Monday, June 19, 2006

I like onions

“I like onions. Now, I'm going to go slam my head into that wall.”--Skyler Pearson, aged 7.

(Grace, Skyler and Joe, finding some solace in the backyard swimming pool)

Thus Mark and I had the privilege of being introduced properly to the Pearson children: Skyler, his four-year-old sister Grace (who does not like onions, but who--like all good Quaker-Buddhists--is teaching herself karate), and 1 year-old brother Joe.

The thing that's really cool about seven-year-old boys is that they are both literal and intentional. They don't slam their heads against walls figuratively or because they're completely lacking in courage or creativity. They really do it. Because they want to. Because it's fun. Or because they're angry and frustrated. Eventually they stop. When it starts to hurt and they've gotten their pent-up energy/frustrations out. I really, really wish they were running the peace movement....

As I was introduced to Joe, born since I last saw Dan, I did a triple take. Had I not actually seen Joe's father standing in the same room as he, at the same time, I would have sworn my dear friend and former supervisor had somehow regressed 33 years in age and was now wordlessly demanding I hand him a Cheerio (admittedly atypical for Dan).

After rising at 4:50 am (Mike's friary, New Hampshire) to the miracle of freshly-brewed coffee (Blessings be upon you, now and always, Brother John), Mark and I flew to Kansas City, then hopped on our trusty two-wheeled companions and began cycling to the home of Dan and Kristina Pearson in Independence, MO. It was an interesting 42 miles. Initially, we had enormous, unused highways largely to ourselves (“Why is this road here?” Mark kept asking), making solitary use of the infrastructure of a city much larger than KC. This was followed by serene and empty country roads of a bucolic beauty the likes of which one hears about or sees in movies.

Unfortunately, this cycling bliss was interrupted, as we grew closer to downtown, by a short but rough stint on a hilly, busy, two-lane road which, somehow, mysteriously, attracted all the road rage in the metropolitan area. I (Val) had another of my infamous meltdowns. I began seriously questioning whether I have it in me to be a Quaker, while Mark gave me the best non-violence talk this side of Thich Nhat Hanh. It's amazing how a few white men flipping off women trying to turn right (for the crime of having slowed down to do so) or laying on their horns while passing Mark and me for the affront of not using petroleum, can lead me, in no time flat, to cursing out the entire Empire, from Vader on down, and wishing for the extinction—with a few notable exceptions—of melanin-challenged men.

In downtown KC we were treated to a warm welcome by a (notably melanin-challenged) bakery owner in the city marketplace, whose staff filled our water bottles, let us use their phone, and fed us well for two bucks. We also found a very cool Arab grocery, which sold dry molokhyia, something I've never seen in this country (“Do you make yours with lamb or chicken?” the proprietor asked me. “Uh, I don't really make it....”). The grocer was watching the World Cup and inexplicably rooting for the Americans.

Mark and I continued onward to Independence after lunch. Our route was very interesting (really, Kris, it wasn't that bad!). We traveled for a long while through a multi-ethnic section of town, on a road which resembled Colfax Avenue in Denver, maybe 10 years ago. Although there was no bike lane, cars were chill and courteous, mostly driven by Mexicanos and Central Americans. As we neared Independence, though, the road suddenly got really inappropriate for cyclists, so we made our way to Truman and got ourselves out into the lovely country areas on the eastern side of the city. Eventually, we ran into Kris and Skyler on their way home. They offered us a ride, and assured us we were quite close when we insisted on riding the last two miles. But then we got lost, and two miles turned into six, and Search Party Number Two was sent out. Oh, the shame! Fortunately, we were just about to pull into his driveway when we saw Dan!

We spent a lovely day and a half with Kris, Dan and the children, throughout which they insisted we do whatever we want and not feel obligated to do anything—such generous and caring hosts! Saturday night, Dan and Kris and I sat up late discussing spirituality and drinking wine, while Mark fell dead asleep. Kris and I then outlasted Dan and had some groovy time together going a little deeper into shared experiences of spirit. I was jazzed to learn we are sister-poets, and she and Dan turned me on to some wonderful work by Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Sunday morning I went to KC Meeting for Worship with Dan and Kris, and was lovingly introduced by Dan to the Friends of Penn Valley Meeting. Afterwards Dan had to continue a class for his Masters' Degree; the rest of us went home where the kids swam, and Mark and I computered, and later we had another yummy vegetarian feast thanks to Kris. In the evening, the Pearsons and I went for a little walk along a beautiful bike-walk-path. Actually, some of us walked. Skyler scootered, Grace bicycled (both did very well coming down a steep hill!), and Joe tolerated the paparrazzi.

It was good to see the family all doing so well. The Pearson children take the concept of adorable to pretty dangerously high levels, and they're as smart and healthy as they are cute. All seem much happier being closer to family (Dan and I became friends while he was my supervisor at AFSC; he and Kris and the children lived in Des Moines, near no one they knew, for a few hard years). Dan loves his new job, and expects to stay there a good long while. He is working for a Catholic child sponsorship organization, which allows him to do work that he really cares about and believes in, without traveling so much his children start asking “Daddy who?” I was inspired to learn that the organization is so community, rather than individual-oriented, and works to integrate community-development and strengthening in all that they do. Kris had been planning to return to school to get training in ASL interpretation when Joe blessed their household. She continues her awesome ministry as full-time mom.

The next morning Dan got up before the rooster to drive us to the bus station. We had a wonderful time, though the visit was too short. We hope we can see them all again very soon.


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