There is a Korean service medal sitting on our kitchen counter.
For days we’ve left it there, keeping our distance, a little afraid to touch it. In awe of all it represents. Nate interviewed Huey, a veteran of the Korean War, for a school project. We first heard Huey speak at Clay’s grandfather’s funeral, and were mesmerized by the stories he told. During Nate’s interview, his story of surviving two years in a Korean POW camp was the kind of story that could change the way a fourteen-year-old boy thinks and lives. Huey said he hasn’t had a bad day since he was rescued in 1953. Wow. Not a single bad day. Nate sent him a thank you note, and a copy of the report he wrote. Huey replied with congratulations for Nate’s good grade, and his Korean Service Medal, signed “Your friend, Huey.” And so, somehow, we feel part of that story now. What a gift.
I seem to be immersed in story this week. I’m participating in a writing workshop led by the talented Sara Zarr this weekend, held at The Writing Barn. Twenty of us bravely submitted our stories, and are getting feedback on how to be better storytellers.
And my ears are still ringing with the quiet, confident voice of a Rwandan young man named John Bosco. When he was eight years old his mother died and he had to quit school to try and earn money to help feed his family. He told one of those crazy, walked-uphill-in-the snow-both-ways kind of stories. He took ten long trips a day to his village’s water source, delivering fifteen gallons of water each trip, to families willing to pay for the service. In return he received enough money to buy a small handful of rice. Dark to dark days, and that was just the beginning. Years later, at age fifteen, he longed to go back to school, and miraculously a sponsor stepped forward through ANLM.
In two years John taught himself English at a French-speaking public school, and studied so hard he won first place in the country on his exams. At age seventeen he entered seventh grade at New Life Christian Academy and continues to excel. He is hard-working, humble, and a big dreamer.
Huey and John Bosco have reached the ends of their particular stories and are living out others. The piece I submitted for the workshop is still in the beginnings. And Rebeka, she’s about three quarters of the way through her walking story. I’ve been sharing her story here, but I want her to be able to tell her own story. I’ve begun talking to her in the vocabulary of story, as in “What’s your story?” She has a hard time pulling back the lens to see the scope all that’s happened in the past eight months. Where will she start? There is the big story of leaving her family, flying to America, where she spoke no English, to wear forty different casts and have painful surgeries to correct her twisted feet. We are still finding out the ending to that story, as she struggles to learn to walk again. Some days if we pull the lens back too far we can get discouraged, so we keep it tight and celebrate small victories.
We aren’t the only ones. Cars stop as she slowly makes her way down our street, and friends cheer. Our family is creating a new habit of taking walks together, the boys weaving up and down the curb on bikes or scooters, doubling back to encourage Rebeka as she slowly, slowly makes her way. Today, during a break at the writing workshop, I got a text from Clay with this picture.
Underneath it read .3 in 34:40! No walker. Held my hand the whole time. And in the midst of all those wonderful stories I’d been reading, in the midst of all the stories I’d heard this past week, that was the best one yet. Three tenths of a mile may not seem like much, but we’ve watched her wince as she takes her steps. We’ve watched her legs tremble and sweat sheen her face at two tenths of a mile. Clay and I have stayed up late at night, worrying about worst case scenarios and steeling ourselves to be “the villains” of the story for the next two months as we bend her toes and ankles, enforce daily exercises, push her to walk farther, sometimes with no braces or making her let go of her walker. We are still smack dab in the middle of it all, and sometimes it’s just as hard for us to see the scope of this story as it is for Rebeka.
And so I come here. I post pictures. I go back and read from August and September. I read your comments, and I am encouraged. And like that service medal, there are tokens of her story everywhere. Artwork taped to windows. The remnants of a plaster cast that we use as a bookend. And most recently, a hand drawn map to Kate’s house, ten markers on the mile-long path. Our hope is that by the end of June, the whole route will be highlighted, marking her success. There is suspense in this story. There are tears, and triumph, conflict and climax. For now, stay tuned, to be continued . . .