they gave us a handout about what it was like to have autism. It was a series of statements beginning with "Imagine what it would be like to..." Autism has a lot to do with communication difficulties - someone with autism may have difficulty translating in their brain what comes out of someone's mouth into comprehendable speech. "Imagine what it would be like to never understand what people are saying around you." Body language is also often completely lost on them - things like learning what facial expressions convey is a skill that has to be taught instead of inately learned. "Imagine what it would be like to have people getting mad at you and you don't know why or what you did wrong."

I've criticized myself here for seeking to be the center of attention - but really I can identify very much with Simone in her frustration to make people understand her, and to understand them. It's hard to be invisible.